Hey – that ‘A&P preferred J’ that I suggested here on January 3 at 12 hit 21 the other day. That’s a 75% gain in what were otherwise a pretty rough three months. Like you, I only wish had bought more. (And like you, I’m not certain whether to hold on.)

I mention this because some of you really hate it when I stray from personal finance. For you, I guess, I am offering an annoying bargain. I will do my best to give you something occasionally useful – not that I’m likely ever to get remotely this lucky again. In return, you do something hard but admirable – and important to a strong social fabric. Namely, you take the time to consider views with which you do not agree. (I appreciate your feedback and try to read it in an equally constructive way.)

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And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I got to address a spectacular group of 400 bright young MBA students at ‘Reaching Out,’ the third annual gay and lesbian MBA conference. This year’s was sponsored by Stanford Business School, UCLA, and Thunderbird – with lavish spreads hosted by Booz-Allen Hamilton, McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Price Waterhouse Coopers, each eager to attract its share of hires from this exceptional talent pool.

The morning break-out session I sat in on was a panel of senior folks from JP Morgan, BCG, AOL/Time Warner, Capitol One, Deloitte Consulting and Bain. A lot of stories were told (Well, how DO you answer the interviewer when he asks you about your wife or your girl friend, if you’re a gay guy? How DO you answer the client when he asks you – a top-notch consultant who happens to be lesbian – what your husband does?), but my favorite was by the panelist who was being asked to move to Switzerland for a year or two to head up a multi-million dollar consulting project for one of his firm’s clients.

‘I was a little nervous about this,’ he told us (or words to this effect), ‘because the client was a conservative Swiss Bank, and their guy who had hired us, one of their American executives living in Switzerland, was an ex-marine. I didn’t want to uproot everything and move over there, begin to head up this 120-man project, and then, after a few weeks, find out it wasn’t going to work. So at the end of my sort of ‘trial week’ over there, where we were planning out the project, I took the client to dinner. I told him that I would have to fly back to New York for four days every second week. I knew that while in Switzerland it would be a non-stop all-out effort, and I was eager for that; but that I’d need these four days every two weeks because of my boyfriend, and wanted to be sure he was OK with that kind of schedule. He said he was, and later I learned he told his board more or less the following: ‘Tom is gay. I view this as a good thing. In my experience, gay people tend to work very hard.’ And that was that. The project was a success.’

Ah, how the world has changed . . . in significant measure thanks to the incredible leadership of the Clinton/Gore administration, as well as to far-sighted Republicans like former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, Senator Jim Jeffords, and conservatives like the late Barry Goldwater (who said of the gays-in-the-military flap that all that mattered, as far as he could see, was whether soldiers could shoot straight) . . . and thanks, of course, especially, to tens of millions of Americans who, given a little time to consider a once-taboo topic, and get to know some of us for who we are (oh is that why Uncle Charlie never got married!), have shown, yet again, what a fair-minded and terrific country this is.

Even China, as you may have seen, has recently told its 1.26 billion people that being gay is not some kind of mental illness that needs to be ‘fixed.’

(The American Psychiatric Association came to more or less the same conclusion circa 1974, concluding, ‘ . . . therefore, be it resolved that the American Psychiatric Association deplores all public and private discrimination against homosexuals.’)

Oh, sure, there are still some folks who think it’s an illness, but no one really of any note. Well, except maybe the Senate Majority Leader, Republican Trent Lott. (It was he who told the press he felt homosexuality was a compulsion for which we should feel some compassion, but strive to combat, like ‘kleptomania or alcoholism.’)

And, yes, there are still quite a few folks who still call us fags and dykes, as some still use ‘the N word.’ But no one really of any note. Well, the House Majority Leader, Republican Dick Armey (famous for calling his colleague Barney Frank, ‘Barney Fag’).

And, I guess, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (who called then San Francisco city councilwoman Roberta Achtenberg a ‘damn dyke’).

And, sure, there are still those who would support the few remaining archaic state sodomy laws. But no one really of any note. Well, George W. Bush. He supported the Texas statute under which two Houston men were arrested in 1998 for having sex at home in the privacy of their bedroom. (Texas has had a sodomy law since 1860, but decriminalized such activities by different-sex partners in 1974. Texas now is one of only four states that singles out gays and lesbians as criminals. Bush opposed its repeal, and last month, the Texas Court of Appeals came down on the same side. It upheld the conviction.)

But the world is changing, and I actually expect even the Republican Party, if only out of political exigency, to move from the 1950’s to, say, 1975 – which would be progress, and I would quite genuinely welcome it. People have to go at their own pace.

(It goes without saying – but given the Republican rhetoric, I guess I’ll say it anyway – anyone who abuses children, regardless of his sexual orientation, should be dealt with severely . . . anyone who leads a promiscuous life, be he Don Juan or the characters on ‘Friends,’ is making a choice that has its downsides. Republicans are right, in my view, to celebrate stable, long-term relationships and accord them special economic benefits. It’s just that in the Republican view, these celebrations and benefits should be available only to couples of the same race. Oh, wait – that legal taboo was finally extinguished in 1967. Now it’s only same-sex couples whom the Republicans would deny these benefits.)

At least a couple of the young MBA candidates in my audience had worked in the White House. I explained to them that, although I am treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, I try to be bi-partisan. (Karl Rove was on the my flight from DC – does that count?) I eagerly accept contributions from Republicans as well as Democrats. And I make a point of bringing with me, to every speaking engagement, the entire contingent of openly gay and lesbian appointees to the first Bush administration (zero), along with the entire contingent of openly gay and lesbian appointees to the George W. Bush Texas administration (zero), and, for good measure, all the openly gay officers and staffers of the Republican National Committee and the current Bush administration (zero, and zero). If I’ve missed anyone, by all means let me know, and I’ll stand corrected.

So J.P. Morgan and the country’s top consulting firms may all want to draw on the talent of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, sons and daughters . . . the Big Three auto companies in Detroit may all now offer domestic partnership health benefits to their same-sex coupled employees . . . but for now, I advised my 400 young MBAs-in-the-making, don’t look to work for your country when you graduate. Not, that is, unless you are willing to go back in to the closet and live a lie.

No one should have to do that – least of all in America (something about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’) – and the great news, as evidenced by this conference along with so much else the last few years, is that no one, or surely no MBA, has to.

In the words of Joe Lieberman, is this a great country or what?

Tomorrow: Are You Getting 100% or 3%?

 

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