Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dancing for Equality

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

Well, Really More So Just for Fun

Should I or shouldn't I? At my first cousin's wedding earlier this year, I opted to do a Russian dance-move that I always enjoyed doing, growing up, where I'd go into the center of where people were dancing and drop down to the floor suddenly, then kick out my legs from a crouch while rotating. It always got people exclaiming and clapping and it was so easy...or at least, it used to be when I had limberer limbs.

Tonight, I weighed the risk of nearly falling again with the fun of hearing the sounds of happy surprise and the claps, and I went ahead and took the risk. I was able to get back up and stagger my way, a bit, out of the circle. And then I was done. My colleague and friend Richard, from Australia, and I walked back to the hotel in what felt like humid, 100-degree weather at 11:30 pm (Central Time). Who knows what time it was for Richard.

About 45 minutes prior, the DJ inspired my colleague and friend Sue from Kansas, by way of Virginia, to say, "I'm nearly techno'ed out." And then the DJ was psychic because he played CeCe Peniston's "Finally" and the Pussy Cat Dolls' "When I Grow Up," Cindy Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and a re-mixed version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."

There I was, dancing with lesbian, gay and bisexual IBM colleagues from Johannesburg, Seattle, Paris, Denver, Sydney, Kansas City and Toronto. I hadn't planned to. I had planned to come back to the hotel at a sensible hour and get a good night's sleep, so I'd be my freshest for the last workshop I'm co-facilitating later this morning. But I couldn't resist.

Where We Were Dancing, and After Which Program

We were just outside the ballroom of the Austin Convention Center, on a tiny dance-floor, following the awards dinner of the Out & Equal Workplace Summit. We had applied to win for the top employee resource group, but it was the 30th anniversary of HP's formation of a gay and lesbian affinity group, and HP won.

Next year, my friend David pointed out, it will be the 25th anniversary of IBM, adding "sexual orientation" to our U.S. equal employment opportunity policy and we just launched our EAGLE - India chapter after the application deadline, so there's always next year....

Friday's Panel

Yesterday, Fauzia Zaman-Malik of Accenture, Cathy Tanelli of Citi, representing her partner, who she accompanied on assignment, Rochelle Weitzner of International Paper, who couldn't travel down due to the hurricane, and Suzy Deffeyes, Rob Shook and I -- all of IBM -- offered a panel, "How to Succeed on International Assignments While Being L, G, B or T [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender]."

I spoke to a good number of attendees prior to start of the panel and learned that one of them works for a petroleum company and lives in Kazakhstan. Another, who worked for the same company, lived in Angola on an assignment; homosexual activity is punishable by death in Angola, he told me.

Another attendee grew up around the world, with his parents, and had worked for an NGO for some time prior to getting the corporate experience he's gaining now, but had never lived abroad since coming out, and was trying to figure out how to continue being a world citizen while being as openly-gay as possible.

Two men were fathers (of separate families) and wondered how their kids would be able to be out about their same-sex parents while living, and attending elementary school, in a foreign country.

Two gay, Indian guys had transferred from the branch office of a Fortune 500 company in India to Jersey City and Salt Lake City; the one in Salt Lake City said he nearly had to quit a number of times before he felt comfortable enough to continue in the job. And then he asked me, "Are you friends with Deepak?" (Deepak is an IBM alumnus.)

"Yes! What a small world." (The gay, Indian world, probably *is* small, i. e., probably many know one another.)

Another attendee was a biologist with a pharmaceutical company, who had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa years ago, but who had not been out then. Fast forward to today, and his employer has asked him to go on assignment to Singapore next month; he's taking his partner with him. He asked, "Do any of the panel know who I might talk to about Singapore?"

Rob pointed at the guy six seats to the questioner's right and said, "You ought to talk to our IBM colleague Javan, who lives in Singapore." I was so proud that we were able to help so instantly and directly.

It was interesting that none of the female attendees spoke about experiences with assignments and by contrast, our panel was made up of four women and one man, as it turned out....Originally, I had invited two friends, who work for the U.N., but they had to back out -- what did I expect, since they work on the Mideast Peacekeeping Desk(!)

When the panel was done, Cathy, Rob and Suzy had to go right away to their next meeting, but Fauzia and I stuck around to keep talking with some of the attendees. When they were done with us, I just spent a minute, packing up, and I felt suddenly super-sad.

It was such an important 90 minutes, as it turned out, and I crashed when it was all done. And I felt sad, saying goodbye to Fauzia because both of us had had assignments in Bangalore, and while we prepared for the panel, we had had excuses to stay in touch, but I didn't know how we would now that it was done, even though I said, "I really hope we stay in touch because I like you."

She agreed, but I think that both of us sounded a bit wistful, as if we knew it would be difficult to make future meetings happen....Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

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