Monday, April 1, 2013

LGBT leaders share candid stories about their successes



One of the more interesting aspects of the book “Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office” for me turned out to be that I would learn the coming out stories of several people I know professionally.

For instance take Louise Young, whom I’ve known for decades in Dallas through her involvement in LGBT political and community activism since the late 1970s. I’ve interviewed Young and her longtime and only partner Vivienne Armstrong many times over the years, but I really never knew anything much about their personal histories.

It was surprising to learn that Young, who always seemed to have it all together professionally, experienced her own problems with anti-LGBT discrimination early in her career. It had always been her goal to graduate from and teach at East Central State College Campus in Ada, OK, but after a brief stint on the faculty staff the university informed her during a sabbatical in Colorado where she finished her dissertation that she should not return.

The college administration told Young the college enrollment did not support her continued employment, but the real story turned out to be that a student had observed Young and Armstrong, who had been enrolled in the college’s four-year nursing program, in an Oklahoma City gay bar. One might wonder why the student was in the bar, but regardless it ended Young’s career at the college.

Not long afterwards, Armstrong experienced discrimination herself when a former employer refused to allow her to be reinstated for a job because they learned she was in a lesbian relationship with Young. To put it mildly, the love Young and Armstrong felt for each other caused them serious career problems in the mid-1970s, but they stayed together.

At about that point, the couple moved to Dallas, and their experiences prompted them to get involved in the LGBT rights movement.  It was a pivotal moment for them and for Dallas’ LGBT community, which has become a vibrant force in LGBT activism in the nearly 40 years that have now passed.

Young and Armstrong publicly advocated for equal rights for LGBT people and often found themselves the subject of media reporters. This time though, Young’s employer, Texas Instruments, embraced the cause with her. In 1993, Young and another gay employee formed an employee resource group for LGBT people. 

When Raytheon bought out the defense sector of Texas Instruments where Young worked, the company added a nondiscrimination policy covering sexual orientation. In 2002 it added domestic partner benefits.

In 2008, the college that forty years earlier had shunned Young, contacted her and asked to meet with the couple for making a donation to the school. Young related her story to the official, but she decided to “bury the hatchet.” They decided to form the “Louise Young Diversity Lecture Series,” and her first speech was ”Homosexuality: Why Talk About It?”

Young’s story is inspiring, and it is comforting to know that others who went on to achieve so much went through some of the same trials as the rest of us. All of the personal stories in the book come from people  who excelled in their fields and helped make like better for the whole LGBT community.

 As a retired journalist, there is not much I can do to change the direction of my career to greater success, but it makes me realize what I do to today on my blog writing about LGBT issues is useful and can help younger LGBT people. Just spreading the word about this book so younger people can take advantage of what they can learn from the 40 chapters of it is a useful endeavor.

And I’m sure there are ways that other older LGBT people can contribute to the advancement of the LGBT culture. It’s never too late to get involved.

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