Sunday, November 2, 2003

Impressions of David's and Gerard's Wedding

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 2 November 2003, at 3:24 pm, and posted here on 24 May 2007:

Gorgeous day for a wedding. "The Tide is High" by Blondie plays in the car from the airport. Windmill by the Lake reminds me of my 7th grade Connecticut State Science Fair project, "An Answer [to the energy crisis] is Blowing in the Wind." Thought my 7th grade dream was being realized in Canada, but the driver suggested that it was more for show than anything. I hope he's wrong.

No security on duty on the ground floor of 79 Wellington when I arrive at ~9:30 am. New York City, by contrast, is still fully paranoid.

Richard's office is art-filled and book-filled and has GLBT signage on parade. I love it. Nice of him to agree for me to use it while he's in Orlando. The sunflower painting by Richard's late partner's remarkable, beautiful.

I'm looking up at the walls when Esther appears at the doorway to make sure I'm settling in all right and to plan for our GLBT Leadership Conference women's reunion lunch. We eat at Marche, a Swiss restaurant....

During lunch, one of the women says that getting involved in the GLBT network at IBM is " jet-fuel for your career." She's referring to all of the neat people she's meeting since coming out and getting involved, to whom she might not otherwise have had exposure at this stage of her career.

"A lot of people don't know what they're missing," I say.

Another: "I used to be one of those people, insisting that I had more in common with straight people. I didn't realize for a long time...."

"I think we crave one another[, we need one another in a way that is perhaps less common among non-GLBT IBMers,]" I say.

We talk about how much better even our network would be if it included even more women and also more people of color. I learn that the South Asian diversity network group (DNG) is Canada's largest.

We talk about the series, "How to Be an IBM Leader" as a way to partner with other DNGs (see Reference section of the EAGLE database). It could be revived in Canada, I suggest.

One of the women has to leave early to meet with an openly gay customer and see if he's amenable to IBM's helping him with a large project. I learn later that he wants to start with perhaps commissioning an evaluation of the concept of the project and if it makes sense after the evaluation, then he'll consider spending the multi-millions.

Back at the restaurant, one of the women offers some unconventionally packaged hard candies to all of us. "What is it?" asks one of them.

The one who offers responds, smiling, "It's a clothes-remover." Everyone laughs....

I reach the wide-open courtyard approach to the ultra-ultra-modern Toronto City Hall and think of how gorgeous the day is and how auspicious for David's and Gerard's wedding, which is in 15 minutes. On my way to the entrance, I see a big, white bull-terrier, who reminds me of a bigger version of the dog Pat used to have before we got together, Megan Jonquil, may she rest in peace. Seeing the dog also seems like a good sign.

As I come to the entrance, I think to myself, if we hadn't suffered the indignity of being second-class citizens in our own country, none of us would have had this beautiful adventure.

Brad sees me enter the building and ushers me over to the area, where David and Gerard and David's mother and younger brother are being photographed, pre-wedding. It's so great to see someone I know in such a new space. Also present are Jim and Roberto, and by process of elimination, another Brad, whom I've not yet met. He's impressed when I say, "Hi, Brad," before he introduces himself. I disillusion him that it's really just by process of elimination that I know who he is.

David comes over to greet us and I'm dazzled and very moved. I touch the right side of his face with my palm and he smiles warmly -- I'd never do that in any average setting.

I know how David disdains ties and even sport-jackets/blazers; I'm floored by the transformation of David in an elegant tuxedo with patent-leather shoes. Brad starts looking at down at David's shoes and fixing his own hair in the near-mirror of them and David's a sport.

David explains that he's wearing something borrowed, something blue, something old and something new. The something borrowed is a set of Tazmanian Devil cuff-links that are Peter's; the something blue is his tie; the something old is his underwear -- which he reassures his mother is just old, not tattered; and the something new is a gold Canadian maple-leaf tie-tack from Gerard.

We all go up to the Wedding Chamber, where we need to wait for two heterosexual couples, who are ahead of David and Gerard. While we wait, we learn from David's mother that she was 22 minutes late to her wedding because her father kept taking photos of her. The minister got worried in her husband-to-be's behalf, but the soon-to-be husband, David's late father, wasn't worried at all. I realize then that I haven't seen [David's mother] since David's dad's memorial service more than a year ago.

