A recent report from the Cream City Foundation showed Wisconsin in general and Milwaukee in particular lag significantly behind other cities in the region in workplace equality.
CCF compared the scores that regional corporations earned on the Human Rights Campaign’s corporate equality index, which assesses the employment policies, benefits and practices of companies toward their LGBT employees. Wisconsin’s average score of 51 percent fell below the 81 percent achieved by employers in Illinois and the 80 percent obtained by Minnesota employers.
Within Wisconsin, Milwaukee-headquartered corporations had an average rating of 47 percent, compared with Madison’s 78 percent.
Looking deeper, CCF conducted focus groups and an online survey of LGBT professionals in Milwaukee. These investigations found that 30 percent of respondents feared their sexual orientation could hurt or damage their careers. Unfortunately, this fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When people remain closeted at work, they often hold back, keeping a low profile that prevents them from getting the attention that’s required for promotion. Add that to the internalized homophobia operating in the closet and you’ve got people who are not reaching their potential.
There are probably several factors underlying this inequity, but the relatively low level of involvement among LGBT Milwaukeeans in their community plays a key role. Except for PrideFest, community events in the city are poorly attended. LGBT organizations receive little support.
Political engagement is sparse and activism is rare. For example, rallies surrounding the recent spate of gay teen suicides drew huge crowds in other areas of the state but not in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee’s LGBT community is not only segregated along lines of race and gender but is also highly factionalized. Instead of working together, LGBT groups in the city often function as islands of isolation.
In addition, internalizing the oppression they experience from society at large, members of marginalized communities often act out against each other in destructive ways. As CCF’s report shows, this behavior has consequences.
Cream City Foundation makes several excellent suggestions for improving Milwaukee’s corporate culture, but there will be no real progress until the community gets involved in its own future..