August 17, 2016 at 5:52 pm EST | by Mark Lee
What sports, other businesses teach LGBT groups
Olympics, gay news, Washington Blade

The sexual orientation of athletes is increasingly of diminishing concern and absent of controversy.(Photo by Leonard Zhukovsky; courtesy Bigstock)

The 2016 Summer Olympics are an appropriate metaphor for modern era progress in achieving LGBT equality, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

The Games are the epitome of the notion that personal achievement is appropriately measured only by the standards of performance in any endeavor. In not mattering, the sexual orientation of athletes is increasingly of diminishing concern and absent of controversy.

Worldwide gatherings such as the athletic competitions in Rio this month promote individual merit and accomplishment as having absolutely nothing to do with who one is or from where one comes. Or whom one loves.

That’s the type of message marketing, as the saying goes, that money can’t buy.

The fact that this year’s quadrennial international athletic competition sports the largest number of openly gay and lesbian athletes in history is a testament to that progress. More important, such visibility openly encourages the acceptance and normalization of gay sexual orientation across the globe.

This is similar to the greatest historic component of equality advancement in modern LGBT history – the “coming out” of gays and lesbians to the people in their lives. Knowing openly gay people has been the singular significant impetus for engendering equality.

Important to this evolution in sports is the full-throated support of athletes who are gay or lesbian by the International Olympic Committee.

The business entity running the Games is on record as supporting the equal access and fair treatment of LGBT athletes. As is the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That is a stance we have come to count on from commerce in our country. And represents an important lesson for all of us.

Support for gay equality is overwhelmingly common and nearly universal among U.S. enterprise. In fact, LGBT Americans now fully anticipate, and rely upon, immediate opposition by corporations and small business whenever political officials, government bodies or public agencies act to deny or restrict gay rights.

The lesson in that is government is rarely, and seldom ever, the harbinger of civil rights or equal protections. They have proven to be merely the lagging indicator of a commanding or consensus public attitude. Government officials and institutions are in a perpetual mode of catch-up to common opinion. Officialdom doesn’t cause or create change, but simply affirms it once apparent or when compelled to do so.

That’s why the reliance on, and religion of, LGBT political activists and organizations believing government is the provider and protector of equality is an odd and mistaken conceit regarding an institution that grants little or nothing without demand.

In contemporary times, business and commerce have played the leading role in demanding and defending LGBT civil equality in both operations and the marketplace, usually in advance of government or in opposition to it. In contrast to this enterprise leadership, the reliance by advocates on bureaucrats for liberty through legislation is folly.

Perhaps prodding politicians to action – or dragging them across the goal line – provides a certain utility. It should not, however, be mistaken as either source or impetus for change, as is the error activists typically make.

Same with the illusion that another law, additional legislation, some new requirement supposedly bestowing a guarantee of protective equality has much effect in the real world. Governmental rules attempting to mandate interactions among persons or between entities and individuals, particularly the essentially vague and ultimately unenforceable provisions necessitating the consent of those so ordered if to be effective, are easily circumvented by those possessing intent or seeking opportunity.

Worse is the tendency of LGBT activists to further promote a false worship of government by too often portraying business as enemy. An odd political posture for a demographic with an unusually large percentage engaged in enterprise as business owners and executive leadership – at a widely estimated 10 percent.

It’s an unfortunate and counterproductive attitude directed toward a business community that is now the dominant and driving force building and broadening full equality for LGBT Americans.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

1 Comment
  • “The lesson in that is government is rarely, and seldom ever, the harbinger of civil rights or equal protections.”

    If that’s the lesson you learned, one really needs to ask where you went to school Mr. Lee. Tell me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember businesses large or small rallying to pass the Equal Pay Act in 1963, or for that matter the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Business owners saw both of these as an infringement on their “management rights” and in some cases an assault on their personal behavior and belief systems.

    Perhaps you’d like to “educate” us with how the courts didn’t really need to intervene on sexual harassment in the 70’s and 80’s? How business leaders (when not actively engaged in practicing it) were working to eliminate hostile work environments for women. Are you really suggesting that they would have done that without threat of penalties? Then again that was then and this is now right, Mark? Under your premise, Roger Ailes and Fox are just the latest corporate victims of liberal judicial extremism run amuck.

    I am sure you believe that Katie Ledecky would have been on that podium with or without Title IX but there is no dispute that her access to the facilities she needed to her achieve her athletic success was assured by the law not by business. If we can rely on business to do the right thing, then why is the DC Office of Human Rights not a mere footnote on the journey to equality rather than having a caseload bigger than ever? I wonder if there are any restaurants or bar owners in that stack.

    Sure Mark, companies are very good at making a business case for diversity. The problem is that if they can’t monetize it, they won’t voluntarily support it. Marriott headlines the Pride Parade and it’s board room is filled with people who don’t support marriage equality. So do you really think if the law didn’t exist after the money disappeared or if the law hadn’t existed and there was no money in it for them, that Marriott would lead? So thank you for the lesson in corporate responsibility but I think I will put my faith in Ruth Bader Ginsburg rather than Bill Marriott and his bud Mitt Romney.

    Perhaps you’re correct Mark when you say: “It’s an unfortunate and counterproductive attitude directed toward a business community that is now the dominant and driving force building and broadening full equality for LGBT Americans.” However, with their history, you’re a bit premature to be taking them off monitoring. If they are as you purport such good people who are going to follow the law, then why worry about codifying the things that they are throwing their “full-throated” support behind?

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