[David's mother] shows us a charm bracelet she's wearing, which includes a heart-shaped stone that her friend found on the beach and which she was holding between her hand and her husband's at his death.

Then I think of my own father, who died 21 years ago, and of his death anniversary, which will be in two days, on November 1st. He was comatose during his final days of six months of common bile-duct cancer, so I suppose my mom or any of us could have put something in his hand and held it, but we were too in despair, since he was no longer himself at all. Well, at least something happy's happening finally around this time of year, as I'm always sad around this time of year typically.

It wasn't that way before my dad died. As a toy and game designer, he was extra-fun when it came to Halloween, helping my two older sisters and me with creating costumes, which many of us even wore to Stamford High School -- one year, he made me an S.H.S. [Stamford High School] School Spirit costume out of a floor-length sheet of silver mylar. The year he died, he made no costume and I didn't even go to school. He died the next day.

Sad that David's dad can't be here with his mom, and for David.

The service is about to begin. Roberto's operating the video camera and the rest of us from IBM sit in a row behind David's mother and brother, along with a dear friend of Gerard and David, Ken, who it turns out takes part in the service.

The judge begins in a soothing, gentle voice, welcoming everyone. He lets David and Gerard and Ken take over and add meaning prior to fulfilling his official role of marrying them.

They invite [David's mother]to say a few words, and [his brother] to read a poem, and they explain the significance of part of the flowers they're wearing on their lapels: They've got pure white freesia surrounded by rosemary, which is a common herb of the Czech Republic, where David's mother's family's from, and they are enwrapped in a thin, white, Mexican wedding-cord, which is in a figure-eight around them, to signify infinity; Gerard's family's from Mexico.

David's mother is so clearly, selflessly present and joyous for David; she says during her remarks, "A mother's fondest wish for her son is that he grow up to be happy and successful."

Their friend Ken says that prior to the wedding, he asked David and Gerard what the occasion meant to each of them and Ken wants them to tell us as well. David talks about how important it is for Gerard and him to be able to marry legally. Gerard talks about the day being the culmination of more than a decade of wishes -- on cake-candles and shooting stars -- how he always wished for nothing more than to be able to marry David.

The judge begins the official part, saying, "I was among the people, who made the decision [to agree to same-sex marriages under Ontario law] because it was just a human thing....The day of the announcement, the first people were two girls and a baby, but they were uncertain, so we sent them away. The next day, the comedian Maggie Kasella(sp?) came with her partner and since we weren't yet used to doing these, I called her the husband by mistake."

She said, "Don't worry. This is all going into my next routine."

He is not being intrusive with these anecdotes, but rather wants to help everyone see that he has had a role in David's and Gerard's wedding being possible, and that indeed, it is still new for everyone, both the couples and the officiants. Afterwards, I ask him how many same-sex marriages he's officiated at and he tells me, "About 150." Well, he is smooth and lovely for David's and Gerard's ceremony. No faux pas.

For the entire service, my throat catches and I have tears that seem to be waiting at some gate, and then they say such loving vows to each other, which they have written themselves and exchange rings, and I burst quietly into tears finally. I look to my right and all of us are crying. Everyone.

For me, it isn't just about how moving their love is -- and it is deeply moving. It is from relief at seeing two of my people being respected as a couple by the Law. I feel so hopeful. They sign the marriage license, with Mrs. Chase and Peter as witnesses, also signing, and I think of my parents and their witnesses. This is just like it was for my parents. This marriage is real.

At David's and Gerard's intimate reception in New York City this past Saturday -- which includes close family, and only a few IBMers from the early days of the GLBT Executive Task Force, all women -- David's brother Peter reads a note from a heterosexual friend of theirs who can't be there in person. She writes of how steadfast their relationship has been while all of the "straight folks" around them have fallen in and out of such crazy relationships.

It is only right, she writes, that they, who have been happy together for 16 years, are able to marry. Her note ends with, "Now that David and Gerard are married, all is right with the world."

I am honored that David has also asked me to say something at the reception in New York and here's what I say:

I love David and Gerard. I was so privileged to be able to attend their wedding ceremony in Toronto on Thursday.

Between the ceremony at the Wedding Chamber of Toronto City Hall and our dinner at the Four Seasons, colleagues of ours, Richard and Roberto, hosted a gathering in their loft.

