What We Can Learn From The Women Who Passed As Men To Serve In The U.S. Army….


Now that the Pentagon has lifted the 1994 ban barring women from serving in special-operations and combat units, critics are waging a battle of their own, insisting that women lack the physical and psychological stamina that combat requires. While military officials insist they won’t soften their intense standards in order to allow more women entry, opponents argue that women will never be able to join otherwise, and that the Pentagon’s push for diversity will only result in a weakened United States military that places us at risk. Right now, the Marine Corps is in the middle of an experiment to test whether women can adequately perform the tough work required to defend the nation.

But American history is already full of women who can answer that question: during the Civil War, there were as many as 400 women who disguised themselves as men and fought for both the Union and the Confederacy. They pulled off their charades so well that few people today even know their stories.

“War actually shapes history, and history has always been about men,” says C.J. Longanecker, a historian and former ranger for the National Park Service. “But women were always there; they just didn’t get the press coverage.”

For one female soldier buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in Louisiana, it took more than 100 years to get the press coverage she deserved. Her story ends just east of New Orleans, where 15,000 headstones stretch out in seemingly infinite rows, interrupted only by the occasional oak tree.

Her story begins, though, in 1843 in Afton, N.Y., when a farmer’s wife gave birth to the first of her nine children—Sarah Rosetta, or just Rosetta. Like the lives of so many other women who enlisted as men, Rosetta’s life would revolve around hard labor and her family’s many debts. By the time Rosetta turned 19, she still had no marriage offers—a suffocating verdict for a woman who lacked both education and social status in the 19th century.

So Rosetta cut her hair, found a pair of men’s trousers and became 21-year-old Lyons Wakeman, leaving behind her family’s farm and fighting for independence in the only way that seemed possible.

She enlisted with the 153rd New York Infantry regiment, which encamped at both Alexandria, Va., and Washington D.C. before campaigning in Louisiana. In her book An Uncommon Soldier, Historian Lauren Cook Burgess has assembled Rosetta’s private letters to her family from the battlefield. As Burgess’ book shows us, Rosetta not only survived in a soldier’s life, she excelled at it:

“I don’t know how long before I shall have to go in the field of battle,” Rosetta writes. “For my part I don’t care. I don’t feel afraid to go…I am as independent as a hog on the ice.”

The eager young woman took to chewing tobacco and adopted all the “vices” that a typical soldier embraced. The five-ft.-tall Rosetta even won a brawl once with a much larger and much rowdier soldier than she, landing a few punches on him and no doubt earning some cheers from her comrades.

Rosetta eventually fought in another kind of battle, one more savage than she could have imagined. The Battle of Pleasant Hill took place in northwest Louisiana on Apr. 9, 1864. It was part of the Union Army’s push to capture the area from the Confederates. “There was a heavy cannonading [sic] all day and a sharp firing of infantry,” Rosetta writes. ”I had to face the enemy bullets with my regiment. I was under fire about four hours and laid on the field of battle all night.” Rosetta’s regiment launched a full frontal attack on the Confederates, with their commanding officers later praising the 153rd for their fierce bravery.

Meanwhile, the soldier seemed forever haunted by her oppressed past life as a farmer’s daughter. In letters to New York, Rosetta can’t help repeat that she will never return home, as if she had to convince not only her family, but also herself.

“If I ever get clear from the Army I will come home and make you a visit, but I shall not stay long,” Rosetta writes. “I shall never live in that neighborhood again.”

Had Rosetta lived, she may well have spent the rest of her days as a man, as multiple women actually did when the fighting was over. Rosetta, however, did not live. She fell prey to the menace that killed more than 413,000 soldiers in the Civil War—disease. After the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Rosetta and her comrades were forced to participate in a hellish two-day, 70-mile march through the untamed Louisiana wilderness, with many men collapsing from exhaustion and pain before reaching the end. Rosetta survived, but developed chronic dysentery.

