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Op-ed: LGBT Visibility at Davos Must Grow in 2016

Op-ed: LGBT Visibility at Davos Must Grow in 2016


Much ado has been made about LGBT inclusion at this year's World Economic Forum, but where are the LGBT programs?

Several programs on the agenda at last week's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, promised to focus on issues important to gender and sexual minorities. But as a review at the event reveals -- and as Andrew Ross Sorkin rightly noted in The New York Times, topics of import to LGBT people at Davos this year were largely buried in broader topics of human rights and general diversity.

That's not to say there hasn't been plenty of discourse about LGBT inclusion and equality surrounding this year's World Economic Forum. In fact, direct mention of lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people and our struggles for economic and social equality made it into the opening remarks of this year's forum. There were also a series of articles published at the World Economic Forum's site whose authors read like a roll call of some of the world's most influential economists and financial gurus.

Just take Ernst & Young global vice president of public policy Beth Brooke-Marciniak's concise article, "LGBT at Work: Time to Smash the Lavender Ceiling." As have so many others have rightly done, Brooke-Marciniak begins her convincing piece by citing Apple CEO Tim Cook's words in coming out last year.

"So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me," Cook wrote in Bloomberg BusinessWeek back in October. "Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day."

Brooke-Marciniak's words echo in Davos, not only because of the timing of her article's appearance on the World Economic Forum's home page at the very moment this year's gathering of world's most influential "haves" got under way, but also because of who she is professionally and the voice of authority her work has earned.

"My own experience of being 'different' is multifaceted," Brooke-Marciniak wrote. "I was a woman, an introvert and closeted, with politics that tended to differ from peers in my heavily male, extroverted profession. Like Tim, these differences contributed to my natural propensity to be an inclusive leader, since I had experienced the minority position in many dimensions."

True to her company's storied place in the universe of accounting and numbers, moreover, Brooke-Marciniak's message to her colleagues at Davos is at once inspirational and factual. Just a look at this highest-echelon, out lesbian Ernst & Young executive commands her fellow Davos-goers' attention with her personal story and the numbers.

"Sixty-two percent of Fortune 500 companies now offer domestic partner health insurance benefits," she notes in her article penned for the eyes, hearts, and minds of her fellow corporate and public policy shapers at Davos this year. "Eighty-seven percent of Fortune 500 companies now have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation; and 94 percent of Fortune 100 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation."

That's the good news. But as Brooke-Marciniak notes, most progress on LGBT human and labor rights has been won in Europe and the United States. She and a handful of others lobbying for more attention among the world's leading economic influencers, i.e., Davos attendees, to the needs of LGBT people around the globe hope 2015 will be a tipping point after which positive change will begin spreading to the developing world. The bad news, of course, is that although a handful of seminars, workshops and press conference mention LGBT issues, a review of all of the program titles revealed not a single mention of the terms "LGBT," "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual," "transgender," "queer," or other nomenclature associated with our community.

There has been some suggestion that the World Economic Forum at Davos has been dragged somewhat unwillingly to the table of LGBT rights. In fact, NYT's Ross Sorkin noted a now-legendary breakfast that was moderated off-site from last year's Davos confab run by writer and television news host Fareed Zakaria. During this event, a human rights lawyer from Cameroon, which is famous for deplorable conditions for LGBT people, spoke compellingly about the need for an LGBT program at Davos in 2015, which was likely the catalyst for this year's modest inclusion of LGBT issues. To be sure, external pressures from activists and organizations like the Human Rights Campaign are cited as getting the ball rolling.

Davos organizers have cried foul regarding any suggestion that they have been less than eager to inlcue LGBT issues. Regardless, now the ball is in the hands of World Economic Forum itself. Let's hope we see an expressly named LGBT program or two on next year's agenda in Davos.

THOM SENZEE is an Advocate contributor and freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter at @Tsenzee

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