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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Citywide Pride program tackles assumptions
by Melissa Wasserman

This article shared 591 times since Tue Nov 8, 2016
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Citywide Pride held its event "Unassuming Assumptions!" at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel on Nov. 1.

Out & Equal Chicagoland Council organizes Citywide Pride. This event was geared toward educating attendees on how people may identify and how to make a customer comfortable while avoiding assumptions that could be considered offensive.

"When you start talking about LGBTQ issues, it really fits beautifully with our philosophy of letting everybody be who they are and excelling at their careers and be successful," said Marriott International, Inc. Catering Sales Leader Tim Vesperman in the event's introduction.

Bernadette Smith, founder and president of the Equality Institute, led the evening's presentation, speaking about the shift from binary identities to broader identities, including transgender and gender non-conforming identities. She discussed identities, preferred pronouns and best practices for team members in corporate settings who directly interact with the LGBTQ public, so they can provide respectful and inclusive customer service. One of the main points was how frontline employees should speak to customers, leaving out assumptions about identity and preferences.

"Number one is don't make assumptions," Smith said, describing the main points she wanted to bring to this event. "Number two is it's okay to ask. Don't assume someone's gender, don't assume someone's sexuality and if you don't know it's okay to say 'what pronoun do you use?' and 'how do you identify?'"

Smith said that in every training that she conducts, it is always her goal in blow someone's mind and give them what she calls that "aha moment." She explained that some LGBTQ people may come to a LGBTQ training for work and think they know everything there is to know, but she knows there's more to be learned. Smith likes to throw out a statistic or headline in the first 15 minutes of her teachings that is astonishing to get their attention and encourage participation.

"I'm an educator at heart, so I just love to talk about this stuff because I really do believe that education is the key to change," said Smith who has done classes for Marriott before this event. "I also believe that front-line workers—who are the audience that I'm addressing—I feel like they're the ones that don't get any training at all. A lot of times the directors get training, the managers get training, but the frontline employees don't get training, yet they're the face of the brand, so that's where the challenge is."

"All this stuff is a spectrum, we need to move away from those boxes of male and female, straight or gay," said Smith in her presentation. "The bottom line with any of this stuff is if you don't know, then don't assume. You certainly can't always tell someone's gender by looking at them or by hearing their voice. Absolutely not."

Smith gave a handful of examples, including: When checking in hotel guests, if the reservation is under one man's name and he walks up with another man, that there should be no assumption that the room needs two beds. Also, when planning a wedding, do not assume there is one bride and one groom; and when taking care of a family, it should not be assumed the child has a mom and a dad.

Smith shared statistics on the different ways ( laws and language, among others ) that non-binary identities are being supported around the world. She also offered tips on how to avoid offending the customer, such as not using the terms "ma'am" or "sir."

The event, held in the hotel's Looking Glass Ballroom, was intimate and the group was mostly corporate employees from various companies. Throughout the event, attendees were encouraged to ask questions.

Seema Jain, director of multicultural affairs at Marriott International, Inc., also spoke at the front of the room about Marriott's employee training, cultural-awareness efforts, such as culture day and the tool kit, which provides resources for the company's associates to learn more. Jain said to Windy City Times that Marriott has a great effort to ensure that their teams and anybody that touches the guests' experience are familiar and comfortable with people of all different backgrounds, whether it be LGBTQ people or people of different cultures. Jain's job is to make sure employees have the tools and resources to be culturally competent. She added if employees feel comfortable they are going to have a better guest experience. Doing the best one can and providing equal respect for all, she said, are important for employees.

"Unassuming Assumptions!" she said, was like a basic course to keep up and understand everything that is going on today, while avoiding possible faux pas.

"It's kind of like when you want to keep the world more at peace, the more you understand about different groups, you understand and you become a lot more accepting and realizing that there's more similarities than differences," said Jain.

For more information on Out & Equal, visit: .

This article shared 591 times since Tue Nov 8, 2016
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