Thursday, July 1, 1999

Being Out and Accepting

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Note: Originally posted on the EAGLE online community site, behind IBM's firewall on 1 July 1999, at 3:25 pm, and posted here on 24 May 2007:

IBM Leadership from a Top Tivolian's Perspective

At Steve Basile's recent presentation in Poughkeepsie, he challenged the attendees to do something more around being out or being accepting of gays and lesbians, so everyone who reads this summary might want to consider Steve's call to action.

Here's what I did the next week-day to be more out; I sent the summary to the Software Group web-based marcom team that I manage:

Team, good morning/afternoon. [One of the team is based in Hursley in England.]

Fyi, I want to share the attached trip report with you because you already know that I'm committed to diversity at IBM, and that my own perspective is one of being a Jewish-American lesbian, and I thought it would be of interest to hear from a top marketing executive of Tivoli, whose particular frame of reference is being a gay, Irish-Italian, ex-New Yorker, living in Texas; I have to tell you, too, that I'm a bit shy about sharing the part upfront about my experiences prior to coming out, but I'll make myself vulnerable and do so because I hope it helps show why I am committed to helping IBM become an even more comfortable employer and vendor for gays and lesbians -- because when I think of those times, I think, How sad that I had to feel any shame around my feelings of love, and then I'm so grateful that I got past that period and that I work for a company that lets me be me, trusting that doing so will yield greater business results:

Before I attended last Friday's lunch-time presentation by Steve Basile, who is Tivoli's vice president of Field and Marketing Programs and a member of the IBM Corporate Gay and Lesbian Task Force, I had never been to Poughkeepsie.

Driving up 87, most of the exits were 17 miles apart and the radio stations seemed to offer up-to-the-minute tunes only for Country and Gospel music lovers. I was forced to channel-surf my way back to my youth -- to the years before I was open about my lesbianism:

Singing along to "Hotel California" ardently with my seventh-grade crush Jennifer; driving home from Ann Arbor with Debbie during college, accompanied by "Footloose" and "Boys Will Be Boys," having blurted the night before, "I love you, Debbie," during a beer bash at SUNY Cortland, where we had stopped overnight to visit friends from her hometown; wishing later in college that I were with a date, rather than just ushering them at the Lou Rawls concert as he cooed deeply, "Lady Love;" moving to "Fascination" by Company B, though unable to relate to being "...fascinated by your love, Boy;" almost missing the turn-off to IBM Road as George Benson sang, "Give Me the Night," and I recalled my summer in Israel at 15, where I had my first romantic experience with a girl.

I followed IBM Road and off to my right, saw a huge, tan complex with a giant eight-bar logo and a numberless clock on the front. Lyn Howard met me in the main lobby and I followed her rainbow- and Princeton-bumper-stickered car through the site to the designated building. The property reminded me of an older, northern version of the Raleigh campus, tall fir trees and all.

Steve drew a sizeable turnout, including his parents, who live in Albany, local EAGLE members, non-gay friends of EAGLE members, IBM career counselors and IBMers from Mexico and England. Steve spoke of the value that IBM and Tivoli place on diversity and of how each of us can show leadership by being more out or more accepting of gays and lesbians.

Steve said, "I used to prefer for people to get to know my capabilities first, but I've become brazenly out as I've risen because there are a lot of people who don't know if it's safe to be out." Steve is always visibly gay even before identifying himself verbally because his Tivoli badge and ThinkPad each sport rainbow stickers.

"As an executive," said Steve, "It's even more incumbent on me to impress on people that it's a non-issue."

Steve told us about a colleague who said, "Steve, I used to think that the worst thing either of my sons could tell me was that he was gay; after working with you though, I don't feel that way because they might grow up like you."

Steve's call to action was to do something more, so that others figure, if they can do it, maybe we can, too, whether that something was to be more out or more accepting or even simply to respond to any anti-gay joke with, "I don't get it," or "Ouch," and then walk away.

A woman in the audience asked, "What would your message be to senior executives who are closeted?"

"You should come out when you feel ready. There's no speedometer; it took me 33 years to tell my parents," he responded.

The Mexican IBMer asked whether or not Steve talks about these issues when he travels outside the United States. Steve said that he's always visible because of his badge, but that he hasn't yet had explicit conversations about diversity when abroad due to cultural differences worldwide.

The British IBMer wondered if it isn't easier to have a community of gay and lesbian IBMers in the States, where there is not yet a Federal-level non-discrimination law compared with the UK, the government of which does include a non-discrimination protection. The British colleague said that the British government's support seems to work against there being a drive to build community amongst gay and lesbian IBMers in the UK.

Steve agreed that a primary role of groups like EAGLE is to help U.S.-based IBMers feel comfortable and safe at IBM.

"IBM knows," said Steve, "that it has to attract and retain the best and the brightest because if IBM doesn't, Intel, Microsoft, Amdahl and Computer Associates will." Driving back, I thought, that certainly seems to be a relevant point in Steve's case. Afterall, since IBM acquired Tivoli, and since Tivoli has promoted Steve further and further, Tivoli has grown from earning US$50 million a year to US$1.5 billion.

I turned up the radio. All too soon, I lost "The Rhythm of Mid-Hudson Valley, 94.3" and for a stretch, could hear only songs like Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door" and the Isley Brothers' "Harvest for the World." Neither one informed my lesbian identity, but both were cheerful with a beat. Actually, the ride home was more of a joy-ride, free of memories of crushes and ushering couples to their love-seats.

As I made my last left turn, the SOS Band was urging, "Take your time....You've been working too hard and that's a fact....Take some time to laugh and smile...."