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The Outie Awards

The Outie Awards


Dow Chemical, Clorox, and IBM were among the big winners Thursday evening at the 2010 Out & Equal Workplace Summit's Outie Awards, recognizing achievement in progressive business initiatives for LGBT employees.

The Los Angeles event drew more than 2,000 attendees representing Fortune 500 companies including Citibank, Xerox, and Wells Fargo as well as federal agencies.

With prospects for a federal law to protect gays and lesbians against workplace discrimination becoming increasingly dim in the near future, panelists discussed methods of strengthening their own health coverage for LGBT workers and company nondiscrimination policies, particularly for corporations with global reach.

"The whole international piece has become a hot topic," Out & Equal Workplace Advocates founding executive director Selisse Berry said. "People are still trying to figure out how to take these policies globally. And to have an impact globally."

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, currently languishing in a congressional committee, has been a catalyst for Out & Equal participants -- many who have successfully lobbied their employers to publicly support the legislation, which that would bar private businesses with more than 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Berry said. "So many Americans support ENDA, but so many more don't realize that protections for gay employees don't actually exist," she added.

ENDA's nonpassage was equally galling to comedian Kate Clinton, who emceed the summit's dinner. "I'm continually struck by the obstructionist nature of what we're up against," Clinton said. "I think we really did believe that change would come sooner rather than later. There's just such incredible spinelessness. But I judge our progress by the amount of obstruction we face, and there's still a tremendous amount."

In the absence of federal action, some companies have implemented progressive policies in recent months, including "gross-ups," or added salary for gay employees who must pay additional federal taxes for partner health care benefits.

According to a 2007 report by the Williams Institute, a sexual orientation law and policy research center at the University of California, Los Angeles, gay workers who cover their partners' health benefits pay an average of $1,069 more in income and payroll taxes than employees with opposite-sex spouses.

Companies including Google, Cisco, and Kimpton Hotels currently offer the gross-up option to employees who have partners on their health insurance plans.

"The climate is changing very quickly," Todd A. Solomon, author of Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer's Guide, told The Advocate in September. "With the Prop. 8 [court] decision, who knows what this will do to the national -- and corporate -- consciousness."

Panel topics during the four-day summit included "Out in the federal workplace: Strategies for LGBT consultants in the federal environment," "Being transgender in the workplace in a binary world," and "Collision Course: Religious and LGBT interests in the workplace."

The list of Outie Award recipients in full:

Trailblazer Award: Bill Hendrix, Dow Chemical
Champion: Mark Bertolini, Aetna Healthcare
Significant Achievement: Dow Chemical
Workplace Excellence: IBM
Employee Resource Group of the Year: The Clorox Co.

Click here for more information on Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.

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