I overheard a moment between David and his mom while we were there that I know they won’t mind my sharing. David was looking around at the lovely almond wedding cake topped with orchids and the gorgeous, pure white flowers of all sorts that Roberto had arranged around their home in honor of the occasion.

David was marveling wordlessly and his mother said, “You deserve it. You’re a good man.”

Ultimately, I flew up to Toronto for 30 hours because I had been at David’s father’s memorial service and felt that I wanted to be there as much for a happy occasion as for a sad one. I only wish that David’s father could be here physically as well as in spirit to acknowledge how wondrously grown-up and boyishly-happy David is now.

At the ceremony in Toronto, David’s mother said a few words and among them if I remember correctly, was a reference to Gerard’s quiet strength. It can be true that whenever David and I are together, it’s challenging for anyone else to get a word in edge-wise, but Gerard manages and when he does, I’m humbled because it’s never, ever just chatter.

Gerard was so beautifully-declarative when he told everyone on Thursday that the wedding was the fulfillment of more than a decade of small wishes. He said that every time he blew out candles and every time he saw a shooting star, what he wished for each time was to marry David.

David and I met through IBM nine years ago. Along with Carol Vericker, everyone agrees that David is among the original agents for all the progress we’ve made at IBM with welcoming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender customers and employees.

What most people don’t know is that David also has impeccable taste in selecting the perfect lesbian gift. When I worked in Schaumburg, Illinois nine years ago, I took a business trip to New York City and if I remember correctly, I asked Carol ahead of my trip if there were any kindred spirits I could contact while in Manhattan.

Carol gave me David’s contact information and David agreed that he and his partner Gerard would take off an afternoon to show me around Greenwich Village. They didn’t realize what a mitzvah, what a good deed, they did; until we met, they didn’t know that I had grown up in Stamford, Connecticut and used to take the train into New York in high school and take myself to Greenwich Village because I knew that was where all the gay and lesbian people lived and I wanted to be among them, if even just for an afternoon at a time.

Unfortunately, because I was deeply closeted then, I never asked anyone to direct me anywhere, and just got off the subway in the vicinity of where, ironically, my parents and sisters had lived before they moved to the suburbs before I was born. I never did find Mecca, and so David’s and Gerard’s walking tour hit the spot.

It became time for me to head to the airport that day, but I knew I couldn’t come home empty-handed and so I asked David and Gerard to help me find a gift for Pat. We happened to be in a silly novelty store at the time. David came over and said, “How about this?” and picked up a beer or soda-can-handle that looked like the curvy blond female character from “Li’l Abner,” in a midriff and Daisy Dukes hot-pants.

Pat is a big Diet Coke fan. I looked at David and at the plastic woman he was clutching and said, “It’s perfect!” and kissed him on the cheek enthusiastically. I knew we’d be friends then. And of course, it was a hit at home.

I’m so pleased that these two, good, profound, thoughtful and playful men have joined their lives to each other’s and are generously in Pat’s and my life, too. I’m also happy to be reminded that wonderful things happen along with sad ones. Today is the 21-year death anniversary of my father and usually, for the several days that lead up to it every year, I’m quite sad and contemplative.

This year, and from now on, I will have a happy association with this time of year, too. I want to believe that both of our fathers are here in spirit, smiling.

Besides the privilege of having their friendship, I’m most grateful to David and Gerard for being role models for Pat and me. Their love for each other urges us on in ours as well. If there’s a bouquet here today, I hope to catch it.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

I'm Posting this Now Because...

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 14 September 2003, at 8:35 pm, and posted here on 22 May 2007:

...I've come to see EAGLE as a global community/family that supports me greatly

I've been so out about my pursuit of motherhood here, and everywhere, that I feel I need to update you, providing more of the history than ever, and leading up to a resolution finally:

In August, 2001, I met with a friend and for the first time, really allowed myself to ask questions about motherhood. I didn't want to talk to my mothers or sisters because I didn't think they could be impartial about it. My friend gave me permission and encouragement to imagine myself as a mother. She listened to my questions and shared her experience of having two teenage sons, the second of whom was about to enter college.

"As much as I will feel lonely with the house being empty finally, I'm so glad to have them, even if just for vacations from now on," she said.

