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Political Notebook: Politics weighs on SF LGBT business summit

by Matthew S. Bajko

Moderator Deborah Schmall, left, talked with gay<br>executives George Kalogridis, who runs Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando,<br>Florida; Cory Valente, with Dow Chemical Company; and Ken Janssens, a managing<br>director at JP Morgan, at Out and Equal Workplace Advocates' Executive Forum<br>Tuesday in San Francisco. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Moderator Deborah Schmall, left, talked with gay
executives George Kalogridis, who runs Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando,
Florida; Cory Valente, with Dow Chemical Company; and Ken Janssens, a managing
director at JP Morgan, at Out and Equal Workplace Advocates' Executive Forum
Tuesday in San Francisco. Photo: Kelly Sullivan  

The current political environment was front and center at a meeting in San Francisco this week of more than 100 senior and executive leaders from Fortune 500 companies and federal agencies.

The LGBT professionals, along with their straight allies, had convened for Out and Equal Workplace Advocates' 10th annual Executive Forum. The main focus of the yearly event is to assist with efforts to advance LGBT equality within corporate boardrooms and workplaces across the country.

But the advent of the LGBT-hostile Trump administration and efforts in numerous statehouses to adopt anti-LGBT legislation loomed large at the gathering.

"It is jarring, to say the least, to go from the supportive Obama administration to this current volatile environment," said Selisse Berry, the founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based nonprofit who recently announced plans to step down and become an ambassador for the agency.

Of particular concern, said Berry, has been seeing the introduction of so-called religious freedom bills in many statehouses. The legislation would allow business owners and others to cite their faith in order to discriminate against LGBT people.

While efforts to enact similar laws at the federal level receive most of the attention, Berry said it has been heartening to see business leaders are "paying more attention to local and state issues."

One example is the Dow Chemical Company, which is based in Midland, Michigan but has an extensive footprint in various states. While it had taken a stand in the past on federal LGBT legislation, the company reached a "turning point" in 2015 when it publicly opposed a religious freedom bill in Indiana, said Cory Valente, a high-ranking gay employee at the company.

"We saw what was going on with state-based legislation and called a meeting. The message was clear: Dow had been too passive in the past," said Valente. "While we had been reactionary, now we would be proactive. Our stance is to speak out in states where we have a large footprint."

Ken Janssens, a managing director at JP Morgan, said his company is finalizing a plan for how it will respond to various LGBT rights issues that are now routinely arising in the myriad countries the bank operates in. The internal dialogue was prompted by the current debate in Hong Kong over passing a bill banning LGBT discrimination as well as efforts to enact marriage equality in Taiwan.

"We are not a human rights organization; we are a bank. We can't come out on everything constantly," explained Janssens, who is based in London. "We are very conservative; JP Morgan is not Google. We work in a certain way."

The company plans to weigh several factors in determining if lending its voice would be prudent, such as how many employees does it have in a country and would it be part of a coalition of businesses in support of the legislation in question. It took just 10 days for the bank executives to decide to support the Hong Kong bill, "which for JP Morgan is a world record," noted Janssens. "We love our red tape."

Conversely, the corporate executives argued they could, at times, have more of an impact by working behind the scenes to ward off or repeal anti-LGBT laws. Walt Disney World Resort President George Kalogridis disclosed his company has been engaging with Florida lawmakers one-on-one about efforts to repeal an existing law that allows someone to be fired solely for being gay.

"We found it a better way to work to change minds that way," said Kalogridis, a gay man who formerly oversaw the company's Disneyland Resort in southern California.

The top executives of Dow, JP Morgan, and Disney have all been criticized for serving on bodies advising President Donald Trump . But their employees defended their bosses' decisions not to resign and use the opportunity to lobby the administration.

"We may not agree, but if you don't have a seat at the table that is worse," said Janssens.

SF supe runs against gay candidate for CA tax board

In January, gay former Assemblyman Rich Gordon launched his bid for a state Board of Equalization seat in 2018, and ever since, he has been racking up endorsements from local and state Democratic Party leaders. If he thought doing so would scare off other Democrats from entering the race, Gordon received his answer this week when San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen announced her candidacy.

Cohen, one of two African-American women on the city's board, posted the news to Facebook Monday, March 27. She disclosed that both San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf had endorsed her bid for the tax board's sprawling District 2 seat, which spans from Santa Barbara on the Central Coast north to the Oregon border.

"I have fought my entire career to put the interests of the people before special interests. That's why I took on Big Soda and passed soda taxes in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany," wrote Cohen, adding that should she win the race, "I will continue to put the interests of the people over special interests."

Gordon campaign consultant Dave R. Jacobson told the Bay Area Reporter that the Menlo Park resident is "working his heart out every day to build a far-reaching coalition of support in every corner of the 2nd District," pointing to endorsements in particular from South Bay Democratic Congressional members Anna Eshoo and Ro Khanna .

"With that said, regardless of who else enters the race, Rich is taking nothing for granted in this campaign and he plans to run like he's 10 points behind until he crosses the finish line in June of 2018," wrote Jacobson, referring to the primary election, in an emailed reply.

According to the secretary of state, lesbian state Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) has pulled paperwork for the tax board seat. But she doesn't live in the tax board district, so she is more likely using it as a way to park donations for a future bid for elected office since she will be termed out of her Senate seat in 2020.

The tax board's District 2 seat will be open next year as Democrat Fiona Ma, the current occupant, is running for state treasurer in 2018 due to John Chiang 's decision to run for governor.

The Board of Equalization is facing questions about its oversight, as an audit to be released Thursday will report it misallocated tens of millions of dollars and that two of its elected members from other areas of the state used agency personnel for personal events, according to recent reports by the Associated Press and the Sacramento Bee.


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on a pro-trans bathroom policy adopted by Santa Clara County.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail mailto:.




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