I’m unsure if Edward Snowden is a hero or not. Why should I care if the government knows what numbers my cell phone number is connected to? It’s all in aggregate and it’s not connected to any names. It’s really no different than what TiVo or your local cable company knows regarding your viewing habits or what companies know from the tracking cookies on your computer. If you’re going to use 21st century technology then the trade off is some privacy, it’s plain and simple. Now with Snowden putting this stuff under the magnifying glass we may be less safe despite us not giving up any liberty for more safety.
From October 29-November 2 I attended the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Baltimore, Maryland at the Baltimore convention center. Despite hurricane Sandy the summit proceeded with a modified schedule. Approximately 2,000 people were able to attend under these circumstances.
On October 29th I attended Merck Safe Space “train the trainer” training conducted by Reese Levine. The training covered the history of the Merck Safe Space program and what it is about as well as how to provide training and education on Merck’s Safe Space program to other organizations within Merck.
Day 1 of the Summit on October 30th was modified due to the weather. We had an opening plenary lunch. The keynote speaker of that day was Harry van Dorenmalen who is the Chairman of IBM Europe. The main point in his speech is that every moment is a moment to speak out for equality and said that we should consider that “good policy isn’t just paying lip service; culture is something you do when no one is looking.” After the plenary in lieu of the regularly scheduled workshops they had moderated discussions. I attended an Employee Resource Group (ERG) discussion that discussed the strengths and weaknesses of individual ERGs at various companies. With the MRA one of our strengths is community engagement (AIDS Walk, Garden State Equality, etc.) where one of our opportunities for improvement is in the area of membership engagement.
Wednesday’s first workshop was entitled, “A Rainbow of Generations: Career Strategies for Different GLBT Generations.” The workshop focused on overcoming the differences between generations and the typical stereotype each generation (baby boomer, generation x, generation y, millennial). The panel of speakers was from Dow Chemical and Ernst & Young. The speakers first covered the topics of how the different generations work. The “older” generations (baby boomer, x) usually pick up the phone while the “younger” generations use texting, e-mail and IM, even if the person they were conversing with is sitting right next to them. Additionally, the younger generation does not understand the value of meetings and further explanation or discussion may need to take place to understand the point of the meeting. Additionally they sometimes fail to understand what should and should not be shared outside of their company. The panel then covered what expectations of the employer about an employee’s sexual orientation. With the baby boomers and generation X, there is a fear of a negative impact on your career. With the younger generations it was never thought of so drastically. The panel then explained that you typically have a lower employee turnover rate in more inclusive companies.
The Wednesday lunch plenary featured an interview of Beth Brooke, who is the Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young by Cris Crespo, who is the Director of Inclusiveness at Ernst & Young. Beth has been on the Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list for the past five years. She discussed how coming out has had no impact on her career or being on the list. Ben Jealous, president/CEO of the NAACP spoke about equality for the GLBT community. He discussed that all communities seeking equality must work together to achieve our goal of equal rights, regardless of gender, orientation, ethnicity or race.
After the plenary, I attended a workshop titled, “From Basement To Boardroom: The Evolution of a Fortune 100 ERG.” This workshop focused on how MassMutual created their ERG and how they tie it to the business. Every year they develop metrics to measure their performance based on enrollment, community involvement and employee participation. One thing that they do is develop an annual report that is similar to a typical annual report you would get from a company where you own stock. They also develop a business plan in which a formal document is created in conjunction with their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) office.
Figure 1: Nadine Vogel, Brian McNaught, Cris Crespo and Merck’s Deb Dagit
The panel members first discussed their backgrounds. Nadine Vogel has an “invisible disability” in that she has a foot deformity that has on two occasions confined her to a wheelchair. In Deb’s case, she had a cousin who came out as gay and was thrown out of the house. He later died from AIDS at age 29 before it was a treatable disease. Also as part of Deb’s background she explained that she did not adopt in the US because there have been a lot of instances where the adoptive parents took the kids back because they didn’t want them raised by people with disabilities. Deb adopted her three kids from Russia but the issues persisted there as well where the parents spit on Deb and her husband. The judge asked Deb and her husband why they wanted to adopt “freaks” (the children are differently abled). They explained that awareness training at an early age is important to educate people to not use terms such as “that’s retarded” or “that’s so gay” and likewise any other words that would seem insensitive to those with disabilities because there can be those with hidden disabilities. People with disabilities may have a lot of legal protections but there is still a stigma when it comes to social circles. People are ok with a GLBT friend but may not feel comfortable with someone with a disability. The GLBT community needs to share their experience with pride with the differently abled community so that they can gain the same level of acceptance.