Two weeks later, one of her two sons, died of a heart attack while running with a dormmate during his first week of college. I attended the son's funeral on September 12th, 2001.

She has never been the same, and yet still is glad that she had her son for the 18 years she did.

From then on, I felt more compelled than ever to give birth to a child of my own. My friend was inspirational to me, even as I dreaded ever having to face the same tragedy, God forbid. She remained encouraging and sweet about my budding pursuit.

I remember reading about how parents weathered September 11th better than people without children, as they had to pull themselves together to make their kids feel safe and in the process, they felt purposeful. Oh, how I related to that. I wrote about it in this database, I think, if I remember correctly, about how I wished I had someone young of my own to help soothe at that time.

On my sister Kathy's birthday, November 29, 2001, I began taking a prenatal (folic acid) pill daily.

In December, we met with a doctor on my Aetna list, who was conveniently in New Jersey, and who said very affirmatively, "We'll get you pregnant." I was buoyant as we drove home.

After speaking with an EAGLE member, who was also trying to get pregnant through an anonymous donor, I was inspired to do what she was doing and began writing to the future baby every single night before bed, so I could chronicle for it how anticipatory its parents, Pat and me, were, and how excited we were to be welcoming him or her ultimately into our home.

In February, 2002, after a three-month waiting period of seeing if an ovarian cyst I had would disappear on its own -- it did -- I was inseminated for the first time with a dose from an anonymous donor, who was smart, healthy, and had Pat's features and heritage. Stats like that, they'll give you, without revealing any contact information.

It didn't take. Four times more and a histoselpingogram(sp?) later, I still had not conceived. Then I discovered that the doctor had never done the most basic fertility test on me and I was as traumatized as anyone would imagine, knowing that I had tried five times without ever knowing if I were even fertile.

I complained to Aetna, and then switched from that doctor to one who wasn't on the Aetna list, but who had helped my sister Kathy get pregnant. He took tests and determined that I was perfectly fertile, even in good fertility shape for my age, 37, and he was purely optimistic, like the first doctor had been, only he was with a famous, famous NYC hospital and had helped my sister, so I couldn't believe our good fortune in finally choosing to go there; you get what you pay for, I figured.

As soon as I got home, I became super-depressed, like I had hardly ever been. It was swift, that is, it didn't last long, but it was devastating; a day or so after it had passed, I realized that I was depressed at the prospect that it was finally real. Finally, a baby was in the offing and I was scared of how real it was.

The doctor's approach was to try one more time with the IUI method, and then, if that didn't work, to try up to three cycles on Clomid, a medication that causes depression and all sorts of PMS-type physical side-effects -- a much more extreme version of them. And if that didn't work, I should try IVF, where they put the embryo(s) directly into my womb through medical technology.

The regular IUI was unsuccessful, and so I went on Clomid, which really, really unnerved me because I don't really even like to take aspirin, but I reasoned, I can do this if a baby is the end-result.

I can't take a dramamine without becoming a zomby for two days, so medicine really effects me and the Clomid did as well. God bless Pat and Joseph, who probably bore the brunt of my non-stoicism. One of the months, I opted to go to London on business, rather than get inseminated, and so I had wasted a month on Clomid, and ended up taking it for four months instead of three.

The lab associated with my doctor was closed in July, the third time I wanted to have a Clomid-influenced IUI, so I opted to go to another hospital. It was the 4th of July, 2003 and I was lying in the substitute-doctor's office, but I thought it was a good sign that my friend Leslie's baby was on the wall as part of the collage of holiday cards all of these clinics post to get people excited about their possible future as parents.

Leslie's baby did not turn out to be a good sign. I turned 38 on July 13th, hopeful that I might be pregnant then, but I wasn't, for the third time on Clomid.

Meanwhile, a colleague of mine, who's older than I got pregnant and told me not to give up; "It'll happen."

The next IVF cycle, my regular doctor told me, was not till October.

Could I afford to wait till then, I asked?

A three month break would be OK, he said, although anything beyond that was probably pushing it.

I enjoyed the break. I told Pat that I needed to stop writing to the future baby and I did.

By Labor Day, at the beginning of September, I knew it was time to start gearing up again. I called the doctor and the person that pre-certifies me with my insurance and the IVF nurse, and then kept putting off calling them back when they returned my calls.

