By Manuel McDonnell-Smith
Last week, the Internet was abuzz about Carmel (N.Y.) High School seniors Dylan Meehan and Bradley Taylor. The openly gay teens won the title of Cutest Couple in their high school's yearbook. The honor, revealed at the school's senior picnic, also came with widespread media attention—which surprised Principal Kevin Carroll, who said, "I thought other things would make news."
Speaking exclusively with DiversityInc, Carroll explained that in a contemporary school environment, gay couples "are not completely abnormal." So when the school's yearbook advisor informed him that the 350-plus members of the school's senior class voted the boys as cutest couple, "I gave final approval to publish it, as long as it was OK with the boys and their parents."
A school environment where students of all backgrounds feel not only included but also safe is the result of intentional planning, expounded Carroll. "Not only do we have an active Gay-Straight Alliance Club, we also participate in an active Day of Silence. It's about making people aware, so that students are not subject to harassment."
At Carmel High School, diversity management is about more than just race or sexual orientation. "Here we have all of the traditional activities like orchestra and band," boasts Carroll, "but we've also started an Alternative Rock Club, which has its own performances and attracts a different type of student. Our goal is to ensure that we make everyone feel a part of the school."
While Carroll did acknowledge that the school's sponsoring of some activities that are based on sexual orientation do closely ride the line of "advocating promiscuity," that's not why the educators are committed to including these programs. "If you have an active gay-student alliance, it's been shown that [the school environment] will have less bullying and less suicide. Our goal is to run activities for students who are not considered as part of the mainstream."
Carroll says that there really has been no negative reaction from the school community during or after the announcement. In fact, he's received only positive responses and emails, especially from "former students who couldn't come out" while they were attending the school. Out of the email messages received online from around the world after the yearbook announcement was made public, he says only two were negative.
"I really have to give credit to the student body and staff," explained Carroll.
A Lesson for Corporate America
The school's and Carroll's progressive thinking should serve as an example for at least one company. Thankfully, other organizations are more enlightened.
"All of the companies on DiversityInc's Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees have a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index," said DiversityInc Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Barbara Frankel. "[They] have strong LGBT resource groups that contribute to recruitment, talent development and marketplace initiatives, and have active relationships with reputable LGBT advocacy groups, such as GLSEN, PFLAG and Out & Equal."
Creating an inclusive environment for LGBT employees is possible with the right training. DiversityInc's most recent Meeting in a Box (available only to DiversityInc Best Practices and Benchmarking customers) includes training information and guided discussion questions on having an inclusive workplace for LGBT employees.