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As National Coming Out Week approaches, Plexus builds on the momentum created by last year's Gay Games

As National Coming Out Week approaches, Plexus builds on the momentum created by last year’s Gay Games
By: April Miller, CBC Magazine

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If the 2014 Gay Games had happened in Washington or Boston — the second and third host city runner-ups — “that would have just been another gay event in a large LGBT market,” according to Michelle Tomallo, the board president of the Plexus LGBT and Allied Chamber of Commerce.

The fact that the games did take place in Cleveland provided a platform for the LGBT community and allies to stand together on a grand scale. It also gave the region the opportunity for substantial collaboration.

“More than 300 organizations came together to support human rights and showcase Northeast Ohio. All were so eager to welcome people from around the world,” Tomallo says. “These connections wouldn’t necessarily have been made had we not all been working toward the Gay Games.”

Plexus was one of four lead community partners of the Games that began planning as soon as the area won the bid. Collaboration took place on many levels: private and public sectors, Cleveland and Akron communities, businesses, nonprofits, faith organizations, arts groups and many others.

“Through the impact of the Gay Games, LGBT professionals at corporations throughout Northeast Ohio not only felt the support and inclusion within their companies but they felt it throughout their communities,” David Robinson, the strategic initiatives director with Plexus, says.

Yet while incredible strides have been made in the last decade for LGBT rights —including this June’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage — there is still much work to be done. “LGBT people can now be married legally in Ohio, but, depending on where you work, you could be fired for doing just that,” Robinson says.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have no protections at the federal level in employment, housing and public accommodations. In Ohio only state employees have employment protections. “The City of Cleveland has been ahead of the curve in that Cleveland added protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation to Cleveland’s Code in the late 1990s, with additional protections being added to the Code in 2009 and most recently this year with the addition of gender expression and identity,” Tomallo says. “But only about 20 cities in the entire state have any protections for LGBT individuals — which equates to about 18 percent of Ohioans living in cities with non-discrimination ordinances.”

National Coming Out Week — hosted Oct. 8-16 by Plexus and employee resource groups (ERGs) from more than a dozen companies — will showcase the need for inclusion in the workplace. It is the first time the group is putting on a week’s worth of events and really highlighting the importance of the day here in the region. National Coming Out Day was founded in 1987 and has come to symbolize the importance of being out to not only influence those struggling to be themselves but also change the negative stigma around the LGBT community.

LGBT Heritage Day on Oct. 8 will kick off the week. Hosted by the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland and the City of Cleveland Community Relations, the event recognizes individuals in the region that have shown dedication in various ways to the LGBT community. On Oct. 15 a “Fostering Inclusivity for LGBT Employees” panel discussion will occur at the City Club. PNC Regional President Paul Clark is confirmed, with more panelists to be announced. A victory party will be held Oct. 16 at Tudor Arms in University Circle to celebrate being out, being an ally, and being proud. All events are open to the public.

Leading up to the week, LGBT resource groups will spotlight community service work they are doing and also distribute information on LGBT organizations in need of volunteer support. Throughout the month, groups will be encouraging their members to give back to the community.

“It’s not often you see professionals from so many companies coming together to plan, support and execute a regional event, but with the momentum of the past year, we see it happening right here in Northeast Ohio,” Kellie Rubesne, the chair of LGBT Plus, the national LGBT employee resource group at Progressive Insurance, says.

Feeling comfortable with who you are in your workplace is not just good for individuals but better for business. “When an employee can’t bring their whole self to the workplace it will affect not only that individual’s productivity but the team productivity as a whole,” Thomas Hawn, board president of the Plexus Education Foundation, says.

The Human Rights Campaign 2014 national study, The Cost of the Closet, found that 53 percent of LGBT workers hide who they are at work and 35 percent feel compelled to lie about their personal lives at work.

“A recent California study showed that when an employee feels safe to come out to their team, the team on average can be 27 percent to 35 percent more productive,” Hawn says. “But it’s more than just productivity. LGBT employees that feel it’s safe to be their whole self in the workplace will have higher retention rates, increased motivation and higher attendance rates.”

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Plexus is working in partnership with these companies and their LGBT employee resource groups on its National Coming Out Week events:

  • American Greetings
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Ernst & Young
  • Key Bank
  • GE Lighting
  • Lubrizol
  • MetroHealth
  • Morgan Stanley
  • PNC
  • Progressive Insurance
  • University Hospitals
  • Wells Fargo
  • Westfield Group