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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine, center, visited Delaware in mid August and spoke with nonprofit and business leaders about their role in advocating for those who were most vulnerable. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
BEAR — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine arrived in Delaware earlier this month to learn about how the First State is working to support the LGBTQ+ community, and how that may benefit business.
Levine, the highest-ranking openly transgender government official, is a licensed pediatrican and has made addressing the health disparities among the queer youth in America one of her top priorities. In a roundtable with top employers, nonprofits and small businesses, she challenged all present to advocate for those who were most vulnerable.
“Delaware is a pretty special place, but in other parts of the country, it’s not so. There are those in our community we need to fight for: LGBTQ+ seniors, immigrants and people of color who not only face discrimination, but violence,” she said during the Aug. 19 meeting. “Use the influence of business to push back against laws that discriminate. The business community should use its influence for the common good. I think it has a responsibility too.”
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Young Conaway Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director Deborah Edwards, center, speaks about the firm's efforts to diversify its pipeline of talent. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
After arriving on Amtrak, Levine met with medical and direct service providers to talk about health care needs for the LGBTQ+ community along with State Sen. Sarah McBride (D-Wilmington), the highest-ranking elected transgender official in America, and Lt. Bethany Hall-Long, who is a nurse. In an event closed to the press, the admiral also did a tour of the West End Neighborhood House, a housing project for LGBTQ+ youth who are homeless.
But in the roundtable held at the historic Buena Vista Conference Center, many top business leaders were on hand to showcase Delaware’s inclusivity. DuPont and ChristianaCare representatives highlighted their respective expansive insurance plans; both companies have policies that cover same-sex spouses as well as gender affirmation surgery, while Dupont’s also covers hormone therapy and counseling.
Both Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP and M&T Bank have affinity groups for employees, including one for employees who identify as queer. M&T Bank Vice President Rob Sorantino also noted the bank’s efforts to increase marketing for same-sex couples. Young Conaway Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director Deborah Edwards added that the firm has a pipeline established by participating in the LGBTQ+ Annual Bar Conference to recruit new talent to the law firm.
“We have this beautiful building in Wilmington, and it’s so important for our neighbors to know this is where we stand,” Edwards said. “It’s not good enough to do what you do, you need to shout it to the world.”
Others like Mia Demarteleire, who runs operations for the Booth House Tavern, noted the marked difference between the restaurant world and corporations. In Sussex County, sexual identity of coworkers may be less of an issue than compared in New Castle County.
“I want to make sure there’s no bullying, and I make that clear at the interview that we are an inclusive workplace,” Demartelerire said. “There is a stigma in the restaurant industry that we don’t talk about it if someone is making fun of a person for dressing a certain way or changing their name. It's not OK, and we need to talk about it. We need to be better about talking about it.”
Business owners like Wendy Scott, of marketing firm Blue Blaze Associates, and Jo Norris, of green tech startup Carbon Reform, also noted some of the struggles of working in a small state. While Carbon Reform is a 100% LBGTQ+ owned business, Norris said she faces struggles in securing materials for manufacturing, since the state Office of Supplier Diversity does not recognize that as a certified business.
“We’ve been trying to find our way in space, and it can be challenging,” she said. “Despite that, we’ve been able to form partnerships with Fortune 500 companies and participate in LBGT and climate change programs to build our business.”
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As a small business owner, Cora Castle spoke about her internal struggle to disclosing her gender identity status while consulting with clients. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
Meanwhile, Blue Blaze Associates is certified with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce as well as being a member of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
“Our company is one of a small handful of Delaware companies in those organizations, so while the LGBTQ business network has grown, it’s very Philadelphia-focused,” she said. “It can be hard
for a small business like Blue Blaze to be recognized as a viable player in the market.”
Finally, OmniPotential Energy CEO Cora Castle used her time to talk about the difficulties in navigating everyday client work as a transgender woman. She called disclosing her gender identity status as “the first and most difficult thing” she deals with.
“It could change the way they think of me or treat me, my company or my employees. If I don’t disclose and they find out later, it could still change things. The decision to disclose also makes me consider if I’m abandoning my community or whether it will be seen as pandering to my community,” Castle said. “It’s very complicated waters to navigate and it depends on where I go and my physical safety.”
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