Friday, March 18, 2011

Impressions of PFLAG's 2011 Straight for Equality Awards Gala

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

Re-posted from GLBT IBMers & Friends Community (Behind IBM's Firewall)

Joseph Bertolotti kindly asked me to be his guest at PFLAG's 3rd annual Straight for Equality Awards Gala at the Marriott Marquis in NYC. We were grateful that in her role, Pinki Modi organized IBM's presence at the event. Here's a picture from the experience:

It was like old times; Joseph and I started up the GLBT Sales team in 2001 and worked together closely for three years. We live just a few miles from each other's home in New Jersey, though we didn't know each other prior to serving in our roles. Joseph pulled up in the driveway and we were so psychic: My blouse under my suit and his tie were solid, complimentary, similar shades of blue. "Joseph, look!" I said, pointing.

"Just like the prom," he said smiling...the prom I never went to. Joseph went to three, and I was never asked :-(

We walked up to the reception outside the ballroom on the fifth floor and I spotted one of the most beautiful lesbian entrepreneurs I recall from Joseph's and my selling days; an unexpected shyness gripped me as Joseph exclaimed excitedly that we needed to say hello to her...after each of us used the facilities. Upon meeting Joseph outside the men's room, near the coat-check area, I ran into Tim Collins from IBM and his partner Tom; I'd not yet met Tom. MetLife, Tom's employer, was going to win the Corporate Award, so the couple wore the tuxes they were married in. There's something so cool about a tux, on any gender.

Paul Frene came over while we were getting to know Tom. Paul and I were among the founders of what became Out & Equal - Metro-NY and it's really Paul's work that got MetLife to the honored place it would hold that evening. We introduced Paul to Tom as colleagues and then excused ourselves to talk with the beautiful entrepreneur, figuring that we would be seated at the table with Tim and Tom and could talk more then; Paul and Tom launched into shop-talk, so we figured they wouldn't miss us.

The woman was even more charismatic than I remember and she introduced Joseph and me to some of her female colleagues, pointing at us and saying, "These guys are old-school --"

"Thanks a lot," I interrupted, "So we're old!"

"No, no," she said, "They really got things going, what, 10 years ago?"

We smiled. IBM really was in the vanguard in 2001, when Joseph and I started up the team dedicated to the GLBT business-to-business market.This whole section of the evening had a poignant sweetness about it, like Joseph and I were being given an opportunity to time-travel back a decade, back when we stood and sat side-by-side at so many of these great community occasions. And even though all three of us were 10 years older, we still looked pretty good and were healthy, thank God....If only I were less vain....

We came to the table and already, seats were filled around Tom and Tim, and so our plan of socializing with them over dinner was foiled. I felt shy again. The people at the table who struck me as PFLAG parents were gracious and welcoming, but I felt a bit disoriented at first. Really, I had been hosted at a GLBT gala just once, by Erica Karp of UBS, at New York City's LGBT Center Women's Event some years ago, and rather, was used to *being* the host, along with Joseph. I guess I'm saying that I was comfortable, ushering people to the IBM table and hosting them, but not as much with arriving at a table of strangers, other than Tim and Tom, though Kathy & Robert Reim, and Tammy & Rachel Reim-Ledbetter, plus Mike Neubecker and Dr. Steve Krantz weren't strangers for long. During the Broadway Boys' opening entertainment, I started feeling uncomfortable that I hadn't yet introduced myself to Tammy & Rachel, the two young women, sitting across the table.

During the first break, I asked Joseph to come over with me. We introduced ourselves to Tammy and Rachel and learned that they were a couple, and were the daughter and in-law of the couple to their left. And then I learned that they worked for an Alaska credit union, and so I asked Joseph and them if I could sit down and talk with them about Alaska, since Pat & I were planning a trip there in August. Joseph understood and went over to Walter Schubert's table to say hi; as the first openly-gay man with a seat on the NYSE and as a founding board member of NGLCC, Walter was a great partner to Joseph and me in our work. I went over to say hi a bit later.

