The annual Out and Equal Workplace Summit is taking place in Orlando this year Oct. 5-7. This year marks the event’s 20th anniversary, and emotions ran high at the event’s start Wednesday in light of that as well as the Pulse nightclub shooting in June.
The event is a gathering of business leaders to discuss LGBT issues in the workplace and how to solve them. Previous summits have taken place in Dallas, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Baltimore, among others.
The ceremony kicked off at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Dolphin Resort at Disney, fittingly beginning with a rendition of the Lion King musical, complete with dancers dressed as some of the famous characters, two women on stilts in traditional African garb and a gala of showy, flashing lights.
Then, founder and CEO Selisse Berry took the stage and spoke about the Pulse tragedy. On the day it happened, Berry said she remembered being on the phone for hours with fellow activists and members of the LGBT community, just so they could “talk together, and cry together.”
“We had the comfort of being a part of a broader community,” she said.
Then she took a more uplifting turn and went on to describe several of the improvements the LGBT community has seen worldwide: Gay marriage, not only in the U.S. but also in Colombia, Italy and other places. Transgendered people finally being allowed to serve in the military. Several openly gay ambassadors to other countries.
Then Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer took the stage and said Orlando, typically known for its extremely diverse cast of LGBT public officials and politicians, is proud to be so diverse — one of the most diverse communities in the United States, in fact, he said.
Then he went on to say he was still proud of the community’s reaction after Pulse.
“Everybody knows us for the theme parks,” he said. “But you don’t always see the other side — people who will stand in line for hours to donate blood for the victims of the shooting. We were already that community before.”
He said it benefits the city economically, as well, to be so diverse: many young people want to live in places that are tolerant and diverse, and it draws them to stay there and work, which boosts the local economy.
That’s why Dyer was proud to be able to tout Orlando as one of the first Central Florida communities to allow domestic partnership registering, and also one which lists sexual orientation as protected from discrimination in its city statutes.
“We’re proud of our inclusiveness,” he said. “We’re equally proud to hold the conference this year. You’re welcome back any time.”