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As NC discrimination amendment looms, Duke University/Duke Medicine says: ‘We Stand Alongside the LGBT Community’

I normally don’t blog about my employer, Duke University (I work at its academic publisher Duke University Press), because I don’t like to co-mingle my online and offline worlds. It’s a general good rule for any blogger to have that separation to avoid any possible conflict of interest or interpretation that your personal blogging is being done on behalf of one’s employer.

However, in this case it is newsworthy to report that Duke’s News Service has put out a press release that dropped at the same time that Race to the Ballot came to Durham on Friday, and that alliances of student groups at Duke participated in the rally and forum held at NCCU against Amendment One.

Statement from Duke University and Duke Medicine

February 17, 2012

Duke University and Duke Medicine have a strong commitment to diversity in our missions of education, research and service to society. We put this goal into action by valuing all members of our community, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) faculty, staff, students and alumni.

More than two decades ago, Duke added “sexual orientation” to the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which it later expanded to include “gender identity.” Through this and other policies, and through its actions, Duke has sought to eliminate discrimination and promote equality for LGBT members of its community.  The many steps it has taken include:

  • Providing health insurance for same-sex spousal equivalents and families
  • Extending Family Medical Leave Act benefits to LGBT families
  • Extending the Duke Children’s Tuition Grant Program to LGBT families
  • Ensuring family facility benefits for gym and library access
  • Recognizing LGBT families for institutional financial aid purposes
  • Welcoming same-sex unions at the Duke Chapel and the Duke Gardens.
  • Providing funding, space and support for the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual  & Transgender Life

We believe recognizing the families of LGBT faculty, employees and students by offering these and other benefits is essential for Duke to recruit, retain and nurture excellence in all our endeavors.  In addition, our commitment to diversity and equality extends beyond the campus to our larger community and region. For example, since 2000 Duke has hosted the annual NC Pride parade and festival. It also hosted the first two Equality NC conferences and galas and sponsored the 2011 Equality Gala.

Duke University and Duke Medicine reaffirm their commitment to providing equal benefits to LGBT faculty, staff, employees and students. As a major employer in North Carolina, we are proud to serve as a model of acceptance and diversity, and we stand alongside the LGBT community in seeking a more equal world.

As a member the University’s staff, I have my wife Kate registered as a same-sex spousal equivalent. It is essential to have this benefit in our family because it provides a measure of security that Kate cannot for me — as a state employee, she not only cannot put me on her benefits package should I lose my job, but she can actually be fired for being gay. Yes, in 2012, we don’t have even have those basic protections or benefits at the state level.

But I do at Duke, which is the largest employer in the area (over 33,000 employees, including Campus and Duke University Health System staff), as do many other residents of NC who are employed by private institutions and companies that have anti-discrimination policies and offer same-sex spousal equivalent benefits. The discussion about whether this is the right thing to do is OVER for these organizations. The fact that we have a retrograde legislature that is decades behind major employers and obsessed with restricting rights of LGBT North Carolinians is a depressing reality, and it manifests itself with Amendment One, which would permanently bar any legal relationship recognition of same-sex couples, and eliminate the domestic partnership ordinances that several municipalities and counties in the state currently have in place.

And for private companies and institutions, it will be new legal murky territory should some fundie decide to challenge these benefits as approximating marriage. The prospect of this frightened a lot of Republican lawmakers who sought to placate businesses by putting in vague language in the amendment (that is not on the ballot), that tried to reiterate it would not affect “private contracts” — this only further muddied the legal waters.

Most companies in North Carolina (and even Duke, since it is a non-profit) have studiously avoided taking a direct position on the amendment even if they have been in a position to do so. Notably Chris Hughes of Facebook, a North Carolina native, is a vocal opponent.

As we near the vote, it would be great to see press conferences or PSAs with CEOs of major Research Triangle Park companies speaking out against the amendment by telling the world what many employees in NC already know — they have open, welcoming and supportive policies for LGBT workers and it has been good for business — and telegraph’s North Carolina’s actual present and future in the private sector. These policies are already in place in these institutions and 1) the family has not been destroyed, 2) no heterosexual marriages have bitten the dust because same-sex partners can have access to health benefits, and 3) what about the children? Children in same-sex households are already here in NC, they aren’t going away, they are attending schools in the state with kids who have all kinds of blended or “different” families and are no worse for the wear.

It’s time to tell more real-life stories from the perspective of employers.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding