Sunday, June 30, 2013

SCOTUS Provides Great End to Pride Month, but Equality Remains on the Agenda

My husband Pete and I joined with many LGBT folks and straight allies in celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling declaring Section 3 of the inappropriately-named Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. We were also happy SCOTUS deferred to a lower court ruling on Prop 8 based on the standing of those who challenged Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision.

Pete and I will now be able to file all of our income tax forms together, no longer lying on our federal return by saying we are single. We’re covered by inheritance rights heterosexual couples have always enjoyed. If something happens to me, Pete will get my Social Security benefits. If I lose my job, Pete will be covered under whatever meager health benefits we get from COBRA. And we can exchange money between various checking and savings accounts without worrying about exceeding the “gift” amount of $13,000 a year. While we were both born in the U.S., it’s also heartening to see bi-national couples finally able to get a green card for the non-American spouse. Those and more than 1,100 other federal rights have been extended to us and all legally married gay and lesbian couples, catching up to the equal rights we enjoy under New York State law.
Aye, there’s the rub. We’re fine as long as we remain in New York. We can’t consider employment in Florida or a home in North Carolina. If we visit my brother in Texas and one of us were to end up in a hospital, the other half of our legally-sanctioned marriage has no right to determine treatment and can be barred from visiting the injured party. That’s because Section 2 of DOMA remains and we are only legally married if we remain contained in the pen of 13 states that recognize the validity of our union. That section of DOMA was not part of the Windsor case on which the Court made its ruling.

There are still 37 states where we are not equal. There are 29 states where we can be fired for even the suspicion of being gay – though I’m sure our wedding rings would give us away. That’s one state less that the two-thirds needed to pass a constitutional amendment that would effectively strip us of our marriage. So, Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s threat to introduce a “Federal Marriage Amendment” is nothing more than street theater, since it will never pass. I found it rather funny that his speech to propose the amendment, delivered in front of the Supreme Court building, was drowned out by the successful litigants of the Prop 8 case and their attorneys as the descended the steps behind him. God proves yet again S/He has a sense of justice.
Yet, it wasn’t a week of all wins in the fight for equality. The previous day, by the same 5-4 vote that awarded some semblance of equality to gay and lesbian couples, SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. States that attempted to put restrictions on voting, only to have them thrown out in court, rejoiced. Texas’ Attorney General said he would move quickly to institute a Voter ID law. Other states have limited voter registration periods, early balloting opportunities, or Election Day voting hours. Rather than encouraging a right that many Americans hold sacred and bemoan low turnout, some states in the north and south are doing their best to suppress access to the that right. I feel the need to point out these are being done in states with Republicans in power.

Growing up as a Caucasian family in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, we learned a lesson on race at a very early age. My father told me when I was five or six that if my friend Kenny and I got “boo-boos,” we’d both bleed the same color blood. I never forgot that. I also never heard either of my parents utter a discriminatory word, phrase or epithet. My mom and I attended the 15th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1978, going to D.C. with our neighbors; we were the only Caucasians on the bus. I went to public schools and a community college where my classmates ranged in age from 17 to 72 and there was a mixture of races, ethnicities and religions (or no religion at all). It’s why I feel comfortable in any group, except in those that espouse hatred in any form. Sadly, there are many such groups still around. Some of them even have representation in Congress. While I agree with one point made by the SCOTUS majority – areas under federal watch need to be expanded – I don’t expect Congress, the House in particular, to be up to the challenge.

As we end Pride Month, we still should celebrate the progress that has been made, while committing ourselves to the fight for equality and winning the struggles that remain.

One last thing…there are several websites that help LGBT couples navigate the confusing road to semi-equality. Lambda Legal has a good round-up. It’s time for Pete and me to have a will, health-care proxy and all of the other legal paperwork that protects us, even though there is a question as to whether other states would honor it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Networking Redux

Commencement season is over for the Class of 2013. Time for grads to find a job.