By the time Rosetta’s ambulance reached the Marine U.S.A General Hospital near New Orleans 15 days later, she had deteriorated into the acute stages of her disease.

Rosetta languished for a month and then died. Lyons Wakeman’s cover, however, did not. In a stunning combination of luck and poor 19th-century healthcare, it seems the Army never discovered Lyons’ true identity. The military ironically lists Lyons Wakeman as an “honest” and “faithful” soldier, who died from chronic diarrhea while serving.

Back in New York, the U.S. census that took place shortly after the war makes no mention of a Rosetta Wakeman, only listing the now-dead Lyons. Rosetta’s family never mentioned their eldest daughter again, instead hesitantly referring to a long-gone sibling “who went by the name of Lyons,” according to Burgess’ research. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when Rosetta’s descendants examined a stack of faded letters kept in an attic, that the astounding legacy of Rosetta—aka Lyons—was made public.

Could the Army hospital have possibly never noticed Rosetta’s true gender? Experts say it’s more plausible than you’d think. “Even enlisting, they didn’t do a physical examination without any clothes on, and people didn’t look at other people’s naked bodies in those days,” says Longanecker.

Conspiracy theories, however, abound. Longanecker believes the nurses at Marine U.S.A. General sympathized with Rosetta’s desperate masquerade. “Because she had been in the Army for some time, and because she was a well-respected soldier, they didn’t say anything because it would have prevented her parents from receiving any compensation for her death,” Longanecker says. “It was a kind of hush-hush thing.”

While Rosetta’s death may still be clouded with unanswered questions, her military service and contribution to the war couldn’t be clearer. Today, as we raise the question of women’s readiness for combat, we only have to remember Rosetta Wakeman—and the countless other women who’ve secretly served alongside men—for our answer.

Elizabeth Heideman – Time

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Remembering Lost Brothers, Sisters This 16th Transgender Day Of Remembrance….


Today is the 16th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a solemn tribute to those who have lost their lives to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice, and a day to raise awareness of the constant threat of brutality faced by the transgender community.

The annual event — founded in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer, columnist, and activist — was first held to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998, kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999.

Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.

Since then, hundreds of cities around the country and the world have hosted annual Transgender Day of Remembrance events in solidarity with transgender hate crime victims.

And although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identifies as transgender, each was a victim of violence based on bias against that person’s real or perceived gender identity or expression.

Statistics on anti-transgender violence are startling. A 2013 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) report found that transgender people were 1.5 times more likely to face threats and intimidation compared to the broader LGBT community, and that 72 percent of anti-LGBT homicide victims were transgender women, significantly up from 53.8 percent in the previous year.

Sixty-seven percent of the victims were transgender women of color. Furthermore, seventy-eight percent of transgender children in grades K-12 reported being harassed in school, 35 percent physically assaulted, and 12 percent sexually assaulted, according to a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force.

“The national crisis of anti-trans violence in this country continues with brutal intensity, and it seems like every day we mourn another tragic loss,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, in a statement.

“On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, all Americans should feel responsible to help bring an end to this violence before it claims even one more innocent soul. The progress of equality has to reach everyone, and we are failing as a movement if we leave anyone behind,” said Griffin.

The HRC has a list of events and remembrances around the nation, and for more about Transgender Day of Remembrance, click here or go to: http://tdor.info/

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Putnam County Principal: Adding LGBT Club Would “Create Bullying”….


A Putnam County high school will not allow a Gay-Straight Alliance club on campus, despite students’ requests.

Winfield High School Principal Bruce McGrew said that, while there was student interest in such a group, no teachers wanted to sponsor it.

“It’s not a subject to even discuss, because [we] don’t have one,” McGrew said. “That’s all I’ll say about it.”

When asked if he would allow a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender student support club at the school if a teacher did offer to chaperone, McGrew said he would “rather not answer that.”

McGrew said he believes the creation of such a group would allow more opportunities for students to bully other students.