I spoke with a colleague, who told me from her own experience,"The animal urge to have a child passes. It did for me....Any time I am compulsive about something, as I became about getting pregnant, I know I have to look at it."

Both comments resonated with me. With nine heartbreaks over a year and a half, the urge was pretty much gone, and I did feel the last few times as though I were just marching along without being at all reflective.

How could I stop, though? Certainly, I needed to try the heroic measure of IVF, even though women my age have only typically a 40% chance of becoming pregnant through IVF, and even though I was alienated by what the process would require: an incredible series of tests and shots and monitorings and scientific tricks, and even though my sisters both had miscarried their first pregancies, one after the third month.

This weekend, thinking about a business trip made me stop and get serious finally. I realized that I didn't want to miss an upcoming trip to Paris in order to do the IVF. I realized that this would be only the first of untold trips and meetings I'd have to miss because of my child. I was sobered. I was ashamed, and finally, considering a number of other factors, I was resolved to stop trying to conceive, to give up my life-long expectation and two-year active dream of bearing a child.

Finally, I acknowledged that all along, I refused to consider adoption as a viable option; if I didn't give birth to him or her, I had no desire to raise him or her. It really was all about my genes going out into the world, rather than a burning need to mother just any child.

Did I really ever want to do the part that came between my giving birth and his or her being sweet to me in my old age? I always figured, I'll gain the will to become selfless in the way that parents need to be; it'll develop in me once the child's here.

Only one colleague from EAGLE, a mother herself, and otherwise, only Pat ever said to me that they worried that as active as I am with my work, I might not enjoy having to make sacrifices in my career for the child. Again, I dismissed the worry, figuring, I'll rise to the occasion.

My mother said, "Won't you always wonder if you could have had a child, if you had just tried the IVF?"

"Yes, but I'm prepared to live with that because the expense to my heart if it doesn't work again, or if I miscarried or if the child had a disability is too great. I don't know how I'd survive that."

My mother, my sisters, friends I told over the weekend, all understood my sadness and my resolve ultimately.

Tonight, I feel like I'm ready to finally grieve the loss of the nine unsuccessful attempts, since each of those times, I told myself not to despair and to keep hoping. Now, I ought to give myself permission to collapse and grieve fully, but there's no time. Monday's an all-day, off-site meeting in Armonk and Tuesday night is a panel that means a lot to me and I have to stay highly-functional for both.

Will it be that my life will be about staying functional for others who need me, even if not one single child? That's not so awful.

I need to keep applying all of the loving way I am to my relationships and my work. I've done that for 38 years, so why should I change now, just because I'm suffering a giant loss?

It's my losses that make me as loving and sensitive as I am, including the loss of my:

Father of blessed memory
Expectation of living heterosexually, once I was 21 and could no longer deny my total attractions to women
Friend Robert to AIDS
Sense of fundamental safety, since September 11th
Dream of giving birth
Continual loss through acknowledgment of the Jewish and GLBT and other lives lost in the Holocaust and other genocides....

All of these losses bring gains; I:

Became less aloof and more accessible
Found the world's most lovely person to be my partner
Gained an appreciation for my friends who remained and for others' losses of loved ones from AIDS
Now arrive at airports with plenty of time to spare, rather than running to the plane like I always used to do, and more seriously,
Gained a further appreciation of the survivors' basic and graceful humanity, including my own
Am not yet sure what I'm gaining from not giving birth, but I trust I will gain something from it -- perhaps another reminder of my humanity and an added ability to relate better to people who suffer tragedies
Pride in the resilience of people to persevere against the odds.

Accordingly, I remain hopeful that God has other plans for me and that good things will continue to happen in the world and for me, but I am sad, too, and need to let myself be sad, even as I continue to help others and myself.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Seeds of Revolution

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

Remarks Delivered to the APGA (formerly known as AABGA)
Annual Conference, Boston, 29 June 2003
by Sarah Siegel, program director, GLBT Sales and Talent, IBM

Note: I delivered these remarks in 2003 and posted them here on 22 May 2007.

David and Elayna, thanks for inviting me to speak to your colleagues. Some of my favorite experiences in nature have been in public gardens and arboreta. I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, where my mom still lives. Is anyone here from Bartlett Arboretum or the Stamford Museum and Nature Center?

I met David DeKing through Jose Ortiz of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters.

