Out & Equal to honor Parker, Welts

Mayor Annise Parker

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates will honor Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts at its Leadership Celebration on March 14 in San Francisco.

In October, Out & Equal held its week-long Workplace Summit at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. Because of rave reviews, the group plans to return in the next few years. Welts was among the speakers at the Dallas convention.

Now in its fifth year, the Leadership Celebration is a fundraising event that includes a hosted reception and dinner. Parker and Welts will be recognized as role models and inspirations in the movement to achieve equality in the workforce.

To attend the San Francisco event, register online.

The 2012 Workplace Summit will be in Baltimore on from Oct. 29-Nov 1.

—  David Taffet

OUT & EQUAL: Equal workplace around the world

More than 2,500 people have registered for Out & Equal Workplace Summit

Among the topics being addressed at today’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit taking place at the Hilton Anatole Hotel is extending LGBT rights to employees around the world.

Representatives of the Organization for Refugees, Asylum and Migration will speak about LGBT immigration problems. Another workshop addresses the state of the LGBT workplace in the Phillipines.

Robyn Ochs, a workshop speaker, said the issue of employment equality around the world involves U.S. employees who are transferred to countries where homosexuality is illegal. But it also involves people from countries with marriage equality who are unable to get visas for a spouse to come to the United States.

A panel this morning addressed the importance of LGBT diversity to drive innovation.

At the morning plenary, actress Meredith Baxter spoke. She will be at Nuvo on Cedar Springs Road this evening signing copies of her book.

Rick Welts, the first openly gay man in professional sports management, spoke as well.

“He hit it out of the ballpark,” said Out & Equal Director of Communications Justin Tanis.

Awards were given this morning for best affiliate. Houston won that award, Tanis said, because they have involved more than 80 companies and are extremely active. Bank of America was awarded best LGBT employer. Among the reasons are its transgender health benefits and its tax equalization plan for LGBT benefits announced this month.

The exhibit halls are open today and tomorrow and are free, but to enter, stop by the registration desk for a pass, Tanis said.

More than 2,500 people have registered for the conference.

Dani Siragusa is coordinating volunteers for the event, among other duties. She said that a number of individuals have volunteered throughout the week and the corporate teams have put in a special effort. Dozens of American Airlines employees are staffing registration. She said that 60 volunteers from Ernst & Young are the workshop room hosts who greet, distribute, collect and tally evaluations that she said are invaluable in planning future conferences.

“They’ve been doing that for years,” she said.

And JP Morgan Chase volunteers are acting as plenary greeters helping those events with thousands of people in the hotel’s largest ballroom go off without a hitch.

The conference continues through Friday. This evening is community day when attendees hit Cedar Springs Road.

—  David Taffet

Celeb sightings

This year’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit boasts a healthy amount of celebrities coming to town. From actors to comedians and more, Dallas prepares not only to host a slew of workshops on equality, but also rolls out the red carpet for these guests.

Meredith Baxter:  You’ll likely remember the actress as supermom Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. But she made a new impression by coming out last year. She speaks at Wednesday’s breakfast plenary session and follows up with a book signing at Nuvo, 3900 Cedar Springs Road, on Oct. 26 at 6 p.m.

Andy Cohen:  The senior vice president at Bravo has almost singlehandedly changed the face of gays on television. That extends to these parts with the new show Most Eligible Dallas.
The Watch What Happens Live host will appear at Tuesday’s brunch plenary session.

Rick Welts:  The name may not be as familiar but Welts made front page news this year in the New York Times. The former Phoenix Suns president is the first higher-up of a men’s professional sports organization to come out.
He appears with Baxter at the Wednesday plenary.

Margaret Cho:  The comedian has long been an ally to the LGBT community and continues in appearances at such events as this. She is part of the lineup for Thursday’s gala dinner hosted by fellow comedian Kate Clinton.

Wilson Cruz:  The actor redefined the queer image on television with his work on My So Called Life. Through his acting on stage and screen, Cruz has also become an advocate for LGBT youth. He appears with Cho and Clinton at the gala dinner.

For more information on these and other guests appearing at the summit, visit OutAndEqual.org/2011-Speakers.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Hitting a tipping point

Phoenix Suns President and CEO Rick Welts (Michael Chow, The Arizona/Associated Press)

Sports figures’ decisions to come out can push LGBT community one step closer to equality

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell writes about what he calls “social epidemics.” Just like a disease epidemic can blow up and spread very quickly, ideas can suddenly become embraced by the public at large and spread at a rapid pace.

That point when something goes from being just a few people who embrace the idea to the critical mass needed to flood the mainstream consciousness of the country is the “tipping point.”

At its most fundamental level, the LGBT movement begins with opening the closet door. That coming out process is almost always difficult and sometimes it takes years, but it is the beginnings of genuine liberation.

Well, on the coming out front, we may be at the tipping point and for the LGBT rights movement that could trigger a big change

Today I read a story about Jared Max, a sportscaster for ESPN Radio who said this in his morning show:

“Are we ready to have our sports information delivered by someone who is gay? Well we are gonna find out. Because for the last 16 years, I’ve been living a free life among my close friends and family, and I’ve hidden behind what is a gargantuan-sized secret here in the sports world: I am gay.

