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Support your queer staff, says trans EA employee

Qmunity celebrates workplace diversity at International Day Against Homophobia breakfast

"One of the best ways you can bring a sense of family to your workplace is to honestly take care of one another, go the extra mile, let them know that it's okay to be who they are," says EA software producer Kelly Worrall. Credit: James Loewen photo

Sexual and gender diversity in the workplace is good for business, say organizers of an annual anti-homophobia breakfast in Vancouver.

A crowd of more than 350 people filled a Vancouver hotel ballroom Thursday, May 17 to celebrate the eighth annual International Day Against Homophobia Breakfast, hosted by Qmunity, BC’s Queer Resource Centre.

Kelly Worrall, a long-time employee at Electronic Arts, spoke to the audience about her experience transitioning from a man to a woman while working in the video game industry.

When she decided to inform her employer about her impending transition, she was unsure how people would react and feared the worst.

“I was very, very frightened,” she said. “I thought that I was going to be sent to psychiatric counselling by [human resources]. I thought that maybe I’d be demoted or removed to some position where nobody would see me.”

She was happy to be proven wrong. Worrall ended up working closely with her human resources department to develop a plan to ease her transition at work.

“To have that company embrace me, support me, protect me, love me and take care of me . . . really made me feel so wonderful,” she said, urging businesses to learn from her experience.

“One of the best ways you can bring a sense of family to your workplace is to honestly take care of one another, go the extra mile, let them know that it’s okay to be who they are and be there for them when they need you.”

She recalled recently hearing Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello say that the demographics of gamers is changing and that it is necessary for the workforce to reflect and represent the people who are playing their games.

Worrall was one of three keynote speakers. She was joined by Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour, and Kasey D Reese, a vice-president at Telus. The theme of this year’s event was Queering the Workplace.

Councillor Tim Stevenson read an official proclamation from Mayor Gregor Robertson declaring May 17 International Day Against Homophobia in the city of Vancouver.

Stevenson said that it is important to celebrate the victories made by the gay community but also to remain ever vigilant.

“Remember that there are those in this land that would like to turn the clock back,” he said in a pointed reference to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Qmunity’s chair, Jeffrey Preiss, also used the occasion to introduce his organization’s newly hired executive director, Dara Parker.

“This is quite the coming-out party,” Parker joked.

She pointed out that while her new workplace is welcoming to queer employees, many are not.

“Whether it’s a dirty look from your colleague after talking about your partner or being physically harassed because of the washroom you choose to use at work, for many the workplace simply isn’t safe,” she said.

“While many businesses are interested in being more queer-friendly, often they don’t know what that means.”

Parker suggested that any companies looking to foster more inclusive environments can contact Qmunity for more information or potential resources.