I’m reminded of how Jose, along with a group of his most enterprising colleagues, had been telling their management for some time that it made sense for the Museum to have a booth at the annual Gay Expo. It was an intriguing idea, but not a top priority.

And then, with its being the number one tourist destination in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum was hard-hit by September 11th.

Museum and Cloisters visits were down in 2001, way-down, since New York tourism had diminished so. The Museum was ready to experiment.

A booth full of enthusiastic gay and lesbian employees along with reps from HR smiled back at the expo attendees. They gave away family passes, sold memberships on the spot and welcomed a number of employment inquiries.

I think this is a terrific example of marketing leadership. Some organizations might think that marketing to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is a cool concept for when times are flush, when there’s room for risk-taking, but The Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the Cloisters recognized that it was precisely at the time when it was most eager to increase visits that it needed to do something fresh and more inclusive.

I don’t know how many of you here are already fully, visibly, actively inclusive of GLBT employees, members, visitors and trustees compared with the number of you, who have considered how natural it would be to be actively welcoming to GLBT people, but who haven’t yet made the progress.

For example, I wonder how many of your membership brochures have language that is inclusive of couples and families with same-sex partners. You’d only have to switch the language, so that it reads “spouse or partner” instead of just “spouse.”

Or you could do what Bartlett Arboretum has done and simply designate a “family/household” category of membership. Just for fun, I checked the Bartlett Arboretum’s site on the web and was happy to see its inclusiveness.

When David invited me to speak, some people asked me, “But what does the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta have in common with IBM?”

One simple answer is that we are your customers and hopefully, increasingly, you are ours.

The nearly 320,000 IBMers and their families worldwide, a number of whom are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, or GLBT for short, are among your 60 million visitors, and with your operating budget topping 620 million dollars, I trust that an increasing share of that budget is being spent on information technology, such as, ever-more sophisticated database software; web site development and hosting; and hardware just for starters.

Certainly, I’m happy to take orders for any technology needs you might have after this session, and seriously, I do hope that all things being equal, everyone I ever talk to who needs technology services and products can feel good about choosing IBM, knowing that we’re visibly, actively welcoming of all customers, including GLBT and GLBT-friendly ones.

What else do AABGA and IBM have in common? Both are employers of all sorts of humanity. In my experience, employees who feel respected are remarkably productive and more innovative. For example, a number of GLBT IBMers, including me, prepared the proposal to senior management for launching the GLBT Sales and Talent team in 2001.

Doug Elix, who heads our Global Services business, which includes our consultants and which is the largest and most profitable division of IBM, said yes right away to becoming the senior executive sponsor for the team, including funding headcount market research and program dollars.

Doug recognized that along with Asian, Black, Hispanic and Women’s segment teams that already existed, it made sense to dedicate a full-time team to the GLBT segment, which includes members of all of the other diverse constituencies and all levels of organizations, including, increasingly, openly GLBT, and GLBT-friendly, executive technology purchase decision makers.

In 2001, it was a breakthrough idea, as we became the first technology company in the Fortune 500 to have such a team, and it happened because the culture welcomed such innovation.

My colleague Irwin Drucker, who’s in IBM Procurement and openly gay, raised his hand in 1999, even earlier, to be the program director of Gay and Lesbian Supplier Relations, which focuses on IBM spending its vendor-money with GLBT-owned businesses. Other companies have programs for women and minority-owned vendors, but IBM is the first to have one dedicated to spending money with GLBT business owners.

I love that this year’s conference-theme is “Seeds of Revolution.”

Marketing to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their GLBT-friendly associates is not at all revolutionary. IBM, along with arboreta and botanical gardens all over the world, has always been doing so.

What is revolutionary is that IBM is acknowledging the full humanity of its GLBT and GLBT-friendly customers so visibly, by assigning full-time staff and program dollars for business development, advertising and cause-related marketing in this arena.

I want to use the rest of my time with you to describe how it made sense for IBM to support a GLBT sales focus, and to offer you customer insight from my experience over the past two years of serving the GLBT, and GLBT-friendly, market.

At the end of the session, I’ll provide a tip-sheet you can walk away with on how your organization can get started with GLBT sales and marketing.

It might surprise you to learn that IBM has had black and female employees since 1899 – 10 years before the NAACP was founded and 20 years before women got the right to vote.

