Four Questions with Alphonso David: Creating Equitable Workplaces for LGBTQ+ Employees

Stories@Gilead - January 28, 2021

Alphonso David joined the Human Rights Campaign last year, becoming the first civil rights attorney and the first person of color to lead the organization in its 40-year history.

“I joined for one simple reason – none of us are free until all of us are free,” says Alphonso. “This is the personal motto that brought me to the Human Rights Campaign and the principal that has shaped my entire career. It is a truth that has guided my work since I took the helm of this organization – and it must guide our work forward.”

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization in the U.S. Each year, the organization releases the Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which highlights corporate policies, practices and benefits pertinent to LGBTQ+ employees in the U.S. and around the world. Gilead received a 100% rating on the index for the 4th consecutive year. To coincide with the release of this year’s index, we connected with Alphonso to discuss the list and how his organization is working to promote inclusive workplaces.

Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles that LGBTQ+ individuals face at work?
The biggest obstacles are for workers who are still not covered by inclusive workforce policies and practices.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this past summer affirming that the prohibition on sex discrimination covers individuals who work at companies with 15 or more full-time employees. However, around 40-50% of the U.S. workforce is employed by small businesses. In the absence of state laws that in some cases provide broader protections than federal law, this leaves a lot of the LGBTQ+ community without even basic and critical nondiscrimination protections.

Far too many LGBTQ+ people are still experiencing discrimination, bias and stigma in the workplace and in their daily lives critical culture change is still needed. It’s up to all of us to drive changes that improve the day-to-day lived experience of LGBTQ+ people on the job.

Q: What prompted the Human Rights Campaign to launch the Corporate Equality Index and what does this index score say about employers?
We launched the Corporate Equality Index (CEI) in 2002 as a benchmarking tool. Over its 19-year history, the Human Rights Campaign has helped make the case that building a diverse and inclusive workplace that treats everyone fairly and equitably improves the business, enabling companies to attract, retain and engage the very best talent. Businesses rose to this challenge. This year we have 767 businesses that received top rating, up from just 13 in our first year.

Currently, 91% of the companies in the CEI offer benefits that provide affirming and sometimes even life-saving access to critical care for transgender people. The progress made since the CEI’s inception is truly astounding and proves that these initiatives have a deep impact on the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ+ workers. However, it’s clear that values of inclusion don't end with benefit packages or non-discrimination policies – they are merely starting points.

Q: This year Gilead earned a CEI score of 100%. What does it take to earn that score?
Gilead satisfied all of the requirements of a 100% score as laid out in the CEI criteria, recognizing it as a "Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality." The criteria include a robust set of measurements organized along four key pillars: non-discrimination policies across business entities; equitable benefits for LGBTQ+ workers and their families; supporting an inclusive culture; and corporate social responsibility.

We also took note of the deeply intersectional lens of Gilead’s efforts to engage with the community through its philanthropy and volunteer efforts in ways that address the intersections of people living with HIV, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. Given the disproportionate impact of HIV on different communities, this approach to Gilead’s philanthropy is critical.

Q: What else is the organization focused on, and how can partners work to help achieve your goals?
Our organization’s work to secure full equality for LGBTQ+ people and reduce the stigma, discrimination and violence that many in our community continue to face will never end.

We must recognize that this past year has been a stark reminder that we need to continue to ensure that combating racism remains central to the work of LGBTQ+ organizations. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is expanding support for Black and Latinx transgender women working in public health initiatives and community-based organizations on the frontlines. We are moving forward boldly on every front – education, healthcare, housing and the workplace – to make life better for LGBTQ+ people.

We need every member of our community, particularly those who have been marginalized in the past, to have a seat at the table. And we must harness the energy of this moment toward the pressing work of transforming our systems so that they truly serve all of us.