As I talked with the young couple, even though they were beautiful like the entrepreneur, I relaxed and felt at home and comfortable for the first time that evening; a beautiful couple is easier to talk with than a beautiful woman in a couple whose partner is not with her, and when my partner's not with me, e.g., in the entrepreneur's case. Their faces were kind, and I could imagine Pat, meeting and enjoying them as well. After the Alaska exchange, we traded stories about how they go with their mom/mother-in-law to rural towns in the Washington State region, including to cowboy bars, and win over the patrons through sharing their family experiences. My unexpressed stereotype was that heterosexual cowboys wouldn't necessarily get it; their cowboy-bar stories reminded me of the time my sister asked me to come talk with a group of 11th graders at the Brooklyn International High School, where she was the principal at the time, about being out at work. "These students are not privileged. They're new immigrants and refugees, and can you guess who was the most receptive to my visit? A visibly Muslim Arab girl; she wore a hijab....She told me she related to my story around being stigmatized by society; this was not long after September 11th."

Tom came back to the table and I was in his seat, so I excused myself from the conversation with Tammy and Rachel and went over to Walter, who just happened to be speaking with Claire Buffie, Miss New York, along with Joseph and Miss New York's boyfriend. Willowy and gorgeous though she was, I wasn't shy at all. Something shuts down in me when I know that a woman is heterosexual; she had already been introduced from the stage as a "straight ally." Unbelievably, I didn't already know her story. I asked, "What made you run on a gay rights platform?"

"My sister's a lesbian," and I don't remember the rest of what she said, as I was distracted, imagining a lesbian version of her. And then I was able to compose myself to say, "Our rabbi for 10 years, at the gay, lesbian, bi and trans synagogue, where we belong had a lesbian sister, too. As a rabbinical student, the rabbi was a prodigy; everyone in the Conservative movement thought she had an amazing future ahead of her and when she chose our congregation, they asked, 'Why are you wasting your talent *there*?" She still does have an amazing future, but she married another rabbi and left the synagogue to continue building her family; they had one baby-girl while she was our rabbi and then she bore a boy since her departure, if I remember correctly. No doubt, they'll grow up to be wonderful citizens, like Claire Buffie and their parents, no matter their sexual orientation.

It's practically dinner-time now on a Friday, and I could go on for awhile longer, but I'll end here, with a heartening exchange that Joseph and I had with Steve Krantz, who was sitting to my right. Steve is a Distinguished Engineer Emeritus, retired from IBM, but back supplementally, to support one of our GMs, as well as well as a PFLAG National Board Member. He's the father of a Los Angeles-based 29-year-old son, who's a lawyer and single, in case anyone needs a great litigator or boyfriend. (Hope Steve doesn't mind my trying to be an agent.) Toward the end of the evening, Steve said, "My son made me a better person."

"How did your son make you a better person?" I asked.

"He made me want to change the world."


adam said...

I admit I don't think I've visited your blog since you moved your writing here (from the EAGLE@IBM db), but the photo and headline from your FB post caught me eye. I love this post and am reminded how insightful and thoughtful your writing style is. Great post.

Much love.
Adam Brackman

Sarah Siegel said...

Thanks for your kind feedback, Adam. Miss you. Visit me at the IBM Learning Center or whenever you're in NYC; we'll have an EAGLE dinner whenever you're in town next.

Stacy L. Graffam said...

Sarah, I loved this post. I felt as though I was with you. Thanks for continuing to represent IBM so well. I'm glad you got to enjoy time with Joseph again. I hope our paths cross again soon. Miss you!


Sarah Siegel said...

And thanks to you for *leading* IBM so well. Yes, I miss you, too! This spring, David Chase and I are planning a museum outing, so come to that with any combo of your family or solo! (Stay tuned.)