Also, 11 years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, our CEO at the time, T.J. Watson, said there would be no “separate, but equal facilities.” IBM was building a number of manufacturing plants in the South and this was also a year ahead of the Brown decision ending “separate but equal” in public education.

IBM added “sexual orientation” to its non-discrimination policy in 1984. I wonder if all of the botanical gardens and arboreta represented here, which have non-discrimination policies include “sexual orientation.”

If not, I hope you’ll be inspired to update the policy, so that gay, lesbian and bisexual employees will feel explicitly welcome in your organization. I know that as a lesbian, I feel better, knowing I am among the people who are explicitly welcome to work for IBM.

Another surprise, probably: IBM is the first company in the world to add “gender identity or expression” to its global HR policy; so far, most other companies only cover U.S. or North American employees while this policy covers all IBMers in all of the 160 countries where we operate.

It would be fully inclusive if each of your organizations who already have a non-discrimination policy were to add “gender identity or expression,” too, so that transgender and gender-variant employees feel welcome to work with you as well.

Now that you know that IBM’s heritage is an inclusive one, the ease we had in gaining support for launching the GLBT Sales and Talent team won’t prompt you to say, “IBM, really?” but rather, “IBM, of course.”

IBM has diversity task forces for eight constituencies: Asian, Black, GLBT, Hispanic, Men, Native Americans, People with Disabilities and Women.

It also has employee networking groups for each of the constituencies and probably has the world’s largest GLBT employee group, with 1,100+ members in 30 chapters worldwide.

My counterpart, Joseph Bertolotti, and I consider all of them to be among our virtual sales force and we’ve established a GLBT Sales Network accordingly, so that they can develop sales leads with us as needs arise among any of their GLBT customers or friends.

We had done some experimenting with GLBT events and advertising since 1995, but each effort was a one-shot and so while each was appreciated by the community and increased its brand loyalty to IBM, there was no sustained activity around welcoming GLBT business.

We had even assigned a third of a headcount to the gay and lesbian market from 1997-2001, which was dedicated to the market only a third of the time, so the results were good, but limited.

When Doug Elix agreed to sponsor the team, I raised my hand to be one of the members, and we did a job posting for the other peer position.

I remember wondering how many people would apply. I was shocked that close to 100 candidates emerged, which reminded me that the homophobia that has held me back most in my career is my own. Not everyone was even G, L, B or T. One of the non-GLBT candidates said simply, “It seemed like a great startup opportunity.”

My favorite part of my job has been working with non-GLBT sales colleagues to drive revenue from openly GLBT decision makers among IBM’s Fortune and Global 500 customers. We’ve driven millions and millions of dollars in GLBT-attributable revenue since our launch two years ago.

I’m going to share some of my customer experiences with you, so that you’ll have a close-up view of what has worked for me in appealing to the market, and they might inspire you to want to serve GLBT members, visitors and trustees actively, if you don’t already.

The first customer example shows how IBM’s GLBT sales focus resonates with non-GLBT, that is, GLBT-friendly customers:

I attended a dinner to benefit Equality Forum, a GLBT organization, and sitting to my right was a married couple. They wondered what IBM was doing there as a major sponsor and I wondered at their connection to the organization, since they appeared not to be G, L, B or T.

They told me that the man was the chair of the Media Arts department of a nearby university, and that a group of his students had done a GLBT photography exhibit recently and that the university was supportive of the organization, just like IBM.

I told him about my role and then he said, “I’ve been talking with one of your competitors and they haven’t been helpful. I need to outfit my computer animation lab with all new equipment and I’d rather work with a vendor who will care.”

“As a matter of fact,” I told him, “Mike Fuller, the head of the whole Education industry at IBM is here tonight and I’d love to introduce him to you.”

I asked Mike to come to the table to meet the couple and the department chairman ended up choosing IBM, and writing really gracious e-mail to me about how helpful IBM had been.

Through IBM’s support of Stonewall, a GLBT organization in the UK, we met an openly lesbian decision maker at a Global 500 firm there, which is already a big IBM customer. The account team, however, had not yet met with her.

We invited her, along with her partner and one of her GLBT-friendly colleagues and the colleague’s husband to join us at the IBM table at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Awards dinner in New York City a few months ago.

