Thursday, June 6, marked a historic moment not only for the local Michigan LGBTQ community but for the business community, too, as hundreds of prominent leaders from both groups joined to celebrate Ford GLOBE’s 25th anniversary. Ford GLOBE is Ford Motor Company’s LGBTQ employee resource group designed to unite, encourage networking among and generally service Ford’s LGBTQ employees. The event was hosted in partnership with the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce that is dedicated to promoting and connecting LGBTQ business people across Southeast Michigan to allied partnerships in order to create a more diverse, dynamic and innovative business community.
And the dinner was certainly not a one-off, it served as the inaugural event in a continuing annual cycle dedicated to fostering those relationships. The event’s significance was perhaps best summarized by Noel Baril, an openly gay human resources executive for Henry Ford Health System — a dinner silver sponsor.
“I’d really like to start by congratulating Ford GLOBE on its birthday and thank the organization for the many contributions that it’s made over the years,” Baril said.
He went on to describe the tone of the period in the 1990s when Ford GLOBE came to be, as well as its relevance today.
“[The world] was a really different place for the LGBTQ community. AIDS was rampant, anti-gay sentiment was rampant, marriage for individuals at that time was a quiet commitment that was really often made with little to no recognition, certainly not from the government and too often none from our families and very likely not from our employers,” Baril said. “Marriage equality seemed as if it was an impossible dream, but organizations like GLOBE and Pride and others that have come along since then raised their voices — I know because I was on the other side, the employer side, listening — demanding things like domestic partnership benefits and non-discrimination protections and they were heard.”
Honoring an LGBTQ Legend
Shortly after Baril’s address, Jan Stevenson took the stage. As Between The Lines co-publisher, former Affirmations LGBTQ center executive director and as vice president of the LGBT Chamber, her direct involvement with the Southeast Michigan LGBTQ community has given her a deep understanding of the need for groups that advocate not only for LGBTQ rights within the corporate hierarchy of individual companies but also within the greater business communities across the U.S. She said that in honor of the event’s goals she was excited to celebrate the person in Southeast Michigan with perhaps the single greatest influence on LGBTQ equality within the corporate world, Allan D. Gilmour.
“It’s my honor to give the first Allan D. Gilmour award to Allan Gilmour. For many in this room, Allan Gilmour needs no introduction, but he has so many spheres of influence, that even if you think you know Allan you may not have a full appreciation of the extent of the positive impacts on the lives of so many people he’s touched,” she said. “Ford recruited him from the University of Michigan and for the next 38 years he skyrocketed up the Ford corporate ladder, ultimately earning the position of vice chairman of all of Ford Motor Company.”
Stevenson added that though Gilmour retired in 1994, his influential work within the LGBTQ community was merely beginning, as it was at that time that he publicly came out as gay — a bold move as at that point he was the highest-ranking executive in the U.S. to do so. Despite his retirement, Gilmour began to take an active involvement on the boards of various significant local organizations like DOW, DTE Energy, The HOPE Fund, Whirlpool and others. All the while, Gilmour involved himself philanthropically in LGBTQ-affirming causes, securing — among other notable achievements — enough money to construct the current physical space for Affirmations.
“These are just a few of the highlights of a distinguished career as a corporate leader at Ford, an influential philanthropist, a university president and as a respected voice in numerous boardrooms, advocating for the inclusion of LGBT people in the fabric of our society and our workplaces,” she said. “He is a beloved leader for his grace, compassion, high intelligence, effectiveness and personal warmth.”
Gilmour took the stage and expressed his deep gratitude for the recognition of his work.
“I am honored and excited to receive this award, especially because it is a doubleheader, the award itself, and then the fact that it is a continuing award, an annual award, coming from the Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “Special thanks to the board of the Chamber for selecting me after developing the award and special congratulations to Ford GLOBE on its 25 years of inclusion and service. The people of GLOBE have made a difference in those 25 years.”
He emphasized in his speech the value of diversity and inclusion and the strides that can be made if businesses take care to ensure that employees from all backgrounds and sexual orientations can feel comfortable at work. He finished his remarks with a four-point call to action for the business leaders present in the room.
“First, work with the government to improve its performance. Our elected leaders should lead, they set the rules, the tone, for much of what society does. Second, reach out to understand the backgrounds and experiences of your own colleagues. Make them welcome and an integral part of your organization. It may take special efforts with LGBT people because we cannot recognize them by color, nationality or gender,” he said. “Third, work within your organizations to be sure the right policies and practices are in place and are followed. Fourth, give your own time … to helping LGBT organizations and those that support them, our allies.”
It was after Gilmour accepted his award that keynote speaker Wade Davis delivered his speech. The former NFL player and openly gay diversity consultant’s career was introduced by Ford GLOBE President Bill Peters.
“[He is a] thought leader, writer, public speaker, educator on gender, race and orientation,” Peters said. “[An] LGBT inclusion consultant and currently consults for numerous sports leagues on issues of intersections of sexism, racism and homophobia. Wade creates league-wide inclusive leadership strategies, leads inclusion training session for coaches and players and launches [national initiatives.]”
Davis’ work has also been utilized by prominently known businesses across the U.S. like Netflix, Google and Viacom, he’s worked with organizations like Planned Parenthood and he is currently an adjunct professor at NYU and Rutgers University. Davis began his speech by drawing attention to the need for a spirit of inclusivity to be present among all generations and businesses and by debunking myths about the LGBTQ community. Some myths include thinking that the younger generation is free of homophobia, that seemingly conservative companies like Ford cannot be great places to work for LGBTQ people and that communities of color are more homophobic than others.
“Homophobia is not located in one community or another. It’s individual because what happens when you create a myth and you say communities of color are more homophobic than white communities [is that] kids of color run away from home because they don’t believe their parents will embrace them,” Davis said. “As leaders, you have to create the conditions so that employees can bring themselves to work.”
He finished his remarks with a challenge designed to spur more thought on inclusivity by asking the community members present to educate themselves on the experiences of their employees like those who belong to the transgender community.
“… What does it mean to be trans? What does it mean to be gender non-conforming? What does it mean to be bisexual?” he asked. “You’ve got to talk to them about issues of consent. You’ve got to have a lot of conversations.”