The final workshop I attended was titled, “International Corporations: The Invisible Benefits for GLBT Employees.” Maryland has some employer protections for GLBT employees, while VA doesn’t. GLBT rights can vary depending on location, even when locations are very close to one another. For example, DC has marriage equality, MD may depending on voter approval and in VA does not. In VA same-sex marriage and civil unions are both unconstitutional. DC & MD has discrimination laws covering sexual orientation. VA does not, which is why it is important for corporations to have policies covering sexual orientation discrimination. In 2012, 190 businesses achieved a top score of 100 percent on the HRC index. There are two types of benefits: visible and invisible. A visible benefit would be something like healthcare. Invisible benefits: professional networking, relocation, community, social networking, adoption assistance, etc. HRC’s Corporate Equality Index shows that 69% of employers polled have benefit parity. International companies often allow for employees to voluntarily transfer internationally between offices–Individual employees seeking larger GLBT communities for example. Israel recognizes gay marriage and is one country where people in a civil union/marriage can go to if they need to relocate. This is key for bi-national same-sex couples where one has a US visa with an expiration date. Relocation benefits: Many companies support employee relocation by assisting opposite-sex and same-sex couples and their families during the transfer period. This includes visa and work permit assistance for employees and dependent family, relocation expense and reimbursement as well as buying/selling a home.
The summit concluded with a gala dinner. The dinner, as has in the past, had comedian Kate Clinton as the Master of Ceremonies. The keynote speaker was Brigadier General Dr. Tammy Smith, who is the highest-ranking openly gay member of the U.S. military.
This coming Friday I shall be turning 40. I came across this poem that pretty much sums it all up.
So you’re depressed and oh-so saddened and maybe feeling a little sickly.
All because your fortieth birthday is approaching rather quickly.
You’re all stressed out and mortified.
You think life will never be the same.
Up till now your life’s been fascinating And you’re worried that after 40 it’ll be lame.
You need to relax and get on with your life in the end, your worries are not all that real.
It’s just a birthday like all the others. So what if you can remember the inventing of the wheel.
So embrace your friends and thank the well-wishers that sing “Happy Birthday” to you like they were a choir.
And when they light the candles on your cake, pray and hope they don’t start your home on fire.
It doesn’t matter what your personality is, whether you’re casual, serious, deep thinking, or sporty.
You might as well enjoy the party because whats the alternative to turning forty?
So cheer up my friend, it could be so much worse.
And in the end, everything will be just fine because remember the only true way to avoid turning forty, is to die at thirty-nine.
I didn’t want this blog to turn into a “Mike’s illness” blog, so I figure I’d post the trip report I had sent to my management from this year’s Out & Equal 2011 Workplace Summit. The trip report is below this video album I created (a very talented member of the Merck Rainbow Alliance took the photos) featuring some of my fellow attendees from the MRA, plenary speakers and one or two from Eli Lilly (mostly because they had Merck alumnus, Kar-Chan “Casey” Choong) are included as well. If you want to find out more about employee diversity at Merck, check out this link.
Out & Equal 2011 Trip Report
October 24-28, 2011
From October 24, 2011-October 28, 2011 I attended the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Dallas, TX at the Hilton Anatole. There were over 2,600 attendees representing the majority of the Fortune 100 companies. Merck had its largest representation yet with 23 members, including two from the sales force and one from TeleRX. While there, I attended several workshops such as, “Coming out in Faith: Four generations’ Experiences”, “The Impact of Healthcare Reform On The LGBT Community”, “Who is LGBT? and how do we measure the closet?”, “LGBT Support in the fight against HIV/AIDS”, “Identifying, building and developing an LGBT pipeline of rising stars” and “Understanding the New Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) Coming to the Internet, Including .Gay.” This year, our executive sponsor, Mike Thien (SVP Global Science) attended the last two days of the conference.