“It’s an issue. If you’re asking my personal beliefs, that’s one thing, but what you’ve got to understand is we don’t want to have anything where there’s bullying involved, and if you bring attention to that sort of thing, it’s going to create bullying,” McGrew said. “It would bring more problems to the issue of bullying and so forth if it were to occur. Our job is to protect all kids from that.”

Winfield High School is home to several student clubs, which have to have a teacher sponsor and be approved by McGrew, he said.

The school hosts a Christian Teens club, a Fuel Bible club, a Students Against Drunk Driving club and several others, according to the school’s website.

Putnam County Schools Superintendent Chuck Hatfield said the club was not being discriminated against and that, if there is a faculty sponsor available, “we certainly would entertain that idea, as we do with any other club.”

“[McGrew] has a right to his opinions — we all do,” Hatfield said, “but our personal opinions can’t affect the decisions that we make, and they won’t.”

When asked if Hatfield also believes that a Gay-Straight Alliance club at the school would perpetuate bullying, he said he trusts McGrew’s judgment.

“I’m not at his school everyday. I don’t have the feel for the tolerance or whatever it may be. I think, if he said that, he was sincere in his thoughts,” Hatfield said. “There is a certain amount of bullying in society, and schools are just a reflection of society. We’re certainly not going to violate anyone’s rights. We have students from all walks of life in our system.”

Steve Shamblin, a Kanawha County teacher and a representative of the county’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers, was recently contacted about the issue, and said this is not the first time he’s heard of school push-back against LGBT groups in the state.

Shamblin is the leader of a Gay-Straight Alliance at Riverside High School.

“Kids know that, on club day, they can stop by here and talk,” he said. “I get as many straight kids as gay kids, who just want to ask what they can do to help and make sure their friends aren’t bullied. It promotes tolerance at our school. They know it’s safe there.”

For the first time in state history, the West Virginia Department of Education included specific protections for LGBT students in its 2011 anti-bullying policy.

The reformed policy now lays out punishment for students who bully fellow students over their sexual orientation and “gender identity or expression.”

“I think a part of the problem is that schools hear ‘gay’ and think it’s pushing the gay agenda, but it’s a safety thing,” Shamblin said. “Whether a kid is gay or straight or whatever, it’s important to empower them for who they are. It’s a journey finding out who you are in high school for every kid, and everyone needs somebody to listen.”

Jennifer Meinig, executive director of the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that to not allow an LGBT student club at a school would be breaking federal law.

The Equal Access Act, passed in the 1980s, requires public schools to treat all extracurricular clubs fairly, and it has been supported by Christian and LGBT groups.

“I think that this proves how much the school needs a club like this, because it must be a hostile environment there for students if there are concerns about bullying,” Meinig said. “On top of that, it’s the legal thing to do. It’s important that these students have somewhere to go.”

Andrew Schneider, executive director for Fairness West Virginia, said the idea that a Gay-Straight Alliance at a school would put students at risk of bullying just doesn’t make sense.

“That turns logic on its head,” Schneider said. “These groups are specifically designed to create a safe place for LGBT students and to provide support against bullying.”

Mackenzie Mays – The Charleston Gazette

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Married, Gay Couple Told They’ll Lose Their Drivers’ Licenses Over Name Change….


A Florida couple who used their New York marriage license to change their names on their Florida drivers’ licenses have been notified by the state Department of Motor Vehicles warning them that they are both in danger of losing their licenses.

WFTV reports that the warning came following an Oct. 30 broadcast in which WFTV reported that Daniel and Scott Wall-Desousa were one of Florida’s first same-sex couples to successfully change their name using an out-of-state same-sex marriage license.

The letter “informs me and notifies me that my driving privileges will be canceled indefinitely as of Nov. 22,” said Daniel Wall-Desousa, because the couple’s out-of-state marriage license is not recognized in Florida.

When WFTV first reported on the name change, Scott Wall-Desousa said the clerk was told to not ask questions if the license was issued to a same-sex couple and simply grant the name change.