It was a memorable evening, just as we’d hoped; the customer took photos of the celebrity award presenters and entertainers, including Nicole Kidman; Marlo Thomas; Tony Bennett and kd lang.

Her mother, who was in the hospital, healing from hip surgery, instructed her to take photos. Along with the four customers, I invited Liz Grant, an openly lesbian IBM colleague from London, who knew the customers already through Stonewall activities with them, and who would also be able to introduce them to the account team upon their return home.

Liz followed up with the customer and now, the customer’s talking with the account team about potentially helping her with a substantial consulting project.

There was the deeply closeted senior executive of a giant financial services firm, who wouldn’t return IBM’s phone calls because he didn’t see how IBM was different from its competition…until he learned of our GLBT Sales and Talent mission.

We respected that he did not want to be identified as gay, and he was willing to speak with the rep accordingly. The rep is now demonstrating IBM’s services capabilities further, now that the customer’s granting him an audience.

Perhaps my favorite recent experience involved hosting a couple at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in the Midwest. HRC is probably the biggest GLBT organization in the world.

I invited a customer from one of our Fortune 500 accounts to attend with her partner and then also invited the IBM client director of the account to join us.

The customer and I had met at a conference of GLBT employee groups sponsored by an organization called Out & Equal, and I had met her partner, an author and transgender educator, when he had come to IBM to do transgender education for our GLBT Task Force.

The customer identifies as bisexual and her fiancé – that evening, I learned they’re getting married in the fall – identifies as a heterosexual transgender man. The client director and I had never met and I had no concept of the level of his GLBT-friendliness, but figured it was a good sign that he wanted to be at the dinner.

We had a wonderful evening. Serendipitously, the client director and the fiancé were both bantam, the same height, and spoke with me during the VIP reception about some of the tall women each had dated.

The customer was speaking with the ED of HRC while the men were kidding around. It was just a couple of guys, seeing eye-to-eye, and me, smiling down at them.

At the end of the evening, the client director and I debriefed and I said, “You were terrifically respectful. A number of people are confused initially by transgender people. You were great. I don’t know how many GLBT people you’ve had as friends or family in your life, but –”

“My freshman roommate was gay and my sister-in-law is, and besides, no one’s all-Democrat or all-Republican; no one’s all-male or all-female.”

“Well, I’m glad you were able to do good will, though I wonder if you think any business might come of your having met the customer.”

“She needs Computer-based Training services that could add up to tens of millions of dollars.” Jackpot!

The client director wrote a great e-mail follow-up note after the dinner to the customer’s fiancé:
Thanks for helping to make the evening a very enjoyable one.
I also want to thank you for letting me spend some (OK a lot) of
the evening talking with [your fiance]. I mentioned to Sarah and your fiancé alike
that I found the experience to be very personally broadening. Your fiance
helped to clarify some points of confusion that allowed me to have
a better understanding of the GLBT landscape and issues.

I hope the flight back was uneventful and relaxing.
Thanks again.

PS Best of wishes for both your upcoming marriage and new book!

I hope that some of you here today are inspired to become more demonstrative in your inclusion and welcoming of GLBT visitors, trustees and also colleagues. It’s really so much lovelier an organization when we find our common ground and acknowledge one another’s humanity, I’ve found.

The botanical gardens and arboreta that are the most inclusive are the most prosperous in the long run, if IBM’s success is any indication.

I added a bonus image to the tip-sheet I’ll hand out to you; it’s a static version of a dynamic web ad banner that we’re hosting on and, just for additional inspiration. Any of your organizations could do the same thing if they like fairly inexpensively.

Supported as I am in making a contribution to the business, you can imagine that I enjoy working for IBM. Finally, I’ll share another reason for liking the company that you’re most likely able to appreciate, also, which is about the property of our headquarters in Armonk, New York.

Armonk is about 20 minutes from where I grew up and so the topography’s the same. To get to the building from any of the parking lots, I need to walk along trails among boulder-laden woods.

Every time I visit headquarters, I feel like a happy kid. It’s like being back at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center or the adjacent Arboretum. I enter the building for a series of grown-up meetings and then return to the nicest part of my childhood as I walk back to my car in the lot. I’ve been struck by this and couldn’t imagine a more appreciative audience with which to share it.

I guess what we have in common, ultimately, is our humanity.