On October 25th, the opening plenary featured Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy who discussed President Obama’s policy advances for not only the LGBTQ community, but for those with disabilities. After Ms. Martinez, Sander van’t Noordende who is the Group Chief Executive of Accenture spoke about coming out at work. One takeaway from his speech is to find a mentor to connect with, take a risk at least once a week, but go at your own pace. He also reminded everyone that diversity and equality go together. Next Andy Cohen who does the programming at Bravo TV discussed the growing number of characters who are LGBTQ as well as the many actors who are comfortable with whom they are. Andy then interviewed Candis Cayne, one of the first transgender actors to come out and discuss her transition. She then sang I Am A Woman (I recorded a small snippet found at http://youtu.be/Q-bA_NCpLKg). I then attended a workshop, “Coming out in Faith: Four generations’ Experiences” conducted by Dr. Susan Gore. The workshop examined how different generations dealt with coming out as LGBTQ or as an Ally. Participants from the four generations (Baby Boomer, Generation X, Generation Y and Millennial) discussed their experience. Dr. Gore also discussed the “movable middle” which may initially be against the idea of equality and rights for LGBTQ until better educated on the issue. The next seminar I attended was, “The Impact of Healthcare Reform On The LGBT Community.” This seminar basically reviewed the national healthcare plan and briefly discussed that it is still legal in twenty-nine states to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. They also mentioned that due to a reluctance to answer research questions about same-sex sexual behavior, it is hard to get an understanding of the health needs of the LGBTQ population. That evening Merck, Pfizer, Genentech and Bristol-Meyers Squibb sponsored a well-attended pharmaceutical networking event at the Radisson. This event allowed for a cross-pollination of how the different pharmaceuticals operate their ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) in an informal setting.
October 26th, the plenary featured Rick Welts, who is the president of the Golden State Warriors. Rick discussed what it was like to come out in a field that is generally hostile to those who are LGBTQ. He explained that he was very surprised at the positive response he got from his co-workers before the story broke in the New York Times. After Rick’s speech, actress Meredith Baxter (from “Family Ties”) spoke. She discussed what it was like to come out on national television on the Today Show. After the plenary I attended two seminars. The first, entitled, “Who is LGBT? And how do we measure the closet?” This was a panel discussion featuring Masen Davis from the Transgender Law Center, Gary Gates who is a Williams Distinguished Scholar and Brian McNaught who is an author and corporate diversity trainer focusing on LGBTQ issues. The panel discussed that we will never really know the true percentage of LGBTQ people because there are a lot of places such as Iran who would never feel comfortable coming forth to tell. Based on surveys and other research, the general consensus is that between 5-10% of the population is LGBTQ, however, the average American thinks that 25% of the population is LGBTQ. The estimated population is somewhere between 9-26 million Americans. Age eleven is the mean age of recognition for sexual orientation awareness. Orientation, behavior, and identity are the three components of sexuality. Homosexuality exists in every species of mammal. The panel then proceeded to go over a lot of other statistics based on surveys and research. I then attended, “LGBT Support in the fight against HIV/AIDS” which was conducted by four people in which two of them were from Merck (Mike Perillo, HR Leader, Finance and Kevin Fannin, Manager, Portfolio Management MRL). The panel discussed the “four pillars” which are perspective, power, purpose, and people. This was an interactive workshop in which statements were put up on the walls and you picked one and explained how the four pillars affected you. The one I picked had to do with that HIV/AIDS was no longer a concern since it’s not in the news. With my recent diagnosis, I explained how my perspective has changed as recently as a few weeks ago. This workshop was probably the one I got the most out of and led me to post a very personal entry on my personal blog and Facebook (using the pillar of audience “power”), which can be classified under the “purpose and people” pillars in the hopes that it changes the perspective of others (you can find the posting at http://starthan.net/blog/index.php/2011/10/28/how-we-have-progressed/). I wrote this post while still at Out & Equal.