“It is a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, and I guess we have been told, ‘Here is the repercussion,’” said Scott Wall-Desousa.

But the couple reports that their new last names are already on federal documents like Social Security cards and other documentation like voter ID cards and their work badges.

If they comply with the request, the couple notes, then their licenses will have a different name than all of the rest of their documents.

“Everything has been changed to my benefits, to my Florida pension,” he explained, adding that even the men’s voter IDs and work badges display their married name. “How does one undo all that?”

The couple say they plan to file a lawsuit against the state.

LGBTQ Nation

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Transgender Pioneer And Stone Butch Blues Author Leslie Feinberg Has Passed….


Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness.

She died at home in Syracuse, NY, with her partner and spouse of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt, at her side. Her last words were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

Feinberg was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of “transgender liberation,” and her work impacted popular culture, academic research, and political organizing.

Her historical and theoretical writing has been widely anthologized and taught in the U.S. and international academic circles. Her impact on mass culture was primarily through her 1993 first novel, Stone Butch Blues, widely considered in and outside the U.S. as a groundbreaking work about the complexities of gender. Sold by the hundreds of thousands of copies and also passed from hand-to-hand inside prisons, the novel has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Slovenian, Turkish, and Hebrew (with her earnings from that edition going to ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women).

In a statement at the end of her life, she said she had “never been in search of a common umbrella identity, or even an umbrella term, that brings together people of oppressed sexes, gender expressions, and sexualities” and added that she believed in the right of self-determination of oppressed individuals, communities, groups, and nations.

She preferred to use the pronouns she/zie and her/hir for herself, but also said: “I care which pronoun is used, but people have been disrespectful to me with the wrong pronoun and respectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.”

Feinberg was born September 1, 1949, in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Buffalo, NY, in a working-class Jewish family. At age 14, she began supporting herself by working in the display sign shop of a local department store, and eventually stopped going to her high school classes, though officially she received her diploma. It was during this time that she entered the social life of the Buffalo gay bars. She moved out of a biological family hostile to her sexuality and gender expression, and to the end of her life carried legal documents that made clear they were not her family.

Discrimination against her as a transgender person made it impossible for her to get steady work. She earned her living for most of her life through a series of low-wage temp jobs, including working in a PVC pipe factory and a book bindery, cleaning out ship cargo holds and washing dishes, serving an ASL interpreter, and doing medical data inputting.

In her early twenties Feinberg met Workers World Party at a demonstration for Palestinian land rights and self-determination. She soon joined WWP through its founding Buffalo branch.


After moving to New York City, she participated in numerous mass organizing campaigns by the Party over the years, including many anti-war, pro-labor rallies. In 1983-1984 she embarked on a national tour about AIDS as a denied epidemic. She was a key organizer in the December 1974 March Against Racism in Boston, a campaign against white supremacist attacks on African-American adults and schoolchildren in the city. Feinberg led a group of ten lesbian-identified people, including several from South Boston, on an all-night “paste up” of South Boston, covering every visible racist epithet.

Feinberg was one of the organizers of the 1988 mobilization in Atlanta that re-routed the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan as they tried to march down Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave., on MLK Day. When anti-abortion groups descended on Buffalo in 1992 and again in 1998-1999 with the murder there of Dr. Barnard Slepian, Feinberg returned to work with Buffalo United for Choice and its Rainbow Peacekeepers, which organized community self-defense for local LGBTQ+ bars and clubs as well as the women’s clinic.

A WW journalist since 1974, Feinberg was the editor of the Political Prisoners page of Workers World newspaper for 15 years, and became a managing editor in 1995. She was a member of the National Committee of the Party.

From 2004-2008 Feinberg’s writing on the links between socialism and LGBT history, “Lavender & Red,” ran as a 120-part series in Workers World newspaper. Her most recent book, Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba, was an edited selection of that series.

Feinberg authored two other non-fiction books, Transgender Warriors: Making History and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, as well as a second novel, Drag King Dreams.

