On June 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) and GLIFAA (LGBT+ Pride in Foreign Affairs Agencies) co-hosted the 2017 Pride Month Event featuring Commissioner Chai Feldblum of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Every year, the Department celebrates Pride Month to commemorate the advancements made towards equality for the LGBT community and to also acknowledge that there is still much work to be done. Commissioner Feldblum shared her experience of the climate for LGBT people in America’s past and emphasized the need to continue to pursue justice for everyone to live a life of integrity and security.
Before working in government, the Commissioner provided legal counsel to many NGOs to bring employment issues to court and to create legislation that would improve the lives of millions of American workers. Her contributions were crucial to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which creates much of the basis for protections for American workers with disabilities. She declared, as Commissioner, that the EEOC needed to simply apply “common sense” to the law leading to one of the more groundbreaking employment discrimination decisions of the 21st century in the United States: sexual orientation and gender identity are already protected under current law as forms of sex-based discrimination. It is for this reason that all federal agencies now include both of them in the list of protected bases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The Commissioner also laid out her vision for effecting social change by declaring society’s need to recognize the power of ideas and for people to have the courage to fight for those ideas – persistently. Enshrining ideas such as civil rights into law are powerful because they bind us to our social norms of equality, fairness, and respect. She also stressed the importance of building alliances and remaining optimistic while recognizing that much needs to still be done.
The Commissioner also mentioned her work on workplace harassment. She stressed the requirement of leadership engagement but also mentioned the power of bystanders or co-workers who can intervene and be a catalyst for change in workplace behavior.
The Commissioner ended on an optimistic note, providing some words of wisdom for her audience. The first was, “show me a person who never made a mistake, and I’ll show you a person who never made anything,” (she recommends reflecting on this piece of advice upon making a mistake). The second was, “the person who says it is impossible should get out of the way of the person doing it.” This reminds us that we must always attempt to focus on solutions and collaborate with others to achieve results. Lastly, “remember to celebrate the positive” because with the power of ideas, the courage of people, and the will to persist – people will continue to bring change to the nation, to provide greater freedom for everyone here and across the globe, and to finally live in a world where everyone can live lives of integrity and security.
About the Author: Kip Hurwitz serves as a Management and Program Analyst in the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.