It was a good semester at Marist, with a number of guest speakers agreeing to come up for a visit:  Jake Tapper from CNN; Ryan Davis, then of Blue State Digital and now VP at Vocativ; Matt Soriano from the Council of PR Firms; Adrienne Sabilia of IBM, who brought a famed Big Blue researcher and a PR maven to discuss the results of a study of CEOs’ expectations of graduating college seniors and seniors’ expectations of the marketplace; Stu Shinske, executive editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal; and my husband, Pete Clark, a real estate agent now and formerly one of the top radio sales people anywhere.
As I do each semester, I also brought my class to Manhattan to visit two PR firms where my former students are doing great things. This year, it was Hill & Knowlton, home to David Barton, and Allison + Partners, to visit with Charles Leone.  David and Charles also had human resources execs and newly hired employees join our conversations.

In addition, my former student Andy Clinkman and his girlfriend Caroline Hughes came to hear Ryan Davis’s talk. Andy, at the time, had two entry-level job openings at Kel & Partners, the PR company at which he works in Boston.
These were all great networking opportunities for my students. 

If the concept is understood correctly, networking can provide great value when it comes to landing jobs, and ultimately help you take giant leaps forward in your career.

Networking is nothing more than building a relationship. Done well, networking benefits both parties. How can students network with guest speakers or during visits with alums? First, simply go up to the person, say hello, introduce yourself, thank the speaker or hosts for the taking time to meet with you, and ask for a business card. A thank you email the day after meeting someone reminds the person with whom you’re networking who you are. It also shows you are interested in maintaining contact.
Several speakers, including David and Charles and their co-workers, offered to review student resumes and cover letters. If someone offers to do this for you, take advantage of their generosity. It’s free career advice from professionals in your field. Just make sure what you send is perfect, no typos, grammatical errors, and in proper form.

Follow the person you just met on twitter and ask to connect on LinkedIn. Hold off on Facebook friending. That’s more of a personal social network. Stay professional. Let the relationship develop. You also may not want your new contact to see everything you post on Facebook.
Is there something you saw about your new contact’s company? Send a note to say you caught coverage of the firm in the news. Does your contact have a blog? Read it, Comment on posts.

All relationships require work to be maintained. What do you do with friends? You write, call, visit, go out for a meal or a drink. Networking is no different.
What should you NOT do? Don’t ask for something the first moment you meet, unless you’re invited to do so. When someone connects to me on LinkedIn and his or her first message tries to sell me something, I drop that link. Get to know me and what I do first before you go in for the sales pitch.

We all know the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” That is particularly true in today’s competitive job market. You need an advocate within the company at which you would like to work, someone who will raise your resume to the top of the pile, remind someone in the hiring process of your personal and professional qualities, and fill you in on company culture before you go for the interview. You still need the talent and passion to succeed at the job, but when you’re competing with 50, 100, 200 applicants for a single position, you need more than what’s written on paper to advance through the process.
Someday, you will become the person with whom someone wants to network. You may know of a job opening that is not of interest to you but would be of interest to someone else. I tweet many openings like that. They come from friends who asked me to help identify prospective candidates for the job. In other words, there’s a contact there for you. If the opening isn’t of interest to you, perhaps you have a friend, colleague, or former associate who may be. Pass the info along. Give before your receive.

I am a strong believer in karma. You help someone today and that good deed will be repaid to you down the line.
One last thing…I titled this post Networking Redux because I gave an example a year ago of a Marist student who mastered this art and turned a series of internships into maintained relationships that led him to land his first job. That Marist grad, Bryan Terry, recently celebrated his first anniversary with his employer, YNN, Time Warner’s all-news channel, and has been promoted for the second time. He is now video producer for CapitalTonight, a great job for Bryan, who eats, sleeps and breathes news and politics. Remember, networking gets you to a certain point in the process. You then have to prove your value. Bryan understands this. He epitomizes the 12 Rules for New Grads. The results speak for themselves.