Credit Union Staff Share Thoughts on SCOTUS Ruling Protecting LGBTQ+ Employees

As non-discriminatory, people-focused organizations, credit unions are stepping up to champion inclusivity for all.

8/25/2020

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court of the Unites States ruled on June 15 that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. Prior to this ruling, firing employees for being LGBTQ+ was legal in more than half of U.S. states.

In recent years, companies and organizations across the globe have committed to focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion, incorporating initiatives to recognize, support, and celebrate the differences that make people who they are.

Within the Credit Union Movement, building a culture of equity and inclusion is a priority, and thanks to this commitment, employees identifying as LGBTQ+ are beginning to feel understood and heard.

“[The SCOTUS ruling] was huge and frankly a relief. To think that I could lose my job, just because a boss did not like that I am gay, is not only scary — it is unjust and destabilizing for me and others. Early in my career, I was very closeted and felt I needed to keep that side of me quiet. However, in more recent years, I felt a shift and began to feel safer, especially as my involvement in the Credit Union Development Education program increased.”
— Debbie Wege, Cooperative Community Advocate at BECU in Seattle

Rachel Farrell, Industrial Hemp Program Analyst at Northwest Community Credit Union, based in Eugene, Oregon, expressed a similar reaction to the news, but said it’s not a cure-all.

“Having the security that I will not be let go based on my identity as a human being is a huge relief, but I would wave a flag of caution, as this does not stop discrimination from happening, and it is everyone’s responsibility to step up and look at our policies to ensure that employees are truly protected. ”
— Rachel Farrell, Industrial Hemp Program Analyst at Northwest Community Credit Union

Farrell said the credit union industry has been one of their favorite spaces to work in professionally, in part due to the guiding principle of “People Helping People,” but that there’s more that can be done to build a truly inclusive culture.

“The majority of people who work at credit unions want to see people succeed, and that means that we strive to look beyond the initial interaction and build relationships,” said Farrell. “The credit union industry can be more welcoming by ensuring that it is being equitable both in benefits and in opportunities. This includes checking with vendors who are providing benefits and services to ensure that they have DEI values in mind. I think there is an opportunity to educate each other and have an open dialogue. That being said, this dialogue needs to be facilitated by external partnerships and learning professionals — not all LGBTQ+ individuals are open to answering questions.”

Wege said she’s proud of BECU’s involvement in Pride and in other LGBTQ+ events and supporting programs, and mentioned the credit union has always been ahead of the curve in that regard.

“I have been able to have my spouse on my insurance long before gay marriage was legal, and that was always a stabilizing and wonderful sense of security and inclusion,” she said.

In addition to supporting LGBTQ+ programs and events, Wege noted there are other small ways credit unions can be more inclusive. Providing fields for preferred pronouns and names on applications and using more universal language on forms is one example. Credit unions can also take a closer look at credit score requirements and lending policies to better serve marginalized individuals and communities.

Brady Howe, President and CEO of Cutting Edge Credit Union, based in Milwaukie, Oregon, said he personally feels very fortunate in his life and career as an openly gay man, but he acknowledges the privilege that comes with being white and cis-gendered (a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth).

“I’m a white, cis-gendered male, I’m educated and grew up in a middle class neighborhood outside of Portland. I received a good education and have had many opportunities that most don’t have. Our staff and volunteers have always been very supportive of me and my family. Locally, our credit union family has welcomed me with open arms. I think that in the Pacific Northwest, people are more open and affirming to the queer population, but I hope that we work harder to include people of color, trans people, and others in marginalized communities. And I hope that we are able and willing to create opportunities to lift members of those communities, too.”
— Brady Howe, President and CEO of Cutting Edge Credit Union

Lifting and supporting marginalized communities is one goal of Superbia Credit Union, the first national credit union in the country chartered for LGBTQ+ individuals. Set to open virtually later this fall, Superbia’s official mission is to provide discrimination-free banking, insurance, health care, and money management services designed for and by the LGBTQ+ community.

Though there is more work to do to ensure all people are treated and served equally regardless of who they are, where they come from, and whom they love, credit unions’ unique structure makes them well-positioned for the endeavor.

“As non-discriminatory, member-focused, and people-centered organizations, we have both a duty and an opportunity to be the truly inclusive Movement we say we are,” said Wege. “The more we embrace and seek to serve all diverse members and potential members, the more we live up to our purpose, our principles, our values, and, frankly, our future as a Movement.”

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Editor’s Note: Keep an eye out for a follow-up to this story in an upcoming edition of Anthem — a legal brief written by Kelly Tilden from credit union law firm, Farleigh Wada Witt.