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As GLSEN continues to memorialize the victims of the tragedy in Orlando, we believe that a visible show of pride in our identities and communities has rarely been more urgent. That’s why GLSEN is calling upon our community to “Show Your Pride.” In this post, Myra Lavenue of Columbia Sportswear describes how she showed her pride at the Portland Pride Parade last weekend while helping her company give back to GLSEN.

 

Columbia wore Pulse armbands in honor of the victimsAt the Portland Pride Parade last weekend, the team representing Columbia wore armbands in honor of the Orlando Pulse victims.

 

I work at Columbia Sportswear Company, and I love it here. There’s no mistaking my sexual orientation, yet I have always been accepted for who I am and judged for the work I do. Out since 1994, I live by a simple rule: Let them know who I am from the initial interview and only work for companies that accept me fully. Columbia Sportswear Company is one of those organizations.

 

Two years ago, I was standing with my wife and two daughters in our Columbia jackets watching the Portland Pride Parade, as the rain fell. My friends watching with us, also dressed in Columbia rain jackets, asked me why my company was not marching. We saw other companies in our industry walk by. Then someone said, “Columbia is too conservative, right?” Another person asked me if I was able to be out at work. I was shocked! That certainly wasn’t the Columbia Sportswear Company that I knew. In fact, Columbia had been an early supporter of marriage equality in Oregon, both in the press and through the legal system. So, right then and there, I vowed to help change the perception by getting my company into the Portland Pride Parade the next year. 

 

When I returned to work, I partnered with our head of Human Resources to help champion the idea upward to the executive team. As it turned out, they were already inclined to get involved — they just needed to be asked! All they needed was someone to run with it. That was me.

 

For the first year, I collaborated with our Corporate Responsibility team, and we established a small contingent of employees who’d be able to participate. Around 75 employees and over 25 friends and family walked through the streets of Portland, behind a banner and wearing t-shirts that read: Diversitree — We support and celebrate diversity. The response from those we marched by was awe and joy and excitement, and we all felt we helped enlighten people that day. I felt we “came out of the closet” that day, proclaiming we are a welcoming place to work, and always have been.

 

Columbia at Portland Pride last yearColumbia Sportswear wore Diversitree shirts at the Portland Pride Parade last year.

 

This year, to make the march more impactful, I asked if we could make our Diversitree shirts available for purchase, so that we could give back some of the proceeds to a non-profit. Our company decided to donate $1 from every shirt. We’re also distributing special passes to our Employee Store, where customers can have 10% of their purchase amounts donated.

 

When asked who we could donate to and make a long term partnership with, I felt GLSEN was the perfect group that aligns with our values and efforts to help young people reach their full potential. But the main reason I thought of GLSEN is much more personal to our city. Last fall, Columbia Sportswear Company’s CEO Tim Boyle and his wife Mary backed a protest at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, when it appeared that the school was using a discriminatory policy of not hiring LGBT staff to condone the rescinding of a job offer to a lesbian counselor. Because of their stand and that of the parents, students and others in the community, St. Mary’s reversed their policy and now welcomes LGBT teachers and staff. 

 

GLSEN’s mission to ensure every student, in every school, is valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is powerful and resonates with what we aim to do from our offices in Portland, Oregon. I hope Columbia’s partnership with GLSEN thrives for years to help create great change across the country.

 

I have worked towards equal rights since coming out as a minority myself in this country. Helping customers, friends and future employees see how welcoming Columbia Sportswear is made sense for me as someone who is trying to help reduce discrimination and misunderstanding in this country. One small step at a time.

 

Myra Lavenue is the Training Lead, Organizational Change Management, at Columbia Sportswear Company.

Columbia's Diversitree shirts are available for purchase

All corporations are invited to #ShowYourPride by partnering with GLSEN in achieving equality for LGBT students and respect for all in school. You can support GLSEN’s work by:

  • Planning a joint marketing venture, similar to Columbia’s t-shirt sales, where the proceeds benefit GLSEN.
  • Making a financial donation to fund GLSEN’s work locally, nationwide, or overseas.
  • Sponsoring GLSEN’s Respect Awards gala dinners in New York and Los Angeles.
  • Participating in GLSEN’s “Check 4” volunteer engagement program. We’ll train members of your LGBT ERG to talk with their colleagues who are parents of K-12 students. Parents learn how to make schools better for everyone’s children and take home a simple four question checklist.

 

For more information about any of these options, please contact David Murray at david.murray@glsen.org or 646-388-6590.