Legacy Society Hears From Financial, Education Experts

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Stephen Franco, of U.S. Trust, speaks at the Equality Florida Legacy Society luncheon on Oct. 26 in Fort Lauderdale. Photo by John McDonald

Equality Florida’s legacy society members heard reports from the financial market and education field during a luncheon Thursday in Fort Lauderdale Beach.

A senior vice president and portfolio manager with U.S. Trust, Stephen Franco spoke to the group. Franco manages a suite of strategies labeled social innovative investing. U.S. Trust, Franco said, is owned of Bank of America.

“I am very proud to be part of an organization that has been a leader in the field of diversity and inclusion generally and LGBT issues specifically,” Franco said.

Bank of America started an internal LGBT pride employee network in 2009, Franco said, that today has more than 30 chapters and 14,000 members. His team at U.S. Trust evaluates companies on how they manage intangible assets.

Intangible assets take up more than 80 percent of U.S. company balance sheets. Companies with a diverse portfolio are typically high performers, Franco said, as diversity and inclusion lead to better business practices.

“We found — and the data is starting to show it – that companies that have greater diversity are outperforming those that don’t," Franco said.

De Palazzo, director of Equality Florida’s Safe and Healthy Schools project, took the microphone after Franco. Palazzo said her project’s role is to work with upper level leadership in school districts and “sit with them, one-on-one, educate them then consult with them on a regular basis to ensure they institutionalize and systematize LGBTQ young people, family and staff best practices in their district.”

Palazzo started her project 14 months ago and has already made inroads in 32 Florida school districts.

“They are really leaning in,” Palazzo said.

Challenges, however, still remain according to her, as many school districts contain churches where pastors preach from the pulpit that it is not OK to be gay. Additionally, two-thirds of Florida school districts have yet to add sexual orientation and/or gender identity in their harassment and discrimination policies.

Palazzo shared statistics from Broward Public Schools which showed students who identified as LGB are a much higher risk for suicide than those who identify as straight. Twenty-six percent of LGB students in Broward Public Schools considered suicide.

“Our work is clearly cut out for us and it is direly needed even in the most affirming district in the state and the top eight in the nation," Palazzo said.

Stratton Pollitzer, Equality Florida deputy director, praised Palazzo’s work in the Safe and Healthy Schools Project, particularly when it comes to scheduling meetings.

“If there’s a tiny crack in the door, she’s going to open it,” Pollitzer said.

Other bites from the luncheon, held inside the W Fort Lauderdale’s Industrial Room:

Our Fund Chief Executive Officer David Jobin announced Our Fund had grown into the nation’s fifth largest LGBT philanthropy.

Jack Doren, an Oakland Park psychologist, was recognized and received a standing ovation for his role in passing Oakland Park’s ban on youth conversion therapy.

Row Iliescu, EQFL South Florida development director, announced Equality Florida is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. During the organization’s existence, Iliescu said, there have been no anti-LGBT laws passed in Tallahassee. Equality Florida’s annual Broward Gala returns to the Hyatt Regency Pier 66, Nov. 12. For tickets or more information, visit www.Eqfl.org