October 27th began with our seminar sessions. The first seminar I attended was, “Identifying, building and developing an LGBT pipeline of rising stars” which discussed recruiting diverse employees into your organization. One point made is that you want to have a social environment to attract members, but it has to be a good mix, not just centered on bars and drinking. You should have family friendly events so that you can have more inclusive events. Another suggestion was that coming out day could also be about coming out as an ally. One thing that can be done is passing out cards in coffee rooms and break rooms about coming out as an ally. With support and sustainability, you have to understand the culture and needs of the individual, business and ERGs. Rewards should be optimized in all of their forms. Another thing to keep in mind is that not everyone is out in every circumstance. You may be out at work, but not necessarily with a client. The final seminar I attended was, “Understanding the New Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) Coming to the Internet, Including .Gay.” The discussion focused on the many new TLDs that are being created (an example of a TLD is .com or .edu) and .gay is in the review process by ICANN. There are approximately 300-500 new TLDs coming in the next few months. The company who will own the .gay domain, is a for-profit company, however, 67% of the profits will go back to the GLBT community. One of the hurdles in getting the domain is religious groups objecting. As part of the “objection” process, there is a fee of $15,000 for both the objector and the defendant. There will be clear guidelines as far as who can use the .gay domain. For example, anti-gay groups will not be allowed to use it nor will adult sites. The idea behind the domain is to give the community a unified voice on the internet. Large corporations would also benefit from the domain because they can use it for targeted web sites and marketing that would be focused on the community (think crixivan.merck.gay), which can allow for more accurate metrics for the products or message that they are trying to convey. The domains themselves would be inexpensive at $100 a year. The afternoon plenary featured the outgoing chairman of JC Penney who discussed the importance of diversity within his organization. Following him, Donna Brazille, who is one of the leaders of the Democratic party, spoke on how things have changed but how you need to continue to defend those changes since there are those who wish to turn back the clock on change. On the evening of the 27th was the gala awards dinner. It started off with a fashion show from JC Penney. The dinner’s Master of Ceremonies was comedienne Kate Clinton. Among the speakers that evening was Wes Bush, the CEO of Northrop Grumman and Ft. Worth City Councilman, Joel Burns. Prior to dinner, a highlight video, which featured some Merck people, was played on the big convention monitors (video can be found at the following link and I can be found at 0:19 and 0:22–http://youtu.be/OcwADtdeffQ). Following dinner, comedienne Margaret Cho performed as did actor Wilson Cruz.
Our final day in Dallas, October 28th featured a morning MRA meeting on the 27th floor of the Hilton. In attendance was Mike Thien, our executive sponsor. Topics discussed were our “It Gets Better” video, how the Steering Committee can better engage its membership and how our executive sponsor can be a better liaison between the ERG and the company as well as be a voice in the business justification of the MRA.
Like last year, I found the convention to be both educational and enlightening. What I enjoyed the most was talking to individuals from other companies and getting their viewpoints and how their ERGs operate. Since this year I was fortunate to meet some individuals from our sales force, it allowed me to further develop a greater non-IT network of Merck people, plus catch up with people whom I may have not spoken to in over a year.
This blog entry is very lengthy, but I kindly ask ALL of my Facebook friends to PLEASE READ.
Many of you may remember Pedro Zamora. Pedro was on the third season of “The Real World.” He contracted HIV which, back in the early 90′s was a death sentence. His courage was inspirational. Pedro died of AIDS in 1994 but he educated us all. Please take a few minutes to watch this video.
James McClarty-Lopes has been living with HIV for over 10 years. He is a chef and an athlete. I can’t embed his video, but please take a look. His attitude and the fact that he is living a very full, healthy life is an inspiration.
At the 2011 Out & Equal Workplace Summit, I met two gentlemen who are HIV positive. One has been living with it for 27 years and the other for 25. They are healthy and living good lives.
Today HIV is not a death sentence. It doesn’t mean you are doomed to get AIDS. It is considered a treatable, chronic disease that is no different than if you were diagnosed with diabetes. We have progressed far. This doesn’t mean we need to be complacent.
There still is no cure for HIV, those infected will have it for the rest of their life. Remind your friends and family of this fact.
We must continue to raise awareness like we once did.
Tell your friends, whether they be straight, gay or bi to always be safe.
Cross-post this blog entry on Facebook and Twitter. Have them watch the videos.
For many years I had psoriasis and in late May 2011, I finally made an appointment with the dermatologist, but because of being short staffed, they couldn’t take me until August 10th. I will get back to this in a little bit. In early June 2011 I got what I thought was a very bad gum infection to the point where I had all the symptoms of the flu. For those who know me, I almost never get sick. My school mates might recall that I rarely was absent. On June 6, the day after I walked in the Asbury Park pride parade, I was rushed to the hospital with a 103 degree fever. I was so sick, I had to be in a wheelchair. St. Peters did a great job and got my fever down a few hours later, but I was sick for weeks. Once I recovered, I developed Bell’s Palsy. Having the right side of your face paralyzed was very frightening. It was like I had a stroke. Eating was physically exhausting for me and whatever I ate, I could not taste. I also had diarrhea and almost no energy. I often went home sick or simply too tired to keep working. The Bell’s subsided after eleven days and I made a full recovery. The diarrhea continued and I started to have a lot of pain, as if I had a hemorrhoid.
