Ask the White Guy: LGBT Rights vs. Religious Expression

Where do you draw the line between respecting religious beliefs and standing up for corporate values that demand equal treatment and respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? The White Guy says there's no line to be drawn.

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.


Question:

I work at [company name withheld]. We pride ourselves on our efforts to be diverse in who we hire and who we serve with our financial products. Personally, I'm really happy to work for a large corporation that has such values.

I'm a straight male who feels very strongly that LGBT people should have equal rights. My wife and I have marched with my LGBT employees in the Minneapolis gay-pride parade, and we work for political candidates who share the passion for equal rights.

I read Peter LaBarbera's views in the Nov./Dec. 2007 issue of DiversityInc. And I read Mr. Visconti's rebuttal. I was really disappointed in Luke's message.

I do not share Peter's religious views. But I assume there are some who work at [company name withheld] who do. I sometimes wonder how they feel about our policies regarding LGBT people. Obviously, they could leave the company.

I agree with Luke that LGBT employees should be able to enjoy "an open and equal workplace." They must have that right (along with all the other human rights that we all should share). But I was really surprised by his last sentence saying "it's good to know what your enemies are thinking."

If Peter simply wanted to believe that being LGBT is a choice and is sinful (I assume he believes that), then I think that is his right. I would not regard him as an enemy.

But if Peter wants our federal, state, or local governments to act upon that belief and enact discriminatory laws, then Luke better make room because I'll stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him in fighting against any discrimination.

Where does that leave the person whose sincere belief is that being LGBT is a sin? Might there be such people who do not extend that belief to our civil laws? Don't we have to respect their beliefs?

Answer:

Thank you for your e-mail.

Let's start with an overview: We invited Peter LaBarbera to a panel on religion in the workplace for the Nov./Dec. 2007 issue of our magazine. When the other panelists found out he was invited, they all told us they wouldn't attend, so we uninvited him and offered Mr. LaBarbera a full page in our magazine to express his views. He took us up on our offer and I wrote a page to run opposite his.

In short, there is no reason to balance values. People, companies and governments are best run when values are clearly established and codified. When you have clarity on what you value, decisions are much easier to make. For example, there was no confusion in the other roundtable article in that issue. We convened a panel of chief diversity officers from The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity--companies that have vastly superior diversity metrics compared with the average corporation. They all expressed that if a person could not share their company's corporate values, they could not work there.

Diversity management is about equitable outcome and maximum performance. This is a business issue; if people are created equally, then talent is distributed equally too. Any outcome that is not reflective of the diversity of the population is economically not the best possible outcome. When we are not clear in our values, we become confused about tolerance for "differing opinions."

As Dr. King said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." The issue of LGBT rights is rapidly reaching a conclusion. More than half of Fortune 500 companies now provide partner medical benefits. All of the Democratic candidates for president have pledged to end "don't ask, don't tell." Mr. LaBarbera represents a fringe group of people who would deny another human being's reality. It's oppressive behavior.

Tolerating a person in your workplace who wishes to oppress people is about as sensible as tolerating a person who wishes to work by quill pen and candlelight. Clarity on values brings clarity in decisions.

Finally, please do a web search for Peter LaBarbera and judge for yourself. I think anyone who is working toward LGBT rights should call Mr. LaBarbera an enemy. In my opinion, Peter LaBarbera is to religion as George Wallace was to state's rights. Let's not confuse hate with anything else.

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