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Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft

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Flags raised in front of the Microsoft Sammamish Campus in Issaquah, Washington. The flag on the left is the flag of Microsoft's GLEAM.

Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft (GLEAM) is a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees at Microsoft. GLEAM originated as a private mailing list during the 1980s. Members of the list successfully campaigned for sexual orientation to be added to Microsoft's anti-discrimination policy in 1989. In 1997, group leaders would point out that anti-gay actions occurred, but "overt bias is extremely rare".

GLEAM also lobbied for Microsoft to offer insurance and other benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Lobbying intensified after Lotus offered these benefits to its workers. Microsoft added this benefit in 1993.

GLEAM became more formally organized in 1993 under Microsoft's Diversity Advisory Council, along with Blacks At Microsoft (BAM), the women's group Hoppers, and similar groups.

More recently the group influenced Microsoft to add gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination policies in April 2005 and in 2006 to progressively extend health coverage benefits to cover transgender care, and some surgery. The Human Rights Campaign, an American gay rights group that focuses on transgender issues, updated Microsoft's Corporate Equality Index rating to 100%. The Corporate Equality Index is a set of metrics used by the Human Rights Campaign to measure a company's compliance with its goals of gender identity neutrality in the workplace.

Washington state gay rights legislation

GLEAM also pushed to secure Microsoft's support of gay rights legislation in Washington state. During legislative hearings on Washington's H.B. 1515 bill, which would extend the state's current anti-discrimination laws to people with alternate sexual orientations, two Microsoft employees testified as private citizens on behalf of the legislation. A conservative religious group took this to mean Microsoft was actively supporting the legislation as an organization and demanded the company reverse its support.

In an April 22, 2005 e-mail, company CEO Steve Ballmer explained to Microsoft employees that earlier in the year, the company had decided to focus its lobbying efforts on issues more directly related to its core business (e.g., computer privacy). In the same e-mail, he affirmed the company's commitment to diversity and encouraged individual shareholders to get involved in the issue, but said that no one on either side should represent themselves as speaking for the company.

In response, seven days later, the GLEAM board of directors sent an e-mail that proposed, with specific timelines, various steps that Microsoft should take in order to repair its public image and the "lack of trust" created by the Ballmer e-mail on April 22. Among the proposals was that Microsoft should acknowledge its neutral position was a mistake (including a proposed press release and a seven-day suggested timeframe for the dissemination of the release) and partner with GLEAM as "subject matter experts" in reaching out to the LGBT community, beginning with a sixty day "intense outreach" period. Meanwhile, a petition of employees asking Microsoft to support the bill topped 1700 signatures.

On May 6, Ballmer sent out another e-mail to employees, essentially indicating that while his position—that business priorities should remain the core of Microsoft's lobby efforts—had not changed, he had been convinced that supporting equality in the workplace is a business priority, and that Microsoft would therefore support legislation like HB 1515 in the future. By that time, however, the legislative year in Washington had ended.

The bill was passed in the subsequent legislative session (2006) under the leadership of openly gay legislator, Rep. Ed Murray (D) of the 43rd legislative district and after the defection of Republican Party State Senator, Bill Finkbeiner, who subsequently retired and whose seat was captured by Democrat and Microsoft alumnus, Eric Oemig. During the 2006 elections, voters of the 43rd legislative district also elevated Rep. Ed Murray to the Washington State Senate.

On September 15th, 2009, Microsoft publicly announced its support for Referendum 71 to protect Washington State Domestic Partnerships.

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