Feinberg was a member of the National Writers Union, Local 1981, and of Pride at Work, an AFL-CIO constituency group. She received an honorary doctorate from the Starr King School for the Ministry for her transgender and social justice work, and was the recipient of numerous other awards, including the Lambda Literary Award and the American Library Association Gay and Lesbian Book Award.

During a period when diseases would not allow her to read, write, or talk, Feinberg continued to communicate through art. Picking up a camera for the first time, she posted thousands of pictures on Flickr, including “The Screened-In Series,” a disability-art class-conscious documentary of her Hawley-Green neighborhood photographed entirely from behind the windows of her apartment.

Diagnosed with Lyme and multiple tick-borne co-infections in 2008, Feinberg was infected first in the early 1970s when little was known about the diseases. She had received treatment for these only within the last six years. She said, “My experience in ILADS care offers great hope to desperately-ill people who are in earlier stages of tick-borne diseases.”

She attributed her catastrophic health crisis to “bigotry, prejudice and lack of science”—active prejudice toward her transgender identity that made access to health care exceedingly difficult, and lack of science in limits placed by mainstream medical authorities on information, treatment, and research about Lyme and its co-infections. She blogged online about these issues in “Casualty of an Undeclared War.”

At the time of her death she was preparing a 20th anniversary edition of Stone Butch Blues. She worked up to within a few days of her death to prepare the edition for free access, reading, and download from on-line. In addition to the text of the novel, the on-line edition will contain a slideshow, “This Is What Solidarity Looks Like,” documenting the breadth of the organizing campaign to free CeCe McDonald, a young Minneapolis (trans)woman organizer and activist sent to prison for defending herself against a white neo-Nazi attacker. The new edition is dedicated to McDonald. A devoted group of friends are continuing to work to post Feinberg’s final writing and art online at Lesliefeinberg.net.

Feinberg’s spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt, an activist and poet, is the author of Crime Against Nature, about loss of custody of her sons as a lesbian mother. Feinberg and Pratt met in 1992 when Feinberg presented a slideshow on her transgender research in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the local Workers World branch. After a long-distance courtship, they made their home for many years in Jersey City, NJ, where, to protect their relationship, the couple domestic-partnered in 2004 and civil-unioned in 2006. They also married in a civil ceremony in Massachusetts and in New York State in 2011.

Feinberg stressed that state authorities had no right to assign who were or were not her loved ones but rather that she would define her chosen family, citing Marx who said that the exchange value of love is — love.

Feinberg is survived by Pratt and an extended family of choice, as well as many friends, activists, and comrades around the world in struggle against oppression and for liberation.

The Advocate

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Jeffrey the series: “Spray Tan” (Episode 9)….

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Where Are The Gay Chief Executives?….


UPDATE: Timothy D. Cook, the chief executive of Apple, disclosed in an article he wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek that he is gay. After years of avoiding discussion of the topic, he wrote: “While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

He added: “I’ll admit that this wasn’t an easy choice. Privacy remains important to me, and I’d like to hold on to a small amount of it.”

When the National Football League last week drafted its first openly gay player, Michael Sam, he joined a roster of recent firsts — from the first out nightly news and morning-television anchors, United States senator and pro-basketball player.

But one major realm of society lags behind: corporate America. There are very few openly gay chief executives at the nation’s 1,000 biggest companies.

While some might be out in their personal lives or be widely assumed to be gay, none has spoken publicly about it the way Mr. Sam and other public figures have, which signals how far behind corporate America still is.

It may seem incongruous that corner offices trail, say, the testosterone-fueled world of N.F.L. linebackers in their apparent acceptance of homosexuality. But it serves as a reminder of how, even today, the business world is one of the slowest sectors of society to adopt new norms of acceptance — despite the fact that it keeps out some talented people, the lifeblood of companies.

Just look at the progress of women and minorities in corporate America, decades after the women’s and civil rights movements. Even today, only 48 of the 1,000 largest companies — or 5 percent — have a woman in charge. The first African-American Fortune 500 chief executive ascended to his job a mere 15 years ago.

And gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender executives face separate challenges breaking through the so-called pink ceiling. Their differences are often invisible. In some places, discrimination camouflaged as business strategy — “We’re tolerant, but our customers might not be” — is considered acceptable. Even as the gay rights movement progresses at a faster clip than civil rights movements before it, there is an overwhelming pressure in the workplace to hide one’s sexual orientation.

“If we learned anything from the equal rights movements, it’s that legislation and policies are not enough,” said Deena Fidas, the director of Human Rights Campaign’s workplace equality program. “There has to be an actual culture of inclusion.”

Policies are certainly on the books. Today, 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, up from 61 percent in 2002, according to Human Rights Campaign. (Federal law does not protect against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.)

Yet even in 2014, it is more common than not for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender workers to remain closeted at work, among both senior executives and junior employees, according to a new survey of 1,700 people by Human Rights Campaign.

Corporate policies do not necessarily translate to office culture, as anyone who has worked at a big company knows well. “It’s beyond anti-discrimination policy,” said Nancy Vitale, the chief human resources officer at Genentech, who is open at work about the fact that she is a lesbian. “It absolutely goes to — do people feel comfortable being themselves?”

That means little things, like tagging along to happy hour or casually chatting with co-workers.

“When a straight woman says, ‘My husband is out of town, I’m stretched this week,’ it’s just a professional talking about her life,” Ms. Fidas said. “When a lesbian says, ‘My partner’s out of town,’ it’s deemed unprofessional.”

And it is no wonder that closeted employees have difficulty advancing at their companies. They report feeling distracted at work, avoiding certain clients or co-workers, skipping company social events and having a difficult time finding mentors — all of which can have a direct result on career advancement.

“When you look at the root cause, what is the pink ceiling, it’s really this unstated demand in organizations for individuals to downplay their identities and to conform to the norms of the organization,” said Christie Smith, a principal at Deloitte, the consulting firm, who manages its center for inclusion.

A Deloitte report by Ms. Smith and Kenji Yoshino, a New York University School of Law professor, found that 83 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people hide aspects of their identity at work, often because they say their bosses expect them to.

At some companies, for example, there is a belief that bringing a same-sex partner to an event like a deal-closing dinner with a conservative client could be bad for business.

And sometimes it could be. Deloitte has assigned gay consultants to work on projects for clients, only to have the clients call and say they do not want a gay person on the team, Ms. Smith said. Deloitte walked away from those contracts, she said.

“This is the leadership issue of our time,” she said.

At the highest levels of companies, the same insular culture that has made it hard for women and minorities to reach the executive ranks also keeps out gay people — even if they are older white men.

“Old-boy networks get maintained by social connectivity, and when you’re closeted it’s harder,” Ms. Fidas said.

That is one reason that having a gay chief executive, or one who publicly talks about inclusion, would make a difference, said Jennifer Brown, the founder and chief executive of Jennifer Brown Consulting, which advises companies on diversity.

“Employees notice every move at the top of the house,” Ms. Brown said. “They will notice when a person says a single sentence about diversity, and it signals to people that they are supported by the company.”

“If people are still making a choice to hide, people know that as well in certain corners,” she added. “That can send a troubling signal, which is, ‘I don’t feel safe enough and I’m an executive at this company, so why would you feel safe enough?’ ”

Right now, Ms. Smith said, that is still the signal many companies are sending gay employees at work, where this is not just a civil rights issue, but an economic one — it is the companies that lose when talented people don’t apply or leave because they feel unwelcome.

But if change can happen in football, it seems possible in corporate America.

UPDATE: This article has been revised to address the uncertain nature of “openly.” Some readers consider openly to include people who are out in their personal lives but not in the workplace; other readers, and the Human Rights Campaign, count only those who publicly identify themselves as gay.

Claire Cain Miller – The New York Times

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