Pride Month Profiles: 4 Event Industry Leaders Share Their LGBTQIA+ Perspectives

June 22, 2023

The importance of making the events industry more inclusive and welcoming to all continues to be a major talking point. With June being Pride Month, it’s an opportune time to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and reflect on the industry’s accomplishments and ways to overcome obstacles that it continues to confront.   

We checked in with four leading event professionals to find out what their organizations are doing to be more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community, how they are making their events more inclusive, the major challenges within the industry, how they are personally honoring Pride Month, and what advice they have for the next generation of LGBTQ+ leaders. 

Ray Rhodes, RXRay Rhodes, Head of Inclusion & Diversity, RX 

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways RX has been supporting the LGBTQIA+ community?

In 2021, we appointed Adam Cartledge, our director of Global Sales Enablement, as Global Executive Sponsor for Pride to help advance our LGBTQIA+ inclusion goals. His committee of RX-ers from five countries, along with our Pride Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), have sponsored several awareness events to promote LGBTQIA+ allyship. For example, in the U.S., topics included “A Conversation on Supporting your LGBTQ+ Child” with Polly O’Brien Morrow, “Queerness as a Superpower for Behavior and Change,” with Meghan Crutchley and “How to Survive Holiday Grinches.” 

We have increased our inclusive brand exposure and hiring from the LGBTQIA+ community through our partnership with myGwork, and consulted the business around employee policies related to LGBTQIA+ equity. I’ve had the honor of connecting with many LGBTQIA+ colleagues around the globe who’ve shared with me they found a safe and inclusive space right away at RX – a direct result of visible and vocal representation and allyship of leaders across the business. I’m also proud of several RX-ers who were featured in articles for DIVA and Attitude magazines, and a myGwork LGBTQ+ Parenting campaign earlier this year!

What are you doing to make your events more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community?

We are in the process of conducting an internal assessment, using the United Nations Human Rights benchmarking, to help us identify priorities for 2023 and beyond, which will impact our internal and external business culture. We have a small army of DE&I champions who are partnering with our event leadership to glean the best DE&I practices across our shows, which we’ll share out in an Inclusive Events Playbook early next year. 

We’re already acting on some of the early outcomes of our research: We introduced the option for everyone attending our events in several markets to add their preferred pronouns to their show badges, and we’ll offer this option broadly over time. We’ve also established representation standards for panels and have featured LGBTQIA+ networking forums at many of our events. 

Being an inclusive place to work means that no matter what kind of adversity you may be facing when you are outside of our doors, you are in a safe space and valued for who you are when you enter your workplace at RX. We are working hard to create that same space for everyone attending our events.

What are you personally doing to celebrate Pride Month?

Several of my colleagues and I will celebrate Pride Month by working alongside one of our U.S. charitable partners, Kids in Crisis, at Pride in the Park in Norwalk, Conn., home of RX’s U.S. headquarters. My partner and I will also join RX-ers participating in the London Pride March on July 1. We are seeing a sharp rise in anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation being introduced in a number of states and countries, as well as hate crimes against transgender people — and now drag performers. So, my colleagues and I will be visible and vocal — and not just during Pride Month — to help raise awareness around the injustices our community continues to face. 

To read more about how RX supports the LGBTQIA+ community, go here.

Don Pietranczyk, InformaDon Pietranczyk, VP, Experience & Education, Informa Markets, Fashion

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways your organization has been supporting the LGBTQIA+ community?

I’m most proud of the way Informa not only talks about inclusivity but also does the work. What does “does the work” mean? It means the company invites and supports the Rainbow Group and the activities we want to roll out to our colleagues. The company trusts us enough to allow us to ideate and execute with complete autonomy. That freedom, no – that respect — is an act of trust that allows for it to be returned to them by us and then back to us, etc.  It’s continuous, ongoing and ever-present, and I know not many companies have this.