On August 1st I was going to Las Vegas with my friends and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from going. I can live with the diarrhea and pain, but I still didn’t have a normal energy level. A few days before my trip, I noticed that my skin was getting these little dots on it and the big patch of psoriasis on my right calf went almost around my whole leg. I was concerned about what they were, but since I was going to the dermatologist in a few days, it wasn’t a big deal. The trip was fun, despite the pain and low energy levels. I saw the dermatologist and they said that the breakout all over my body was psoriasis. The treatment for the kind of psoriasis is a drug called Enbrel. The problem with Enbrel is that it weakens your immune system, so I had a battery of tests done. My liver and kidney functions are fine nor do I don’t have hepatitis, herpes or syphilis. What they didn’t like was my western blot test. It came back with an inconclusive result. For those that do not know, the western blot checks for HIV. Having a “balanced” result as the doctor put it, doesn’t mean that I have HIV, just that there is some kind of antibody in my immune system. Thinking that I just had a gum infection, this makes sense. My body still had the antibodies from fighting that off. As a precaution, my dermatologist recommended that I see an infectious disease doctor to get a more comprehensive set of tests to check my immune system.
I was an emotional basket case, as my friends and co-workers can attest. For those that are my friends on Facebook, you may recall that I posted some rather cryptic Facebook status messages about tests. I was very scared, thinking that I could die.
I went to the infectious disease doctor and he explained to me that goodness forbid that I am positive, that I won’t die and that it is a treatable disease, no worse than someone having diabetes. It’s just simply a chronic illness. While this made me feel better, the specter of having HIV still scared me. I thought, what if I did have it? With the layoffs at work, I’ll never find another job again. No one in my right mind would insure me (I recently found out this is illegal). How would my friends, family and co-workers react? Would I get an “I told you so” lecture, will my parents cry? Will my co-workers be afraid to sit near me or have a munchkin or bagel after I did? With the way I was feeling physically, I thought, “do I not have HIV, but AIDS?”
I went for the blood test and for over a week I thought about these things. Thanks to my wonderful best friend and others (but how Neil put up with me will forever be a mystery) , my mind was continuously put at ease. My physical symptoms were not getting much better. I was constantly getting up several times at night to go to the bathroom and the psoriasis continued to spread. Finally it was the day of my appointment. I was mentally prepared to be told that beyond a reasonable doubt that I was HIV positive.
I was right.
The doctor, like pulling off a bandage, told me that I indeed am HIV positive. He then showed me the ten or so tests in which a vast majority said “positive.” My heart sank. He then proceeded to explain that it was caught early. He went on to state that my liver and kidneys are all functioning normally. I do not have toxoplasmosis. I do not have any form of hepatitis, syphilis or tuberculosis. He then stated that my viral load is quite low and my CD 4 count is high (that’s a good thing). He said he sees no reason why my HIV cannot be completely suppressed. He put me on a medication called Atripla, which are three medicines combined into one. While I may work for Merck, I am thankful to the folks at Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Gilead for making this medication. The worst side effect are a rash and scary dreams, which is why they say to take it at night.
How did my friends, co-workers and family react? One member of the Merck Rainbow Alliance jumped back and looked at me like I was a leper before catching their self (and I wasn’t surprised by this one person’s reaction). Other than that, my friends, co-workers and family reacted with caring and support. No “I told you so” and my co-workers have treated me no differently than they have before. I am also very thankful to have a very supportive boss who has allowed me the great flexibility of time to go see my various doctors. I truly have the best boss in the world with Mike Landsman.
I have been lucky, no scary dreams, just vivid ones that makes sleeping fun. After 2½ weeks taking Atripla, my diarrhea has gone away and thanks to a combination of another drug and lightbox treatments, my psoriasis is slowly fading and the chicken pox-like itching has become only a distant memory. A recent follow-up visit to the doctor reaffirmed my very, very good prognosis with my illness. He thinks that at the rate I am going, my viral load may drop to undetectable levels and that I may even be able to take the immune-whacking Enbrel. There is no reason why I can’t live to be a very old man.
There you have it, as promised, “my big announcement.” If you did read this almost 1,500 word blog posting, I thank you. I want to use my experience with HIV as a lesson. I am very open about it and please, feel free to ask me questions, whether it be on my web site or in the comments section of the Facebook cross-posting and re-post!