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Anne Marie Elder

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Global Chief Underwriting Officer – Marine

By definition, ‘pride’ is a feeling of deep satisfaction gained from one's own achievements. It’s a sense of confidence and self-respect. Pride can also be directed to others. We can have pride in the achievements of those closely associated with us. I am fortunate to have both.

I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished in my career, my personal life and as part of the LGBTQ+ community. I am also so proud of my supportive colleagues and other allies who are taking the time to listen, learn and advocate for equal rights no matter what our sexual orientation. I have been fortunate to have a supportive base, thanks to a workplace that sees value in our differences. Many others in the LGBTQ community are still struggling to find that support.

 

Additional support welcome

Those familiar with my story know that I remained silent about my sexual orientation while attending the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), because I had to. In the 1980s, when I was attending, my sexual orientation was grounds for dismissal. The military’s policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ did not go into effect until 1993. And it was not until 2011 that openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women have been permitted to serve in the military. Just this year, the military expanded its acceptance of the LGBTQ community by lifting the transgender ban.

It took me 14 years after graduation, while working in the marine insurance industry and navigating through a health crisis with my wife, to get to the point where I felt comfortable enough to reveal to my colleagues that I was a lesbian. I previously wrote about my experience at USMMA and my coming out in “Becoming a leader and bridging the gap between personal and professional”. Support from work colleagues made my coming out a positive experience.

Unfortunately, even another 15 or so years later, so many, including those like me who serve our country in the military, do not feel comfortable revealing their entire selves. Transgender individuals are feeling particularly vulnerable. Last year, there were 44 transgender killings in the US and its territories, the deadliest year on record.

While it’s easy to look back at some of the progress made over the past decade in terms of LGBTQ rights, there is still a way to go. Currently, Congress is debating the Equality Act, which seeks to ban discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. At the same time, many state legislatures are looking to roll back protections, including a few pushing bans on transgender rights.

It is clear why the LGBTQ community needs allies more than ever. Allies have had a major impact in addressing past inequalities and will continue to be a major force in preserving LGBTQ equality.

 

Company commitment

Fortunately, our supportive base of allies continues to grow. In part, at least from my experience, the growth can be attributed to increasing corporate support. More businesses realize the benefits of a more diverse workforce. As part of Inclusion & Diversity programs, many companies, including AXA XL, have launched Business Resource Groups (BRGs). These are employee-led volunteer groups, organized around a common area of interest or concern, that look to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. At AXA XL, our current BRGs focus on leadership, race and ethnicity, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities. Just five years ago I could not imagine having the open conversations that we are having now.

For one recent virtual event focused on transgender issues, hosted by AXA XL’s PRIDE BRG, 350 colleagues attended. They dialed in voluntarily to learn more. These events and the collective efforts of the BRG members have played a pivotal role in building support for LGBTQ issues, largely by getting us all more comfortable talking about the issues that the LGBTQ community faces.

Over the years, I have seen colleagues grow more comfortable discussing LGBTQ issues. It is not awkward for them to discuss my wife or a gay man’s husband. I’m invited into conversations that I once avoided.

3 traits of a strong workplace ally

In order for further progress to be made and current protections to remain, being an LGBTQ ally is more important than ever. An ally is someone that doesn’t identify as LGBTQ but supports both LGBTQ individuals and communities. Being an ally goes beyond acceptance. It’s also about listening, acting, and encouraging.

Here are three traits that I value most in my workplace allies:

  1. They listen and encourage: Some members of the LGBTQ community have very supportive families; others do not. Having supportive colleagues can be a gamechanger. Being supportive often doesn’t involve extraordinary measures. Listening is a big part of it, though. Just asking a co-worker about their weekend can be affirming and encouraging. That’s what really prompted me to first come out at work. While my wife was fighting cancer, not being able to openly discuss her health was a heavy burden on me. When I finally did, my close colleagues didn’t judge me. They supported me and, going forward, asked about my wife. Over the years, I have seen colleagues grow more comfortable discussing LGBTQ issues. It is not awkward for them to discuss my wife or a gay man’s husband. I’m invited into conversations that I once avoided. The more we engage each other in these conversations, the more familiar and comfortable we become with each other.
  2. They stand up for us: Strong allies put in the time and work to educate themselves on the issues and concerns of the LGBTQ community. That’s why having 350 colleagues join a call about transgender visibility is so uplifting to me. Good allies take the time to listen to the perspectives, messages, and requests of the LGBTQ community to learn where best to direct their efforts. In the US, for instance, we celebrate Pride month in June. The month commemorates the Stonewall riots, which occurred in June 1969. Social unrest is certainly not a new occurrence. The Stonewall riots were a series of demonstrations by the LGBTQ community in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. The riots are widely considered to be the impetus of the gay rights movement. Since then, the LGBTQ community marks the anniversary with Pride events nationwide, and many allies join us. As we can see from recent legislative debates, LGBTQ equality continues to be a political ‘hot potato.’ In the near future there will likely be even more opportunities to voice concerns or disappointment to the government representatives who are taking actions aimed at rolling back protections. Knowing that others outside the LGBTQ community are letting their voices be heard is comforting and empowering.
  3. They’re respectful: The LGBTQ community is all too familiar with negative comments. We’ve heard far too many. Encouragement can do a lot to counter long-term negativity. Allies can do a lot to support LGBTQ colleagues simply by being there and speaking up. It might require challenging the use of inappropriate and disrespectful transphobic or homophobic language. Even in this day and age, some in the workplace attempt to pass demeaning language off as just a joke. It’s disrespectful and, given continued violence against some members of the LGBTQ community, it is no joke. Derogatory language can be demeaning and make some feel unsafe. Use of the right language can have a big positive impact. As many have developed a greater understanding of gender identity, some allies have made an adjustment to their use of pronouns. Asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is a show of respect.

Strong allies in the workplace have had a significant impact on me. As we look to preserve protections and seek equal treatment for all members of the LGBTQ community, the support of strong allies will undoubtedly make a big difference, influencing positive changes that we can all take pride in.

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US- and Canada-Issued Insurance Policies

In the US, the AXA XL insurance companies are: AXA Insurance Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., XL Specialty Insurance Company and T.H.E. Insurance Company. In Canada, coverages are underwritten by XL Specialty Insurance Company - Canadian Branch and AXA Insurance Company - Canadian branch. Coverages may also be underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003. Coverages underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003 are placed on behalf of the member of Syndicate #2003 by Catlin Canada Inc. Lloyd’s ratings are independent of AXA XL.
US domiciled insurance policies can be written by the following AXA XL surplus lines insurers: XL Catlin Insurance Company UK Limited, Syndicates managed by Catlin Underwriting Agencies Limited and Indian Harbor Insurance Company. Enquires from US residents should be directed to a local insurance agent or broker permitted to write business in the relevant state.