By Travis Kelso-Turner
Originally published on Medium.com
For well over a year, I have watched in awe as Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, unapologetically wielded his business clout to unwaveringly support LGBTQ equality and challenge those trying to legislate hate. In 2015, Marc expressed his outrage over Indiana’s legislation in support of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which would have empowered businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Instead of just relying on the limited impact of his words, Marc put the full force of his business influence and network behind an effort to change the law. He started by recruiting 70 powerful executives, many from the tech community, to sign a joint statement condemning the law.
But he didn’t just check the box and stop there.
Marc went full throttle by announcing plans to cancel all Salesforce initiatives that required employees and/or customers to travel to Indiana. His tweet announcing this plan was retweeted almost 10,000 times and ignited a much-needed conversation across America from boardrooms to little league fields. When Indiana Governor Mike Pence didn’t back down, Marc amped up his voice by declaring Salesforce would offer relocation packages to Salesforce employees who wanted to leave the state. After a week of unrelenting backlash that threatened the economic stability of Indiana, Pence caved and approved a revision of the law that clearly banned businesses from discriminating against a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
That was just the beginning of Marc’s crusade for LGBTQ equality. This year, Marc again activated his network of high-powered business titans and successfully forced the Governor of Georgia to veto a religious freedom bill that would have discriminated against LGBTQ people. Marc then pressured the Governor of North Carolina to rethink his support of a bill that invalidates city level non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ citizens, and this summer he helped connect 68 companies to assist the DOJ in taking NC to court for their stance on transgender bathrooms. It was this effort that earned the most attention from the media, legislators and other opinion leaders, in part because of the enormous economic impact these businesses have on the state. Marc’s mindset is that businesses must advocate on behalf of their employees and stakeholders to take a stance against everything that is considered non-inclusive and discriminatory.
I have watched for years as GLAAD has focused on driving LGBTQ acceptance and HRC focused on basic equality. Together, both organizations have positively moved the needle in these two important areas for the LGBTQ community. However, progress has at times been slow, which should not be viewed as a negative against GLAAD or HRC. I admire both of these organizations and the Herculean effort they make every second of every minute, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year. They are warriors who deserve epic respect.
Having said that, seeing Marc Benioff move the equality needle so profoundly in a matter of days catalyzed an epiphany for me. It became crystal clear that businesses and business leaders have an unmatched ability to unite and ignite LGBTQ equality in an unprecedented manner and timeframe. The thing is: Leaders like Marc have day jobs. We need a full court press on this effort around the clock. My epiphany inspired us to change the focus of our LGBTQ non-profit organization, Executive Pride.
To date, Executive Pride had been initially focused on LGBTQ mentoring programs in business, but quite frankly, that simply wasn’t going to be enough of sustainable impact. We needed Executive Pride solely focused on creating a powerful network of companies, business leaders and employees, to unify and amplify the voice for LGBTQ equal rights in business and beyond. Although LGBTQ equality still doesn’t exist in America, businesses are in a uniquely influential position to act as a catalyst for positive change.
Inspired by Marc Benioff’s actions, today Executive Pride, the LGBTQ workplace equality organization, launches our “Pride Inside” initiative, to harness the collective power of the business community to ensure LGBTQ equality in the workplace and beyond. Pride Inside is a multifaceted initiative — media, social media, mentoring, etc. — focused on creating uncompromising LGBTQ equality in the workplace, while holding communities and other stakeholders accountable to ensure equality exists everywhere in America. We are essentially stepping in to carry the torch Marc and others have been carrying, with the intent to lead the directive.
Thanks to a generous donor, Executive Pride is not looking to raise any funds at this time. Instead, we simply want to get businesses and business leaders to add their name to our list of vocal supporters who will have zero tolerance for LGBTQ inequality within their workforce, and within any and all communities where they do business. Let us all carry Marc Benioff’s torch and keep the “Pride Inside” flame burning brightly in the workplace and beyond.
On behalf of the LGBTQ community I want to extend a booming “thank you” to Marc and all the business leaders who have stood by his side when it comes to battling legislative hate and ensuring equal rights absolutely, unequivocally never has an asterisk next to it.
If you are a business executive who would like to join the Pride Inside movement, please add your name to our membership list.
— Travis Kelso-Turner, Executive Director at Executive Pride