Another really big way there is support for the Rainbow Group is the presence of an executive sponsor. Informa Market Group COO and CEO Patrick Martell is our executive sponsor and is an active sponsor by organizing our meetings, as well as attending, motivating and encouraging the Rainbow leaders to do more! I’m continually inspired and grateful.

What suggestions or advice do you have for making events more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Knowing if or how inclusive an event is can be found in the answers to the following questions:

  • As an openly gay man (as I am), do I see myself or community represented in marketing material? 
  • Is language inclusive? 
  • Do I see the presence of pronouns in communication? 
  • Is the physical event inclusive (meaning does the venue have gender-inclusive, gender-neutral, mixed-sex or all-gender restrooms)?  
  • Is there a zero tolerance policy for discrimination or abuse of any kind in place?
  • Do I see LGBTQIA+ representation on the stage?
  • Are LGBTQIA+ owned companies called out in some way on the show floor?
  • Is the community employed in a variety of ways?
  • Do I see representation in the top leadership team? 

The presence of any of the items mentioned can make for a more inclusive event.

What are you personally doing to celebrate Pride Month?

I feel lucky this year because I’m going home to Chicago for my niece’s high school graduation party, which falls on Chicago Pride weekend, so I’ll be there for that until Sunday. On Sunday morning, I fly back to New York, where I’ll land during the New York Pride march, which I will attend for only a little bit because I fly to London that night.  The following week, I’m going to attend a colleague-run network (CRN) offsite, after which the Rainbow leads will lunch with our executive sponsor and march with him and others in the London Pride Parade on July 1. How’s that for a Pride schedule?

Tess Vismale, iSocialxTess Vismale, Chief Event Rescuer, Event Technologist, iSocialx

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways iSocialx has been supporting the LGBTQIA+ community?

My mother was a medical social worker and counseled one of the first gender-affirming surgeries in the ’70s. She instilled in my family the importance of service and viewing everyone with excellence and integrity. I was raised to have high moral standards, be a global citizen and love humanity, and I founded iSocailx with the same morals. We hire and collaborate with LGBTQ companies and planners, bringing them to spaces they might not have been invited to do business.

What are you doing to make your events more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community?

As a company, we have a DEI disclaimer that we put in our contracts and on our website and share in our email. I challenge all organizations to create their own. Our disclaimer states:

“All requesting parties will be asked to provide insight into how they are supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in their programming.

iSocialx reserves the right to decline opportunities that have unbalanced representation. Furthermore, iSocialx reserves the right to terminate agreements if programming changes make the overall event less diverse.

It is a core belief of iSocialx and our partners that diversity and inclusion and equity are not just important but vital to the future of the events and broader business community. Unique and diverse perspectives foster innovation and growth while encouraging better collaboration through mutual understanding.

We partner with events and companies that do not discriminate and seek balanced representation for all races, colors, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, status as a veteran and basis of disability or any other federal, state, or local protected class.”

David Jeffreys, LGBT MPADave Jefferys, CEO/Executive Director, LGBT Meeting Professionals Association

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways your organization has been supporting the LGBTQIA+ community? 

We have been able to connect members of the LGBTQ+ community who are part of the meetings and events industry. We are the first and only association globally to have done this. As part of our global mission, this year we participated in IMEX Frankfurt and spoke with attendees from 49 countries from five continents. In six years, we have grown to 2,500 members from 61 counties. 

What advice do you have for making events more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

We will be releasing the first definitive paper on how to make events more inclusive and how to work around challenges that meeting planners face when booking into destinations that have anti-LGBT policy or legislation. Stay tuned.

What are you doing to celebrate Pride Month? 

Through the entire month of June, our weekly email publication is dedicated to Pride celebrations and destinations in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Subscribe here.

When and where is your next meetup?

Upcoming events include PCMA Educon in June in Montreal, Connect Meetings in August in Minneapolis and IMEX America in October in Las Vegas. Register here.

Lisa Plummer Savas, Lori Tenny and Danica Tormohlen contributed to this article.

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