An Edge Publication Story by Renee Baker, June 13, 2008
A co-worker once told Dr. Susan Gore that she would burn in hell for her lifestyle. That same man, however, also said he would go to great lengths to support her equality in the workplace. While many would find these two beliefs incompatible, Gore saw it as a jumping off point for healthy communication between diverse groups of people, and proof that it’s possible to work together while still maintaining different values.
Gore, principal of the Dallas-based Mentor Group, addressed a crowd of about 50 at Sue Ellen’s nightclub in Oak Lawn on Tuesday, June 10th. Gore has been active in the gay community for over 20 years and is a consultant on diversity in the workplace. Her new book Gays, God and the Workplace: Not Mutuall Exclusive will be released this summer.
Ron Ausemus, Regional Affiliate Council Chair for Out and Equal, invited Gore to speak at the event to bring another perspective to the diversity table. “The diversity we have now is great…in the workforce, but there is still work to do,” he said. Out and Equal is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit national organization advocating for safe and equitable workplaces for GLBT people.
Gore, whose background is in social psychology, looks for ways to bring people together and find inclusion for those not generally accepted. She specifically has found that while gays and evangelicals don’t always agree on family values, they can find common ground and work together in ways that are mutually supportive in the workplace.
She realized this, she explains, when training a Human Resources trainer who bluntly told her, “I believe you are going to burn in hell for your lifestyle.” Gore, who is in a relationship with another woman and is getting married soon in San Francisco, says the HR trainer continued, “And there is one more thing…I will go to the mat for you to be treated fairly in the workplace.” It surprised Gore that someone who could stand so boldly against her sexuality could also stand up for her at the same time. The idea for her new book came from this insight into the notion of diverse people working together despite holding separate values.
Gore says her book creates “that arc” between gays, and evangelicals who are against the gay lifestyle. She says we should look for ways in our conversation “that respect religion and sexuality…it is all about communication.” Though Gore personally doesn’t regret her experience growing up as a Southern Baptist, she believes the church has caused terrible damage.
When asked how we should handle the workplace conflicts, Gore says we have to get people talking. She points to Texas Instruments as a leader in diversity, as they are one of the very few companies to have employee resource groups for Christians, Muslims and gays. It is with the formation of gay resource groups, that other religious groups feel they can form too. Gore says that religious groups are finding acceptance too, in places they are not always welcome, and that “TI had the foresight and courage” to move in this direction of allowing diversity and building upon it.
She also says we can reduce conflict by learning to speak in the language of the other person, one “they are comfortable with”. She says, for example, that being a Unitarian Universalist, she doesn’t believe in the word “sinner.” Yet, when she speaks to a religious person, she may agree, “yes, I am a sinner too” so as not to get hung up on the matter of words. “Religious language is way intense – that is the hook. But the hook is not them. It’s me.”
Gore adds that we also have to be fully part of the conversation and not project our own beliefs onto the other person. “I want to hear what they are saying, not what I think they are saying.” As with anything, she says it takes “practice, practice, practice.” She adds too, that “the job of the evangelical is to save, so we should see it that way, one of understanding. We have to meet them half way.”
Much of it boils down to fear: “People are fearful on both sides of this conversation,” she says, meaning that gays can’t forget their part too. She believes gays have to let go of the expectation that others will be afraid of us as well, such as when walking into a room full of evangelicals. “The assumption that I would be attacked is what I bring into the room, not what they bring.” Instead, perhaps we should expect allies. “We have many, many allies out there…every company has champions for you: Find them.”
Gore feels we are living in a fascinating time, and she’s optimistic about the future with a welcoming workforce. She believes that our youth are really the ones to carry us forward. “I’ve lived long enough that I see things continue to change. That’s what keeps me sane.”