By. Dr. Walter Reichman
About five years ago, I visited the college where I had taught for 40 years. I had not been back for very many years, and as I entered the building, I was greeted by rainbow flags and a Gay Pride Week banner. Notices of concerts, performances, speeches, and musicals - all related to gay themes and gay pride - were posted as well, along with the names of participating students and faculty. I felt a mixture of astonishment and delight, tinged with an uncomfortable memory.
Twenty years before, as chairman of the psychology department, I wanted to hire Dr. Alan Bell, a brilliant researcher and teacher who had already changed the world through his research as a member of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. He had studied 1,000 gay men in San Francisco and demonstrated through personality and cognitive tests that they were neither dysfunctional nor maladjusted men. The only thing that differentiated them from heterosexual men was their sexual preference. Dr. Bell was a friend of mine from our days as graduate students. He was also the father of a 15-year-old violin prodigy who had recently made his Carnegie Hall debut. The young man’s future was to be in New York and his parents wanted to be close to him. Because of the salary differential between Indiana University and the City University, his salary could only be matched by becoming a University Distinguished Professor. I believed he had the credentials for that title and would add to the luster and standing of the University. When I presented his credentials to the Dean as a first step in the hiring process, his eyes widened, and he said while glaring at me, “This is a business college, you know, and you want to hire someone who studies homosexuality. If you think the Board would go for this, you are mistaken. If you think the Chancellor would go for this, you are mistaken. If you think I would go for this, you are mistaken.” He gave me a look that strongly suggested that I was a failure as member of his faculty. My friend went back to Indiana; he and his wife became regular commuters to New York, where their son became the now-renowned violinist Joshua Bell. As a result of prejudice, my College lost a chance to be in the forefront of progress by using behavioral science to change both the thinking and the lives of millions of people. Progress eventually came anyway, but it was generated in Indiana rather than New York.
Fast forward to 2002; I am retired from the college, and working for a consulting firm that conducted employee satisfaction surveys. Within a few years, one of our clients wanted to include the demographic of sexual orientation to understand the level of satisfaction of this group of employees relative to their other employees. The data are interesting and informative, and becomes the basis of a presentation for my professional organization, the Society of Industrial Organizational Psychologists (SIOP), which then led to my joining the LGBT and Friends committee at SIOP. I learned from my colleagues on the committee that there was resistance among the executive board of SIOP to support a statement against discrimination of LGBT employees in business. The committee had tried to have a statement passed over the prior few years and it was turned down each year. While the reasons for this never touched on prejudice against LGBT members, it was assumed that it was the underlying reason. I worked with my committee members to draft a statement that met all the complaints of the previous statements. I also organized a campaign to lobby the members of the Board about the resolution and held several open meetings for members during the annual conference as well as two symposia. The Board was to discuss the statement during their meeting the day after the conference ended. In 2012, I had a moment of intense gratification when I received an email from a Board member while flying home stating that the SIOP Board had passed the resolution; it was later reapproved in 2017. My professional organization was now a part of the culture of equality.
We have continued to make progress in bringing equality to the gay population as witnessed by the sanctioning of gay marriage, and as witnessed by gay pride month and the Stonewall celebrations this past June. The implementation of diversity and inclusion has risen to the forefront of concerns of organizational psychologists as witnessed by their research, publications and webinars.
To see a copy of SIOP's non-discrimination statement, click here.
Dr. Walter Reichman is a partner and vice president at OrgVitality, the president of the Psychology Coalition of the United Nations, and the main NGO representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations from the International Association of Applied Psychology. He is also a Professor Emeritus from Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Walter is the editor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology Help the Vulnerable: Serving the Underserved. Walter has an MBA from City College of the City University of New York and an MA and Ed.D from Teachers College of Columbia University.
This article is part two of a new series on the life of Dr. Walter Reichman.