October 18, 2012 | by Santiago Melli-Huber
Out & Equal Conference comes to Baltimore
Out & Equal, gay news, Washington Blade

Last year’s Out & Equal Conference was held in Dallas. It’s in Baltimore this year. (Photo courtesy Out & Equal)

Many U.S. residents — even in the LGBT world — forget there are 29 states where it’s perfectly legal to fire an employee based solely on his or her sexual orientation.

For those at Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, that’s a major concern.

Issues of workplace equality for gays are again on the table at this year’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit, an annual event that comes this year to Baltimore from Oct. 29-Nov. 1.

The purpose of the Summit, organizers say, is to draw thousands of professionals from across the country and around the world to discuss strategies to create workplace equality. From there, attendees are encouraged to take what they learned and improve the working conditions for LGBT employees of their respective companies.

“The Summit is an opportunity to learn, teach, network and have fun with kindred spirits,” lesbian Selisse Berry, Out & Equal’s founding executive director, said in a prepared statement. “Together, we will move out from Baltimore, creating the ripples that will build respectful and inclusive workplaces around the globe.”

The Summit, which started in 1999, will take place at the Baltimore Convention Center. Registration is available onsite (online registration was available but is now closed). Registration includes a welcome reception, six workshop sessions featuring about120 program options, leadership seminars, a ticket to the Gala Awards Plenary Reception and Dinner with Sister Sledge member Kathy Sledge, and access to the “Night Out!” events on Oct. 31. About 2,600 attended last year’s conference in Dallas.

Onsite non-sponsor rates start at $1,350 for the full conference but day rates, student discounts and other packages are available in different price brackets.

The “Night Out!” event options include a screening of the film “Codebreaker,” based on the tragic life of gay computer scientist Alan Turing, and a Halloween party in Baltimore’s Power Plant Live.

Speakers at the Summit include Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard, and Zach Wahls, whose speech before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in favor of marriage equality became an internet sensation and who recently spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Beth Brooke, global vice chair of public policy at Ernst & Young, is the keynote speaker. Brooke is also a member of the International Council on Women’s Business Leadership, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Summit also features the presentation of the “Outie Awards.” Out & Equal gives the awards annually to individuals and corporations who are leaders in promoting workplace equality for the LGBT community around the world. Categories include outstanding work done by both members of the LGBT community as well as allies. Finalists for the corporate award include, among others, Google and Whirlpool.

In addition to looking for an opportunity to bring the conference to the eastern corridor and the progress being done for the LGBT community in downtown Baltimore, Kevin Jones, deputy director of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, is excited about the Summit’s location, as Maryland is fighting for same-sex marriage rights this November.

While Out & Equal Workplace Advocates works year-round to create safe and equitable environments for LGBT professionals, the Summit is the organization’s most influential event. Jones, who is openly gay, stresses the importance of the event in relation to the function of the organization.

“The Summit is the single largest program that we do and also the source of almost 90 percent of the resources that run Out & Equal and our other programs — training, consulting, regional affiliate activities — throughout the course of the year.”

According to Jones, a major focus of the 2012 Summit includes federal employees, given the Summit’s proximity to Washington. The Summit is recognized as officially approved training for federal employees.

“The other thing I would say that we’re really hoping to focus on is trying to make sure that voices from historically under-represented communities, particularly in the LGBT corporate world, are visible,” Jones says. “We are spending time trying to make the content accessible to local members of the transgender, bisexual and people of color communities.”

Many workshops and leadership seminars throughout the Summit focus on those issues.

Support for the Summit comes from registration fees as well as scores of corporate sponsors, particularly presenting sponsors Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates also held their first Global LGBT Workplace Summit in London this past July, which included a keynote speech by openly gay tennis champion Martina Navratilova.

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