Robert Vitelli of the LGBT Network addresses attendees of a LGBT Workplace...

Robert Vitelli of the LGBT Network addresses attendees of a LGBT Workplace Summit Wednesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

As the Supreme Court weighs whether federal civil rights law protects LGBT people from job discrimination, about 100 people from the Long Island business community gathered Wednesday for the LGBT Network's first Workplace Summit.  

The gathering, held at the organization’s new Hauppauge headquarters, featured several educational workshops on how employers can better advance their inclusion efforts and create more supportive workplaces for LGBT employees.

“The timing couldn’t be more important or critical because of those [Supreme Court] hearings,” said David Kilmnick, president and chief executive of the Network, which he founded 26 years ago. “While our Supreme Court is deciding whether or not it’s going to be legal to discriminate against LGBT people, we are moving forward.”

“Whichever way they decide, we are building the momentum of Long Island business leaders to fight that and to be proactive to make sure that their workplaces are safe,” Kilmnick said.

The daylong event -- attended by about 35 Long Island businesses -- included presentations and panels from representatives from 11 major  companies including Northwell Health, Henry Schein and Farrell Fritz.  

During a workshop on understanding the needs of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming employees, Aaron Braun, a community educator at the Network spoke about the importance of having a baseline understanding of the language and identities used within the LGBT community. 

“Our young people now who are expressing a lot more non-conforming and non-binary identities compared to past generations, we need to set them up for success in the workforce,” he said. “Doing that kind of prep work for the future workforce is really important.”

Gender non-binary individuals do not comply with the traditionally expected social constructs of being a man or woman, while gender non-conforming individuals do not comply with the societal ideas of what is traditionally thought of as masculine or feminine.  

Several simple ways companies can be more inclusive in their operations, Braun said, include adapting the language employers use to address groups – “You all” in place of “Ladies and gentlemen,”  asking what pronouns employees choose to identify with, dropping gendered language from dress code policies, and ensuring that inclusive policies are reaffirmed during onboarding.      

“We serve the larger community,” Braun said of business leaders. “If we’re coming in there and we’re using inappropriate language, we might have just lost an opportunity.”

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