When Josh Hampshire was a teenager in Michigan, he lived the life of a nerd. His fascination with technology contrasted with his earlier years growing up “almost Amish” on the small dairy farm operated by his “old hippie” counterculture father.
Later developing an interest in the communications technology of the era, he would soon find himself rummaging through a dumpster to retrieve the discarded miscellany of a closing telephone switching station near the subsequent childhood small-town home he would share with his mother. He assembled the salvaged parts to create his own two-node hard-line network linking to a friend’s home next door.
Hampshire, beginning the year as the new CEO of LEAGUE at AT&T, now heads up the 30-chapter network of company LGBT employees, engaging more than 3,300 members across the country. The organization’s board of directors and chapter leadership gathered in D.C. last weekend to plan strategic priorities for the year.
Established in 1987, the trailblazing AT&T Employee Resource Group, one of 11 current internal associations, became the first gay workplace support and advocacy organization of its type in the country. It would survive the multiple evolutions of telephone industry re-configurations and re-brandings through which the company would transition.
Embraced by a welcoming corporate attitude from the beginning, the novelty of such a gay employee association was a natural fit for the telecommunications giant. AT&T management and personnel had, after all, been instrumental in establishing the Telephone Pioneers of America in 1911 – now the world’s largest industry-specific organization of employees and retirees dedicated to community service.
According to AT&T LEAGUE Foundation founder and president John Klenert, a retired Washington employee, the corporation’s embrace of equal protection policies was both immediate and organic. When the now-named National Gay and Lesbian Task Force wrote to the late and then AT&T chairman John deButts in early 1975 requesting that the company adopt sexual orientation employment protections, he quickly agreed – distinguishing the company as the first Fortune 500 enterprise to do so.
Hampshire, who began as an entry-level customer service rep, praises AT&T “for being a pioneer in LGBT workplace policies,” noting its additional distinction as “the first large company to provide employment protections for transgender employees.” AT&T is ranked as a Human Rights Campaign “Best Places to Work” and has long enjoyed a perfect score on the organization’s Corporate Equality Index.
“There are few businesses that have celebrated diversity like AT&T,” Hampshire points out, noting that the company “doesn’t ‘toot its horn’ about nondiscrimination policies and philanthropic activities,” that are the result “of a unique grassroots management culture from the bottom up.”
Hampshire, now a Dallas-based senior program manager for the 200-city AT&T Aspire high school mentoring program, recalls how being a techno-nerd and growing up gay was a dual estrangement from his peers. “At one point I thought I would drop out of high school,” he says, adding that those memories help him understand the importance of his current job. “AT&T has committed $350 million to the program over 10 years,” Hampshire notes, enthusiastically detailing the positive impact it has for at-risk students, the educational values it instills, and the opportunities the program provides through an emphasis on science and technology skills.
LEAGUE of AT&T is expanding its organizational foundation’s existing college scholarship program, funded by AT&T and private donors, by providing LGBT student mentoring in affiliation with the Aspire program.
For Hampshire, who is planning a New Mexico wedding with his partner of 10 years and with whom he is expecting twins in late August by in vitro surrogacy, that is a goal as clear as any modern-day mobile phone call.