'16 Orlando Massacre

June 20, 2016 - Out for Business message to the Wharton community in response to the Orlando Massacre

The Orlando Massacre and You

Dear Wharton,

Last Sunday, we all witnessed the deadliest shooting in the recent history of the United States at an Orlando gay club. We are deeply saddened by this unthinkable tragedy, which directly targeted the LGBTQ community.

Despite advances in LGBTQ rights over recent years, over 20% of hate crimes are still motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. The Orlando massacre was thus but the latest in a long history of violence targeting the LGBTQ community in the US and beyond. It was also the latest in a string of mass shootings that have plagued the US, with over 1,000 mass shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012. Furthermore, over 70% of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims are people of color, and since the attack occurred on Latin night at the club, most of the victims were also people of color.

That the killer may have been questioning his sexuality himself makes it all the more distressing. We live in a society in which leaders have for decades fought against LGBTQ rights in everything from employment to adoption. They’ve not only pronounced their disgust at LGBTQ people, they’ve asserted that we are pedophiles, invoked comparisons with bestiality, and even called for our deaths. This toxic, hate-mongering culture may well have instigated and exacerbated the killer’s hatred and shame of his own sexual identity.

This is a call to action in the wake of this unprecedented tragedy. This was not only a terrorist attack on scores of innocent people and a hate crime, it was also an assault on bedrock values of our nation and of Wharton: diversity, acceptance, mutual respect, and freedom of expression.

In times of pain and sorrow, leaders have a special responsibility not to allow cowardly acts to divide and weaken us, as many of the news articles and social media posts are wont to do. Good leaders stand up in support of our core beliefs and values, because it is in these darkest hours when they are most at risk of being weakened or silenced. And they amplify the voices of marginalized communities that need a powerful force of allies.

You are those leaders. All of you will lead diverse teams in an increasingly global environment. People will count on you to make change for the better. To that end, there are a few things you can do.

Support the LGBTQ community. Offer your ear to someone who may need it in a time of mourning. Condemn homophobic remarks. Fight to end LGBTQ employment discrimination in the 28 states where it’s still legal--not to mention the many other countries where people face imprisonment or death for being gay. If you’re straight or female and live in Florida, give blood (gay men can’t). Consider donating to the victims’ families or more generally to LGBTQ-focused organizations that you believe are moving the needle.

Avoid backlash, and encourage others to do the same. The Orlando killer was reportedly not very religious in the past, but later became radicalized. The Council on American-Islamic Relations quickly denounced the killings, as did many other national Islamic organizations. We need to remember that no religion has a monopoly on extremist individuals, as this Christian pastor demonstrated when he said during a Sunday sermon that he’d like the government to round up LGBTQ people, “put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” Isolation and lack of understanding are at the root of tragedies like this; persecuting others will only separate us further and hinder the change we need. As Pres. Obama noted, “you can’t...denigrate and express hatred towards groups because of the color of their skin, or their faith, or their sexual orientation, and not feed something very dangerous into this world.”

Be a part of the solution, at Wharton and beyond. We don’t yet have a viable solution to ending LGBTQ discrimination globally, nor to ending mass shootings. But what we’ve all read and heard seems to be a litany of one-pronged solutions, further fueled by looming political elections. The real solutions probably comprise multiple components and will take years, if not decades, to implement. What we have at our fingertips now is the power of business. Look at your company’s diversity policies: if they’re not inclusive of LGBTQ people, challenge your employer. Demand its leaders to question anti-LGBTQ laws in jurisdictions where it has influence. When you start your venture, choose a location where LGBTQs can be who they are; don’t let intolerant places get the best talent (and their tax dollars).

There are many ways to be a part of the solution. Out4Biz invites you to join our efforts to promote greater understanding of the LGBTQ community, not only at our flagship social events like White Party and Wharton54, but also at our trainings, panels, and other educational events. We encourage you to bring a friend who might not otherwise attend. No matter what you decide to do, we encourage each of you to reflect deeply on the role you can play in creating a better society and in leading others to do the same. And then go do it.

With love and hope,

Frank and Rafa, co-presidents of Out4Biz

We would like to thank the 2016-2017 Return on Equality Coalition and the 2016-2017 Wharton Muslim Students Network for their support of this message.