Even though employee resource groups (ERGs) have been around for half a century – 90% of Fortune 500 companies have them – it wasn’t until August 2018 that the City of Kansas City, Mo., approved its first set of rules governing their formation. The city’s first such group is KCProud, a group for LGBTQ+ municipal staff.
ERGs are sometimes referred to as affinity groups. The first-ever ERG was at Xerox, born out of the 1960s struggle for racial equality that is still ongoing. Today it’s known as the National Black Employees Association. Early ERGs were sometimes seen as adversarial within a workplace. Today, however, they are often welcomed – even initiated – by managers.
Jim Giles, the director of council and community relations in the Mayor’s Office, initially floated the idea of an LGBTQ-focused employee resource group to some openly LGBTQ staff.
Charles Leap, KCProud chair, said that the city manager and City Council also have been supportive during the process of KCProud’s formation. Leap is a budget analyst in the Parks & Recreation Department. Chris Hernandez, the city’s communications director, has been serving as KCProud’s executive sponsor, Leap said.
From October 2018 to July 2019, members have held monthly meetings, planned and attended activities, and discussed ways to support LGBTQ employees in the workplace and how to give back to the community. KCProud gained official recognition as an ERG for the city on July 3, 2019.
The mission of KCProud is to “support Kansas City’s progressive momentum by ensuring that we have a workforce that is inclusive and supportive of LGBTQ+ employees.” Membership is voluntary and open to all City of Kansas City, Mo., employees (full-time, part-time, seasonal and limited-term contract) with supervisor approval.
Since last fall, KCProud members have participated in Habitat for Humanity’s Pride Build, AIDS Walk (entering at the last minute and raising $1,520), and Kansas City PrideFest. They’ve also toured the Kansas City Police Department crime lab.
According to Leap, outings such as these can give employees the chance to experience different workstations within the city's workforce and to get away from their own desks.
“It is my goal that having the meetings throughout various departments will allow more access to the group for employees who can’t easily get away from their buildings, as well as increasing visibility of the group,” Leap said.
“We are also doing a group volunteer project for 816 Day [Aug. 16] as a day of service with Synergy Services,” an organization that helps area LGBTQ youth in crisis.
Beth Breitenstein, public information officer for City Planning & Development, serves as KCProud’s vice chair. She says many in the LGBTQ+ community have experienced a fear in being out at work.
“I am thankful that we can offer this resource to our colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community to make all feel welcome and included in the City of KCMO,” she said.
KCProud’s existence can help promote the city’s goals of inclusivity and affirmation. Knowing that Kansas City is a fair and equitable employer gives people another reason to visit or reside there.
Established in 2015, the City of Dallas LGBT employee resource group has set a great example for others to follow. It’s known as the LGBT Association of Dallas (bit.ly/2LwDL59). The city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, VisitDallas, also has a solid history of promoting its LGBT community (bit.ly/2GiTVdR).
For more information on KCProud, contact Leap at [email protected].
LGBT recognition around Kansas City
Sly James, whose last day as mayor is July 31, has been a well-known LGBTQ ally. He sometimes cites the city’s municipal equality index (MEI), as assessed by the Human Rights Campaign. In 2018, Kansas City scored a 97 (maximum 100) on the index, which came out in October. Mayor-elect Quinton Lucas is also an LGBTQ ally.
Both the City of Kansas City, Mo., and Jackson County, Mo., have long-established nondiscrimination ordinances with regard to LGBT persons. Some other cities in the metro have passed such ordinances, but many people remain unprotected. Neither Missouri nor Kansas has passed state-level LGBT nondiscrimination laws.
VisitKC, the city’s tourism bureau, published a self-guided tour to the Queer Eye guys’ favorite spots in the city (visitkc.com/queer-eye-in-kc). Seasons 3 and 4 of the TV series are both based in Kansas City.