What happens when over 600 educators, counselors, administrators, LGBTQ advocacy organizations and students join together to promote safety, inclusion and well-being for LGBTQ youth? As I found out during the Human Rights Campaign’s inaugural Time to Thrive conference this past President’s Day Weekend—great things happen.
As a presenting sponsor, AT&T had the opportunity to join this inspiring group of youth-serving professionals to spread our own message of inclusion. I was humbled to share the stage with some key LGBTQ advocates including Chelsea Clinton, LZ Granderson, and Gautam Raghavan, Advisor, White House Office of Public Engagement & LGBT Liaison to the White House. It was also great to see some of our long-term collaborators such as the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) represented at the event and working toward a common goal of creating a thriving LGBTQ youth population.
This was a particularly exciting time to be representing AT&T because just this month we became the first major U.S. corporation to condemn anti-LGBTQ policies in Russia. We were proud to stand with the LGBTQ community in condemning these policies, and also in celebrating the diversity of all Olympic athletes, their fans, Russian residents and all people the world over – including and, especially, our employees and their loved ones.
After spending 72 hours interacting with some of the most important and inspiring individuals on the front lines of LGBTQ youth issues, (including the youth themselves!) I left the conference encouraged and excited by the message of inclusivity and empowerment that I know all attendees will carry with them back to their communities. But as we look to the future, we also must recognize that there are still challenges that lie ahead.
As I shared with Time to Thrive attendees, one issue I’m particularly passionate about is addressing the devastating impact of cyberbullying on LGBTQ youth. The digital world has provided more opportunities for all of us to connect, but it has also introduced a new venue for bullying, which disproportionately affects the LGBTQ community: According to a recent survey, 42% of LGBTQ youth have experienced cyberbullying, compared to 15% among their peers. I’m proud that one of my AT&T colleagues, Director of Consumer Education Andrea Brands, participated in a workshop on online privacy and safety in an effort to bring attention to this issue.
Despite challenges like these that we still must overcome, the Time to Thrive conference provided an important moment for all of us at AT&T and beyond to celebrate LGBTQ youth and to empower them to improve their lives and promote positive change in the world around them. To this end, AT&T California President Ken McNeely participated in a special session for just 50 LGBTQ youth from the Las Vegas area on entering the workforce. The session was a chance to communicate all the possibilities that the future holds for openly LGBTQ employees in the workplace – and that things do indeed get better.
I was deeply inspired by everyone I interacted with during the event, and know that they are up for the challenge of creating more inclusive communities. I look forward to continuing our work with HRC, and to helping all members of the LGTBQ community find their own ways to thrive.