Black and Gay in Corporate America

How a growing number of African American LGBT managers are breaking through isolation and fear within their companies

companies collaborate and partner with major LGBT organizations, explains Burton, 45, who for more than a decade served as a global business development executive for IBM and also served as an expert witness before the U.S. Senate in support of the federal adoption of domestic partnership benefits for federal employees.

Boston maintains that companies must improve policy development efforts regarding fertility coverage for lesbian couples, surrogacy benefits for gay male couples, and unfair taxation of domestic partner benefits. “On average, domestic-partner couples incur an additional $1,500 annually in taxes whereas if they were a married heterosexual couple they would not pay,” he explains. Only five states legally recognize same-sex marriage and another six states (plus the District of Columbia) validate some form of civil unions. Nationwide, which is on BE’s  40 Best Companies list and the Human Rights Campaign’s list, has restructured its benefits package to be more LGBT inclusive. “We have had a very forward-looking approach to our benefits,” says Candice Barnhardt, the company’s chief diversity officer. “We have been active around the tax equity act so that the taxation of domestic partner health plan benefits is treated more fairly.”

Smart, aggressive companies are also targeting their marketing and advertising campaigns to reach the LGBT consumer market, which has estimated buying power of $835 billion. Aaron Walton is co-founder and co-CEO of Los Angeles-based Walton Isaacson (No. 8 on the BE Advertising Agencies list with $12 million in revenues), which has helped develop campaigns for Dove, Courvoisier, Harrah’s, and Maytag to reach this growing segment. “Black gay consumers and employees have a different perspective on LGBT marketing because they have lived with being a minority within a minority,” says Walton, who is openly gay and has been with his partner for 24 years. “We make sure brands understand that being inclusive is not going to hurt their general market efforts. It will actually bring in new consumers and help build their business.” He further states that roughly 85% of general market consumers don’t care if a brand they prefer has also been targeted to the LGBT community.

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  • Corey

    What?! I’m so excited about this issue. I’ve never been a BE subscriber but, as a young, black, out man, I am certainly looking at building my career. I’m gonna go out and buy this one and see if it’s for me. Thanks for covering this story Black Enterprise.

  • J.L. Whitehead

    I read this article quickly…and then re-read it slowly. It forced me to re-visit an issue that I thought I had put to rest a long time ago. I left the corporate world…involuntarily when my company was downsized. The last year of my employment was probably the most painful point in time for me. No one seemed to understand what it was like to be out in a corporation that claimed to acknowledge the LGBT community, and yet did nothing about descrimatory practices that went on repeatedly. I had a picture of my partner on my desk. I was very proud of my relationship. It wasn’t a separate part of me to be compartmentalized to be dealt with off of company time…it was part of who I am and will always be. Every day, I felt like I had to fight. Admittedly, there were days when I didn’t feel like putting the “war paint” on, and although I know there were other issues that contributed to my adverse circumstances, me belonging to the LGBT community was a big factor. It drove me crazy because people didn’t want to “own up” to their negative feelings. Instead, they would nod in your face, smile, and you would think something is wrong with you. It wasn’t until I left the company and came back to visit friends that I felt were true friends that I realize who were my friends, and who were not. People that treated me lukewarm were now downright icy. People that initially gave me the impression that they were okay with me now had no reason to put up the pretense of tolerance because of the possiblity of being reported to HR for descriminatory behavior. Now they could be who they are with no fear of repercussion. I left corporate america terrified of falling into that trap again. The situation I’m sure is very real for millions of the African American LGBT community. I decided to write…becoming an author and taking control of my financial destination. It’s challenging, but at least I can be who I am without holding my head down for anyone. I wrote an article for a publication entitled “Is Corporate America REALLY ready for LGBT” The answer is that they are, but in small doses, and as history dictates, people of color are often the last to receive those acceptance, benefits and tolerance. Maybe in another few years. I don’t know. Only time will tell.

    J.L. Whitehead

  • Sheldon

    Am I dreaming?? First marriage equality in New York and now an article like this on the COVER of Black Enterprise! As one who has spent his entire career working in Fortune 100 companies, while being on an internal journey to self-acceptance, this article resonates with me to the core – as I’m sure with countless others. As President of The Black Gay Mens Network (, I thank you BE for sharing our experience with courage and integrity.

  • Donique

    Thank you, Black Enterprise for your pioneering article on African American LGBT people! It’s so refreshing to see a wider segment of our community being profiled.


    Excellent – this article is bringing a lot of smiles to Black LGBTQ & Black Straight Supporters! Thanks Black Enterprise for publishing this article!

  • Ronald

    As a 15 year old boy growing up in Detroit, I went to the main library to look up homosexuality to understand what I was feeling. The card catalog said “abnormal”, see “deviancy”. Therefore, that was what I thought of myself. This was 1969.
    You will never know how many young Black men and women you have helped to love themselves by priniting this article.

  • Shellee Haynesworth

    Kudos to Black Enterprise for this July cover, “Black and Gay”! I’m hoping that this article will spark the long overdue BLGBT conversation and controversy within the African American community that evolves around this subject. As a late in life lesbian I’ve been able to deal with the employment discrimination and behind my back comments because I’m extremely comfortable with who I am. But, this is so not the case for many BLGBT folks (young and old)…it’s all about empowerment and visibility. Let’s continue to keep this conversation open and moving forward.

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  • DK

    Great to see an article like this. You don’t have to be gay or lesbian to support equality for all. I am straight, but I’m a stong supporter of gay rights.

  • J sheldon

    Wonder of wonders mircales of mircales. Yes, change does happens LGBT or not Human Rights are just that HUMAN RIGHTS!

  • keith

    This is quite heartening to read for a non-Latin America gay black man, particulary from a country such as the United States, where it can still be considered somewhat easier to live a relative life of freedom compared to that of the life in many areas of the Caribbean. This could well be the first true Beacon of light coming from an iconic magazine, that will help to shine the way of acceptance for some of us as many of ubecannot yet brave the world of blatant discrimination and threat of life still so ardously imposed and daily witnessed by Caribbean men. Kudos BE!

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  • gomee

    to all the women of color in technology. There’s plenty of us, but our media usually gives so much attention to the athletes, singers and actresses who deserve recognition, but it’s nice to see a balance. Thank you
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  • Edward Robinson

    I would like to know why it is so important for BE to even consider an article on Black & Gay in Corporate America. I am not one to cause grief among anyone. I believe that God is the final judge of us all. But giving.. you have a National Magazine following. Why continue to perpetuate the problem of violence toward our youth.

    sincerely: E. Robinson

  • Khalil Edwards

    Thanks BE for this groundbreaking article! Please enjoy and share this courageous video:

  • Regene

    Bravo. As a femorr SPLC employee, I applaud you, thank you, on various levels. I wish you and all those involved in this campaign nothing but success.

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