COVER STORY: The social network

LGBTs and straight allies don’t just have a job at the NBC Universal network, they have a haven

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Dallasites know NBC here simply as Channel 5. The big five logo is the place Dallas goes to for must-see TV, Jane McGarry or Saturday Night Live. Most people only see NBC as a channel for entertainment and news, and that is perhaps as it should be.

But look a little closer and you’ll see that the network is also a company that celebrates its diversity, and here in Dallas, the year-old group Out@NBCUniversal has thrived in its short tenure.

“From gay, straight, lesbian — everybody is different in this chapter. This is a very welcoming company and our mission is simple,” said member Murad Kirdar. “Across the hubs, we are working to attract and retain LGBT employees and make this a place where they want to work.”

With just a year and a half under its belt, the Dallas chapter is the newest of currently eight hubs across the country.  As a whole, Out@NBCUniversal is a 25-year-old employee affinity network and also one of the oldest groups of its kind in corporate America.

Among those regional hubs, 1,400 members make up Out at large.

The Dallas hub
There wasn’t a real reason that a hub didn’t exist in Dallas earlier. It just took the initiative of NBC 5 employee Patric Alva to get it going.

Once that proverbial ball began rolling, the group flourished immediately.

“I had met Murad and other LGBT employees and even straight people who considered themselves allies,” Alva said. “I thought, ‘Why not take advantage of this opportunity?’ I thought it was interesting to see the other hubs. So one day it came down to getting it going and rolling.”

“[NBC] was excited when Patric wanted to start this. Once people participated and it became an active hub, it was overflowing with people wanting to join,” Kirdar added. “We do have our jobs and I do find this takes a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it.”

Alva said that not only queer and ally employees were encouraging the group, but that the higher-ups were making efforts to be visible in their support. At the group’s kickoff event at Hotel Zaza, upper management and the station’s general manager all showed up.

This only strengthened Alva’s commitment to the chapter.

Alva and Kirdar speak ebulliently about their work environment and how their company embraces diversity. It’s obvious, even over the phone, the pride they take in how NBC strives to provide healthy surroundings for its employees.

Andrea Krause, coming from a straight perspective, feels the same.

“I can’t ever imagine putting on the conservative hat. I was hesitant that you should have to portray any type of charade, but the minute I walked in, I noticed the diversity,” Krause said.

“Additionally, the company promotes bettering yourself and sponsored me in going to get my MBA,” she added. “I did have intentions on leaving the company but as I came back, I am even more aware how grateful I am to work in these types of surroundings.”

Regardless of identity, each member clearly has his or her own story that adds to the texture of the group. And Kirdar had his own to tell.

“My partner of 17 years works here, too,” he said.

Kirdar and Matthew Simpson worked in Los Angeles, but Kirdar was slated to be transferred to Dallas. The difficulty of that is easy to imagine, but Simpson soon found himself here in Dallas as well, and for the reunited couple, Dallas is far more exciting and hopeful.

At the highest levels
There is that need for quality diversity within most, if not all, high profile corporations. NBCU’s newly-appointed executive vice president and chief diversity officer, Craig Robinson, reports to NBCU CEO Steve Burke, assuring that the network’s intentions of maintaining a high level of diversification reaches to the top of the corporation.

And Robinson, named EVP in August, has an impressive resume with the company, not only as the GM of KNBC in Los Angeles, but also in his active status in  such groups as Asian Pacific-Americans, Black Professionals Alliance and the Out@NBCU groups.

“Craig has been actively involved in many of our diversity programs and his understanding of our company, its people and its culture will be invaluable as we continue our work to establish NBCUniversal as a leader in this area,” Burke said in an August 2011 edition of NBCU Employee Spotlights.

Lauren Wheat, left, Matthew Simpson and partner Murad Kirdar, center, and Patric Alva, right.

 

 

What they do
So what does the group actually do?

Out@NBCUniversal does have its fun social events, fostering fellowship among members. But the group also strives to make an impact on both the community and their coworkers. Whether it’s rainbows or diapers, the Dallas chapter keeps building up its efforts.

As one of its first organized efforts, the group collected 3,500 diapers in a drive for Captain Hope’s Kids, a local nonprofit meeting the needs of homeless children in Dallas.

Other community projects included volunteering at holiday dinners provided by the Resource Center of Dallas and assisting in chaperoning the Gay Prom this past spring — among other efforts.

“This year we were involved with the Trevor Project. The effort to eradicate bullying of all types in schools is making waves one step at a time. Sometimes it is unfortunately a part of home life,” member Lauren Wheat said.

“For NBCUniversal to be a part of the movement that gets the message out that ‘It Gets Better,’ is such an emotional and empowering moment,” Wheat said.

“This year we also increased our membership base with outreach events hosted at our two offices.  Getting to meet and see more people interested in the organization is very exciting,” Alva said.

This is what Alva envisioned.

“First of all, the people that work here are fabulous. Second, this is not just going to clubs and dancing ’til 2 a.m. The group can give back and serve the LGBT community,” Alva said. “That’s been a big positive and educational experience and a big driving factor for me.

“It’s not ‘Kumbaya.’ Plus, our company allows us to meet during work hours. Being that we’re all very limited with personal time, it’s a win-win,” he said.

But perhaps its significant high mark was the group’s celebration of National Pride this past June. NBCU recognized the event across the board and on June 2, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts led a global initiative by teleconference where media outlets everywhere could participate and hear all the different stories of different LGBTs and allies from the different NBC families.

The local group held its own inter-office celebration and with the teleconference, the chapter’s membership doubled.

Queer Utopia?
It’s as if a queer utopia exists, the way these members describe both the company and the group. There isn’t any hint of anyone just saying “the right thing” or maintaining certain demeanor about their workplace.

These men and women — straight and gay — have that one thing all queer Americans want: recognition, only here it’s at work.

“For my partner to work here and be able to give me a hug and it’s not a big deal — I love that,” Kirdar said. “It feels here like we’re all within this one family.”

Alva added, “I just want people to know, first, that we exist and we’re putting our name out there to work with other organizations. And for me, that involvement starts here.”

Without pause, Krause said she knows what Out@NBCUniversal means not just for her, but for the company.

“I don’t think it’s about sexuality,” she said. “There’s no façade. We’re a bunch of people who want to be cohesive and interested. To work for an employer that allows people to be themselves and impact perhaps some of the best years of their lives, it’s wonderful. And my employer promotes that!”

……………………..

NBC employees come together for “It Gets Better”

The Out@NBCUniversal group at NBC all created their own “It Gets Better” video, which was released in April this year. The video is a collective of employees from all over.

Being a television network, the production is stellar and the stories are both uplifting and tear inducing. Without any sense of pandering, the employees strike an optimistic chord that will likely ring true with troubled youth as well as with anyone in search of themselves. The clip also features MSNBC reporter Thomas Roberts.

The video references The Trevor Project for anyone considering suicide or simply in need of help.

One woman sums up her message nicely by saying, “’Cause you can’t have a rainbow without a little bit of rain, so just hold on.”

Watch the video online at DallasVoice.com.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens