When you’re in the media, you get invited to events where you see other media professionals with whom you work. So it was no surprise when I showed up at a press conference to preview the Fourth of July Wawa Welcome America celebration that I saw my friend David L. Cohen, who is Comcast’s senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer.
Diversity is an issue he takes seriously. He asked me, “Did you hear what happened at the shareholders’ meeting?” When I said no, with a smile, he suggested I look it up.
Here’s the gist of what happened, according to the Hollywood Reporter: “Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts answered questions about the liberal bent of MSNBC and the presence of company staff at the GLAAD Media Awards. Comcast “must appeal to all sectors of the population,” said one shareholder in a submitted question, arguing it shouldn’t take positions on any cultural issues that “divide” people. The recent Xfinity LGBT presence at the GLAAD Awards was “no more neutral than it would be for Comcast to hire picketers at an abortion [clinic],” the shareholder argued. Xfinity is Comcast’s digital cable service. Roberts responded, “We are a diverse and inclusive company, and we respect all perspectives and points of view” of employees and customers, he said, adding, “Thank you for your point of view.”
If I can be so bold to translate corporate speak, that was a diplomatic way for Roberts to say that Comcast Corporation, the nation’s largest media company — yes, larger than News Corporation or Disney — is proud of winning awards from GLAAD, just as it would be proud to win awards from organizations representing the African-American or Latino communities.
Roberts’ reaction also makes a clear point: Those who support LGBT equality are not apologetic. And there’s another important issue Roberts raised.
When President Obama referenced in his second inauguration speech, “Selma, Seneca Falls, Stonewall,” he made it clear that LGBT rights should be put on the same level as the fight for all human rights. Roberts’ polite reply made that same point.
I serve on Comcast’s Joint Diversity Council as the LGBT representative. The council advises the company on issues of diversity. I’ve watched this company excel in diversity: addressing the inclusion of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, disabled people, Native Americans, LGBT people and many more. Comcast not only meets the challenges of inclusion, in many areas it is now a corporate leader; besides advancing diversity inside the company, Comcast invites diverse groups, including the LGBT community, to bid for company business as outside vendors.
So let me take it a step further: Corporations that step forward are the new front in our struggle for equality, and they should be welcomed when they do so in meaningful ways, rather than those who look at LGBT inclusion as just window dressing — especially in areas where little or no LGBT rights exist, or the government has taken away LGBT rights, like in North Carolina. While many performers have boycotted the state, thus far the corporations that have major businesses in the state have only just signed on to the weak Human Rights Campaign letter. PayPal, to its credit, pulled a planned expansion in the state, but others must step forward. American Airlines has its No. 1 hub in the nation in Charlotte, the sixth-largest airport in the country; maybe it would help if it did more than simply sign on to the tepid HRC letter.
The Charlotte Airport is the engine that propels North Carolina’s economy, so American Airlines’ help in this area could move North Carolina forward.
Mark Segal is publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and author of ‘And Then I Danced, Traveling The LGBT Road To Equality.’