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Positive Impact

Being an Ally for LGBTQ+ People

By Mel Sweeney Fetzer, Senior Vice President Business Development

On June 19th, 2015 my brother Chuck married his long-term partner Stephen. “Uncles” Chuck and Steve’s (that’s what my children affectionately call them) wedding was emotional, loving and a poignant celebration. Three words that intentionally describe the multitude of emotions I felt that day - the 19th day of June, the year 2015, this day and this year - symbolized the intersection of freedom, rights, and hope.

“Cultivating a culture that encourages employees to bring their whole selves to the workplace improves well-being and drives both engagement and productivity. I challenge all of us to be visible allies who stand for the freedom and rights of others. It’s good for culture, society and business.”
Mia Mends, Sodexo, Global Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer & CEO, Impact Ventures, North America

Afterall, June 19th, Juneteenth** as many of us know, commemorates African American freedom, and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. A day that we commit to each other the needed support as family, friends, and co-workers.

On the 26th of June in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalized it in all fifty states, and required states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses [in the case Obergefell v. Hodges]. And, while Pennsylvania law made same sex marriage legal in 2014, no one could underestimate the incredible symbolism of having Chuck and Steve return from their honeymoon knowing that their marriage was recognized, less than a week later, in all 50 states.

Watching Chuck and Steve’s first kiss and first dance on the floor of the Curtis Center in Philadelphia is one of my most significant and amazing memories, but I also cannot overlook how mad it made me to watch guests whisper under their breath and or to see empty seats. And, knowing that his self-proclaimed best gift of all that night was knowing that if something ever happened to him [he’s a nurse anesthetist], Steve could make medical decisions on his behalf. I was humbled by his sentiment. It wasn’t something I thought to include my registry when I married my husband.

Fast forward to June 2021, social stigma, prejudice, and discrimination are challenges that we as leaders and allies need to continue to advocate against. A national survey of LGBTQ+ college students conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic by the University of Maryland found that 30% said they more often heard their families make negative comments about LGBTQ+ people, while 35% admitted they lied to their families about their identities. And further research only opened my eyes to the day-to-day struggles facing the LGBTQ+ community.

Did you know that according to the 2021 HRC State Equality Index

  • you can be denied housing based on sexual orientation in 28 states and for your gender identity in 29 states?
  • there are zero anti-bulling laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community in 28 states?
  • there are no hate crime protections based on sexual orientation in 17 states, with that number jumping to 28 states for hate crimes based on gender identity?
  • statewide second-parent, same sex adoptions is allowed in only 18 states?
  • and, LGBTQ+ people can’t have the correct markers on their driver’s license in 15 states, with 29 states disallowing proper marker identification on birth certificates?

These statistics are a stark reminder that we have a long way to go before equal rights are enjoyed by all. Now more than ever, members of the LGBTQ+ community need more allies to understand their struggles, acknowledge their contributions, promote their acceptance, and advance their rights. We must each do our part to advocate for everyone to enjoy equal rights, including the LGBTQ+ community.

"OUTLeadership recently shared that 47% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced microaggressions at work and, as a result, 66-70% engage in covering behaviors hiding their identity at least some of the time with coworkers and clients. Allies are integral to our community. Still, only 45% of self-identified allies actively protect their LGBTQ+ colleagues from harassment in the workplace. Visible allies who step from allyship to advocacy have a significant impact. We appreciate the leaders, like Mia and Mel, who have leaned in to lead in the ally space. Knowing Melanie and Chuck for as long as I have – I am confident that the visibility of our allies will continue to foster a more inclusive community."
AJ Francavilla, Dir, Consumer Technology Portfolio, Global Pride Network Co-Lead, PRIDE USA Chair

I am extremely proud to serve as a Regional Executive Sponsor for Sodexo USA’s PRIDE (People Respecting Individuality, Diversity and Equality) EBRG (Employee Business Resource Group). This employee network has come a long way since it was established in 2004 with 7 members. Today, Sodexo PRIDE has a global presence, and is represented by eighteen networks and 2,000 members around the world. Sodexo PRIDE continues to raise the bar through outreach programs, training, and resources that go beyond raising awareness. They strive to create a safe environment and culture of appreciation and acceptance. Partnerships with thought leader organizations including Human Rights Campaign, Out & Equal, PFLAG, GLSEN and NGLCC enable collaboration and best practice sharing to advance our efforts and allyship.

While many remember to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June, we mustn’t forget to continue the work that needs to be prioritized all year long. Choose to be an ally… be resolute! Join me in amplifying our personal and professional commitments to advocate for both the LGBTQ+ community – and all our colleagues and friends. And, I want to thank my brothers, Chuck and Stephen, for letting me share their story and for teaching my family and me to be resolute allies for the LGBTQ+ community.

**Juneteenth World Wide Celebration

May 24, 2021

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