Launching what could become one of the forefront employee resource groups (ERG), ESPN's ESPN EQUAL is the world wide leader in sports' LGBT ally group modeled after those in similar companies. The forming of this ERG has come as no surprise seeing as ESPN's parent company, the Disney Corp, is one of several high profile companies to support global and company LGBT rights. Disney's equal rights stance has had a waterfall effect in the company from a gay couple with children on ABC's Modern Family, holding gay marriage ceremonies at Disney Tokyo and now the implementation of ESPN EQUAL.
Three years ago, ESPN launched eight different ERGs, each focused on raising understanding and awareness amongst employees from a variety of perspectives: women, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, employees with disabilities, family and work/life balance, young professionals and now LGBT. At any given time on campus throughout the year, each of these ERGs stages events that ultimately serve to enhance the culture of the ESPN family. Sometimes it’s a guest speaker. Other times, it might be a celebration of an event like Cinco de Mayo.
Over the past couple of weeks, colleagues at all levels of the company — executives, talent and employees from across ESPN — have sat for the camera to talk about the importance of the “Allies of EQUAL” program. In a video posted on YouTube and ESPN Front Line, correspondent Trey Wingo made the most heartfelt and compelling comments as to what being an ally of ESPN EQUAL is really about.
“An ally isn't someone who has all the answers to LGBT issues," says Wingo. "An ally is someone who is committed to learning and educating others to help create a work environment that is free from homophobia and heterosexism. Allies believe people should be treated equally with dignity and respect."
Chris LaPlaca has been with ESPN for 32 years and considers himself "fortunate to have been a part of many ground-breaking developments during my time. But being involved with this group as a straight ally has been one of the most rewarding professional and personal experiences I have ever had."
All participants in the ESPN Ally program will receive a 'safe space' object to display on their desk signifying that their area is a place where LGBT employees can feel safe to speak openly and honestly about their sexual orientation and gender identity. The safe space object is a home plate stand with a picture of an ump making the "safe" call. Allies will also receive a sticker that says 'Ally' to display next to their name outside of their cubicle or office, and an ally packet with helpful information about being an ally. The first ally event was a frank discussion by straight and LGBT ESPN colleagues about the creation of the Ally program and what they hoped to achieve with it according to www.ESPNfrontrow.com. The theme, in essence, was education and inclusion. While each of the ERGs has a different focal point, they are united by a common theme: having the ability to bring your “whole self” to work every day not only makes individuals better, it makes the company better.