First the Occupiers and now the Gays. Both groups are fed up with the Wall Street status quo. The difference is that the gays actually have a plan to make things better. A “gay agenda” if you will. Members of the organization “Out on the Street” are director level or higher big wigs on Wall Street or related industries that are striving to make life better for gay employees in the field. They’ve convened an impressive network of LGBT leaders and together are working to motivate companies to attract, retain and develop LGBT employees. Founded by Todd Sears after becoming infuriated by the bigoted language he would hear thrown around in the halls, “Out on the Street” also leverages straight allies within companies to make their voices heard. Perhaps as a result of this kick butt group, banking and financial services now rank as the second-friendliest industry for LGBT employees, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which released its 2013 Corporate Equality Index report yesterday.
Like the Occupy movement, the impact is being felt beyond Wall Street. “Out on the Street” held their first international summit in London on Tuesday. With sessions like “The XX Factor: Gay Women in Banking” and “LGBT Diversity Means Business: Client Perspectives,” we know this is one group that is not going to be forced out of the park.
The impact for those of us who don’t—and never will—work in finance? Policies of large corporations can lead innovation and social progress far beyond the companies’ four walls. Fortune 500 companies have long acted as trailblazers for our jobs in smaller companies and the public sector. According to the new HRC report, “Market norms of inclusion have fundamentally shifted as evidenced by an historic first within the Fortune 500 – this year marks the first time that a majority of the Fortune 500 include both sexual orientation and gender identity protections.” Some of those leading the pack are none other than Wall Street giants Bank of America and Citigroup.
Thanks to the support of these major corporations as well as high profile Americans from pro athletes to our reelected president, our nation is witnessing a seismic shift in societal thinking. With pro gay marriage votes in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington earlier this month, experts are predicting that even the Supreme Court is unlikely to go against the progressive current of the sea of change when it comes to rulings on California’s Proposition 8 as well as the Defense of Marriage Act (which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for federal purposes). This is exciting news for my family, because although 89% of HRC-rated employers provide medical benefits to same-sex partners, the federal government — where my spouse happens to work — still does not. (As a result I pay my health insurance out of my pocket.)
Luckily, for once big business is on my side. According to HRC, “Since 2008’s Prop 8 campaign for marriage equality, business support for efforts to legally recognize same-sex couples has skyrocketed – dozens of businesses signed on to amicus briefs challenging the Defense of Marriage Act and dozens more lent their corporate names and resources to the fights for marriage equality in the states.”
So when the federal government finally starts recognizing my gay family, might I have the gay occupants of Wall Street to thank?