Ask the White Guy: More on Religion, Christians and LGBT Rights

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

 

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiA controversial Ask the White Guy on religion in the workplace sparked a slew of responses from DiversityInc readers, one of whom asked how to respond to someone who says rejecting religious beliefs (such as Christian beliefs that trump the rights of LGBT people) is itself intolerant. The White Guy provides the answer: All civil and human rights are absolute.

The controversy began late last year when DiversityInc held a Religion in the Workplace roundtable, which appears in our Nov./Dec. 2007 issue. We invited corporate leaders, members of religious groups, and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBT-advocacy group.

We also invited Peter LaBarbera, executive director of Americans for Truth, an organization “dedicated to exposing the homosexual activist agenda.” When most of the panelists refused to appear on the same panel with LaBarbera, Luke disinvited him but allowed him to have his say with a one-page column in the magazine.

Luke also wrote a rebuttal to LaBarbera, which appeared alongside it. Read his previous columns: Faith in the Workplace: LGBT Rights Vs. Religious Expression. Also check out Christian, Muslim & Hindu: How Will Your Company Manage Religion at Work for the latest data on the shifting religious landscape and what your company can do to leverage the changes in your work force. This question is in response to a previous Ask The White Guy column titled: Christians Need Not Apply.

Question:

You write very eloquently on the subject of religious (in)tolerance and LGBT rights. My interpretation of your responses is “LGBT people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else and your religious beliefs are outdated, just like past beliefs on women and slavery” and don’t directly address the issue of the right of a religious person to their beliefs. What is your one-sentence response to someone who says that rejecting their religious beliefs as intolerant is itself intolerant? Is simply telling them that they’re wrong the way to educate them? Or is there a more productive way to raise their consciousness?

Is this a matter of everyone being entitled to their beliefs as long as they don’t impact others?

Answer:

Thank you for your kind words.

To give you a one-sentence answer, I’d like to focus on the workplace.

Well-run companies have specific and well-thought-out values. If a company’s values are inclusive diversity, including LGBT people, a safe workplace, equal treatment and equal rights, then you can boil it all down to one sentence:

If you cannot treat our customers, coworkers, investors and suppliers with equal respect, regardless of race/culture, gender, orientation, age or disability, then you cannot work here.

I want to make the point that, if the employer wants to be truly equitable, there cannot be a dual standard. You cannot have a receiving line where heterosexual spouses are welcome but same-sex partners are not welcome (“partners” because they can’t be a spouse in most states). You cannot have a customer-service person refuse to talk to a same-sex couple. You cannot tolerate a lack of benefits for one group and not another.

People are entitled to their viewpoint, but they’re not entitled to have conflict with the values of an employer. In this case, an inability to treat people equally is not protected by the “right” to have an exclusionary religious belief. Clarity on this point requires clarity of values.

As far as “raising consciousness,” well-intentioned but poorly informed people can be helped with kindly applied information. Respectful diversity training is essential for people to be able to leverage differences in their organizations and reap the multiplier benefits of diversity (which come from increased innovation and creativity). Universal training (starting at the top) is critical for business results–there is no pay grade, skin color, age group, orientation, level of disability or gender that has automatic clairvoyance on diversity issues.

Because we’re tribal animals, I think there is a little bigot in all of us. Familiarity, information, training, clearly expressed values and love are the enemies of the little bigot. I don’t think a person can extinguish the little bigot entirely, but acknowledging its presence helps to extinguish its boastful power.

There are people, however, who are not well intentioned. They cultivate the little bigot in others and use subjects like orientation to raise money and create a powerbase from fermenting hate. They disingenuously hide behind touchstones like “patriotism” or “religion” to adapt a seemingly irrefutable position. Good people become confused and do not want to “disrespect” another person’s “beliefs.” It is easy to cut through the smoke and mirrors if you are clear on your values.

My beliefs include that human and civil rights are absolute. Nobody at DiversityInc may treat anyone in any other way. Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, and we are respectful of them.

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