“Yeah. Jared Max. The sports guy who is one of the most familiar faces in New York sports isn’t quite like the majority. And while you already knew I was a little different, this might help make sense of it. But more so, I’m taking this courageous jump into the unknown having no idea how I will be perceived. …”

This is pretty big news, but even bigger when you consider the other folks who came out in the just the past few weeks:

• Don Lemon, weekend anchor for CNN Newsroom announced last week that he is gay. He did so in advance of the release of his new book, Transparent, in which he discusses his life as an African-American newscaster and as a gay man.

• Look to sports again as the CEO of the Phoenix Suns, Rick Welts, came out in a story in the New York Times. Why? He said that he wanted to do something to help youth struggling with their own sexual identity issues, to assure them they could come out and still have a successful career.

• Former Villanova basketball star, Will Sheridan, kicked open his closet door coming out publicly on ESPN just a day after Rick Welts.

• And all this after former NFL player Wade Davis came out as part of a GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) Sports Project a couple of months ago.

Perhaps I am the only one to see a trend here, but when broadcasters and, more specifically, sports figures start feeling it’s OK to come out, we might be nearing that tipping point.

This trend is not that new either. In the past few years dozens of high-profile people have made their sexual orientation known. My hope is that the cumulative effect will push things over the edge.

What would that look like? Well, it would be somewhat of a continuation of what we see now: more and more people publicly coming out until the mere act of announcing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity will become so commonplace that it is no longer news.

That would signal that LGBT people had really taken a major step toward full equality. The day when a celebrity or sports figure comes out and is no longer headline material, or more importantly no longer feels the need to hold a press conference to do it, will be a great day for LGBT rights.

So to all those celebrities, sports figures, actors, politicians who are still in the closet: Come out! You may be the nudge that pushes things past the tipping point — and that is something that will benefit everyone.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

—  John Wright

Phoenix Suns exec tells newspaper he’s gay

Rick Welts

Rick Welts among most prominent active figures in sports to come out

NEW YORK — Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts revealed to the public that he is gay in a story posted on The New York Times’ website Sunday, saying he wants to break down one of the last significant social barriers in sports.

Welts’ declaration is the latest development on a subject has gained attention in the sports world recently, after Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s use of a gay slur on the basketball court and NHL player Sean Avery’s public support of same-sex marriage.

Welts talked to NBA commissioner David Stern, WNBA president Val Ackerman, Hall of Famer Bill Russell and Suns guard Steve Nash before discussing his sexual orientation with a reporter from the Times, the newspaper said. All of them offered Welts their support.

“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” the longtime executive told the paper. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”

The Suns did not offer a statement Sunday when contacted by The Associated Press. Messages left with Welts’ public relations team were not returned.

Welts is one of the most prominent figures active in sports to openly declare that he is gay, although there has yet to be an active player in the NBA, Major League Baseball or the NFL to make such a statement. Some athletes have done so after their playing careers.

The 58-year-old Welts, who began his career as a ball boy for the Seattle SuperSonics, spent several years with Stern in the league office. He was the architect of the All-Star Weekend and helped raise the NBA’s profile before leaving for the Suns’ front office.

Welts told Stern about his sexual orientation during a meeting in New York last month. The next day, Bryant responded to a technical foul by calling referee Bennie Adams a “faggot” during the third quarter of a game against San Antonio — touching off a firestorm of controversy and underscoring the taboo nature of the subject in sports.

The Lakers star was fined $100,000; Bryant has since offered multiple apologies.

Also last month, Atlanta Braves coach Roger McDowell allegedly made homophobic comments, crude gestures and threatened a fan with a bat before a game in San Francisco. McDowell served a two-week suspension and also apologized for his remarks.

Then there was Avery, the outspoken New York Rangers agitator, who offered his support for same-sex marriage in a video as part of the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign.

Hockey agent Todd Reynolds tweeted that it was “Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender ‘marriage.’ Legal or not, it will always be wrong.” Damian Goddard, who hosted a show on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, tweeted his support for Reynolds and was fired.

Among the only people Welts opened up to were his parents and younger, only sibling, Nancy — although Stern said he had a feeling his friend was gay. Stern even telephoned Welts after his longtime partner, Arnie, died from complications of AIDS in 1994.

Now, after all these years, Welts has decided it’s time to come out of the shadows.

“What I didn’t say at the time was: I think there’s a good chance the world will find this unremarkable,” Stern told the Times, recalling their meeting in which Welts revealed he was gay. “I don’t know if I was confusing my thoughts with my hopes.”

Welts said he told Nash because they hold each other in high professional regard. According to the newspaper, Nash was tipped off about what Welts wanted to discuss and was surprised only because he thought everyone already knew that Welts was gay.

“I think it’s a shame, for all the obvious reasons, that this is a leap that he has to take,” Nash said. “Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to catch up. … He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Pro basketball executive Rick Welts, CNN anchor Don Lemon come out

Don Lemon

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. An anti-transgender marriage bill is back on the Texas Senate’s Intent Calendar for today. That means if you haven’t already contacted your senator and urged them to vote against SB 723, by Sen. Tommy Williams, you should do so now by going here. If the bill doesn’t clear the Senate and a House committee by midnight Saturday, it will die.

2. The FBI has expanded its probe into a brutal beating outside a gay nightclub in downtown El Paso to include other recent possible hate crimes in the area, the El Paso Times reports. The victim, 22-year-old Lionel Martinez, remains in a coma more than a week after the attack, and LGBT advocates say El Paso police haven’t been taking anti-gay incidents near the Old Plantation nightclub seriously.

3. The weekend was marked by two pretty big coming-out stories: Rick Welts, president and chief executive officer of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns; and CNN anchor Don Lemon.

—  John Wright