Hundreds of Intel Community Members Show Pride at 2018 LGBTA Summit

“Welcome aboard!”

It’s a greeting more commonly associated with boarding a ship than attending a conference—which is exactly what the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) intended when it chose “Welcome Aboard” as the theme for the 2018 IC LGBTA summit—the Intelligence Community’s celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month. (The A in LGBTA is for “ally.”)[1] ONI increased the event’s Naval flavor by calling participants “shipmates,” a term of inclusiveness and confidence used in the Navy community, particularly among those who serve together at sea. By welcoming participants aboard as fellow shipmates, ONI sent a message of acceptance and inclusion to the 300-plus IC employees who attended in-person and via video teleconference.

image of IC LGBTA Summit poster

The summit, hosted by ONI Commander Rear Admiral Robert Sharp at the National Maritime Intelligence Center, offered a full day of speakers, educational breakout sessions and panel discussions, with plenty of time for networking. (Read ONI’s press release about the event.) Rear Admiral Sharp delivered the keynote address and spent the entire day at the event, calling it “a great Navy day.” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, sent pre-recorded messages incorporating Naval terminology to convey their support of the proceedings. (Read ODNI’s press release about the event.)

This year’s seventh annual IC LGBTA Summit has roots in ANGLE—the Agency Network of Gay and Lesbian Employees—the IC’s first LGBTQ+ employee resource group, formed at CIA in 1996. The IC Pride organization—an overarching organization that works with ODNI on IC-wide advocacy and training around LGBTQ+ issues—officially launched in 2011. Today, IC Pride activities are open to all IC-element LGBTQ+ employees and employee resource groups. IC LGBTA Summits have been hosted by CIA, NGA, NSA, NRO, DIA, and FBI in 2017. ODNI has already agreed to host the 2019 summit.

Lee M., IC Pride Chair, calls these events “a prime example of the IC working together” and notes that “they get better and better every year.” This year’s organizers observed a high level of engagement from attendees, including numerous audience questions in every session.

Behind the Scenes at the Summit

Planning for each summit starts the moment the previous year’s summit ends. IC Pride provides guidance while the bulk of the planning activities rest on the host agency, who begins preparations nine to twelve months out. The 2018 summit was spearheaded by ONI’s Equal Employment Opportunity officer, four members of ONI’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, and helped along by a large posse of volunteers who did everything from setting up break-out rooms to escorting visitors around the ONI campus to putting together welcome packets. Planners must not only schedule speakers, manage logistics, and publicize the event but must also anticipate accommodation needs of participants, such as those who need printed materials in braille. Following each summit, IC Pride leadership sends out a survey to attendees and gathers lessons learned, with which they fine-tune the standard operating procedures for the following year.

Post-event survey results from this year’s summit contained insightful and positive comments. Attendees were particularly pleased with the ONI commander’s keynote address and involvement and praised ONI for creating a welcoming atmosphere. One respondent was grateful for the all-gender restrooms while several commented on how much they learned from the break-out sessions about the gender and sexuality spectrums, the implications of grammar and pronouns for gender identity and expression, and how to show support for transgender colleagues.

Many felt that time spent at the summit was a worth-while trade-off for time away from their jobs. One participant commented that “It was valuable time away from work because it will increase my ability to foster an inclusive environment in my office!”

This year’s summit was the first IC-wide LGBTQ+ Pride event hosted by a branch of the military, and ONI hopes it will encourage other military partners to increase their participation in the future. One survey respondent, speaking of Rear Admiral Sharp, noted, “It’s inspirational seeing a military leader support diversity and inclusion,” while another attendee stated, “My favorite part was feeling so very welcomed by a DoD entity. I look forward to when all events are so inclusive all the time.”

Propelling Culture Change

Indeed, creating a culture of inclusivity is the driving force behind IC Pride and the employee resource groups under its umbrella, who seek not just to make members of the LGBTQ+ community feel fully accepted in the IC but also to educate their straight and cisgender colleagues on the best ways to create inclusive environments. As IC Pride leadership stated in 2016, “The agencies that fall under IC Pride are not simply gathering to discuss LGBT issues relevant to their industry [at their meetings]—they are creating policies among the collection of entities to be implemented by each one. They are taking the biggest successes and best practices from individual agencies and sharing them among the whole.”

To that end, IC Pride leadership holds meetings at a different agency every month, devoting the first hour to discussion of the news and concerns of the host agency’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group. The second hour includes employee resource group representatives from all IC elements, who take news back to their respective organizations. This process enables members to identify common challenges and potential solutions, which they can then use to advise individual agencies and even change policy.

Among their other accomplishments to date, IC Pride has formed the first IC-wide transgender working group, partnered with ODNI to develop agency policy guidance for the inclusion of transgender and gender nonconforming employees, and developed an ally training module for IC executive leaders, which they delivered in the Washington, DC, area as well as to Military Combatant Command Headquarters and Military Intelligence Centers.

Out at the Outies

These efforts have garnered the attention of not just their IC colleagues but those outside the Intelligence Community as well, including that of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving LGBTQ+ workplace equality. In both 2016 and 2017, Out & Equal nominated IC Pride for an “Outie” award for Employee Resource Group of the Year, which recognizes organizations as leaders in advancing global workplace equality for LGBTQ+ employees. IC Pride won the award in 2017, beating out Fortune 500 companies, including Comcast NBC Universal, Deutsche Bank, Verizon, and AT&T. (Read more about the award.)

The Outie award recognition and the success of the 2018 IC LGBTA Summit are rewarding milestones on the path to full equality and acceptance for LGBTQ+ employees, but there’s still plenty of work to do.

“The future of IC Pride is and will be to focus on intersectionality,” says IC Pride Co-Chair Brian S., referring to the many overlapping efforts by IC Pride and other employee affinity networks, such as the Deaf and Hard of Hearing affinity network. “Since our community comprises of every community, it makes sense to also be supportive and inclusive of all diverse communities. IC Pride wouldn’t be successful without the partnership of other IC affinity networks.” IC Pride and their affinity network partners “are establishing best practices across the Intelligence Community to be a leader in the private and public sectors for divers and inclusive workplaces.”

[1] Exact acronym usage (LGBTA, LGBTQ+, etc.) varies by individual, however both terms are intended to be inclusive of the expansive gender, sexuality, and romantic minority community.