The pride of talent: an interview with the WMX LGBT agency owners
This month of June, people across the globe have been celebrating Pride Month with festive parades, equality marches, and leaving a trail of rainbows across their social media pages. More than just a display, Pride Month represents the opportunity for the LGBT community to remember its roots and remind the world that LGBT people are everywhere and refuse to be ashamed of who they are. Whether they’re doctors, political figures, teachers, clergy, or entrepreneurs – they all have a story of pride they need to share with the world.
We’ve asked our CEO Paul Pellerin and President Andrew Stewart to voice the experiences and the challenges they’ve faced in the last 18 years as LGBT business owners of Worldmedia Interactive.
Don’t ask, don’t tell
In 1999, when Worldmedia Interactive was born, being part of the LGBT community just wasn’t something that was as publicly announced or as openly accepted as it is today. Although president Clinton had lifted the ban on homosexuals in the military and nominated LGBT activists as leaders, there was still an epidemic of homophobia in United States throughout the 90s, making it difficult for individuals to come out.
When it came to their sexual identity, Paul and Andrew felt it was not something they could share with everyone, particularly as business owners who were just starting their agency from the bottom up. They chose to keep that part of themselves hidden, with the rationale that they couldn’t risk losing clients, especially those who leaned towards a more conservative stance. Both Paul and Andrew adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality when it came to business. They didn’t want to out themselves to clients because they weren’t sure how clients would react.
The bonds of openness
After gaining more clients and forming long-term relationships with them, Paul and Andrew became more comfortable and realized their sexual orientation didn’t make any difference in business. Clients were more focused on the quality of work and the relationships being cultivated. The attention was on the talents, skills, and achievements Paul and Andrew were able to bring to their clients. And with that, our owners’ confidence in their business boomed, followed by a surge of pride in themselves.
In 2009, ten years following Worldmedia’s establishment, pride in America became more evident than ever. President Obama and his administration made historic strides to expand opportunities and advance equality for all Americans, including LGBT individuals. Paul calls the Obama years “A massive turning point, especially in the work force. It normalized things and created a clear separation of orientation versus talent.” This progress not only changed the way people viewed LGBT individuals, but how LGBTs perceived and expressed themselves. Today, Paul and Andrew are confident and thrilled to be who they are. When asked about challenges they continue to face, Andrew responds with “No challenges – all benefits. Being LGBT is something we celebrate. And we never celebrated it before.” Even though LGBT is a part of our owners’ lives, it doesn’t affect their abilities to succeed in the business world. Paul adds, “LGBT never came in the way of business. Our successes are a result of our talents, not our orientation.”
Clients don’t give them a hard time for being who they are – because they don’t feel the need to mention it. Instead of hiding who they are, they now feel more comfortable being themselves with clients. And in turn, clients feel more comfortable with them, creating a bond based on openness and trust. Paul and Andrew find no need to flaunt being LGBT because it does not correlate to their successes and failures. However, they do strongly support and integrate social openness in the way they run their business.
We are LGBT and PROUD
Paul and Andrew are committed to keeping their business environment as inclusive as possible and attracting employees who are accepting and respectful of others. For them, being LGBT business owners means cultivating a culture that defies the rigidness of corporate America. It’s about having fun, getting rid of old mentalities, and giving employees the freedom to be who they are. Both Paul and Andrew encourage their employees to be their authentic selves and even provide health insurance for LGBT employees’ partners, as well as transgender surgical coverage.
Today, in the United States, LGBT has been woven into popular culture, our media, the shows we watch, and the products we buy. Despite this positive reception, recent hate crimes and religious/political oppositions have made it clear that full acceptance has not yet been realized. When asked how they see LGBT equality evolving, Paul responds with “We need to tread with caution. We’ve hit a brick wall and there’s still a lot of work to be done. Two steps forward, one step back.” Andrew adds, “Even with all the progress we’ve made, we still have to keep fighting.”
It continues to be a battle, with so much work to be done – but Andrew and Paul have shown us that being LGBT and being a business owner don’t have to affect one another. Clients judge us on how we achieve their goals with breakthrough thinking, strong creative and messaging, strategic marketing and media placements, and delivering an astounding ROI more than on being LGBT (as it should be). Making the true way to overcome bias in any business is by being bold and having pride in your talents, abilities, and ultimately, in yourself.