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“It will shape my opinion of SAP more than 1,000 briefings.”
Adrian Bowles, Industry Analyst, in a tweet from @jbowles on SAP’s “It Gets Better” film.


The implications of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) vary greatly around the world. In some places, the best places, being LGBT means – well – nothing: LGBT people are afforded the same legal rights and civil sanction as anyone else. In other places (and there’s more of them than you might think) being the way you were born to be is punishable by life in prison, or death.

I live in the first kind of place, and boy am I glad. I’m not gay; I don’t lean left; and much of what my contemporaries praise as progressive is, to me, just plain weird. Adjusted for the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m pretty much Newt Gingrich. Yet nothing delighted me more than when, in the fourth grade, one of my daughter’s born-male schoolmates started living (and attending school) as a girl. How cool is that? The kid has parents willing to step outside the bounds, and the local public-school backed their play. The best part is what happened when little Johnny turned up in a dress – nothing. There was a bit of nervous giggling in her immediate proximity for the first week or two, but before long Johnny was Jane and that was that. It was such a non-event to my 10 year old that she didn’t mention it for a month.

Is this child transgender? Is “she” gay? At that age, who knows? Stepping into a female role might be the realization of the kid’s true nature; it could also be ‘just a phase.’ That’s not the point. The matter here is that, whoever this kid is – straight, gay, transsexual lesbian and opera-lover – he or she has the right to be it, without repercussion, prejudice, or shame. In this case, we as a society effect the ideal: being true to oneself is not a political issue, a social quandary, or a pathology; it’s a basic and presumed human right.

I reflect on this today because SAP, where I work, announced it has extended the reach of its “It Gets Better” film by releasing translations in nine languages: Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and closed captions in English for the hearing impaired. (To access the translations, click the “cc” button on the YouTube video player.)

Back in June, I had the pleasure of reporting on the SAP contribution to the It Gets Better project founded in 2010 by Dan Savage, author of “Savage Love,” to help prevent suicide among lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.  It features a collection of more than 50,000 videos, SAP’s among them, made by people of all ages and walks of life, celebrities, politicians (among them U.S. President Barack Obama) and corporations. The films, collectively viewed more than 50 million times, encourage young people to reach and get help if they are experiencing bullying and rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

SAP’s film was, in a word, special. It featured SAP’s co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe, a cast of many ‘out’ executives, and Steve Fehr, an SAP employee who lost his son Jeffrey to suicide after years of anti-gay bullying. It resonated with many, many people, prompting this effort “to share the film with more people who need to hear it,” says SAP’s Moya Watson, coordinator of the grassroots project.

Her comment got me thinking: Among those people are many who live in places a far cry from my town –  places where being different can mean, whether court commanded or self-imposed, a death sentence. And those places, as was the case with Jeffrey Fehr – who lived and died just 100 miles away in suburban Sacramento – aren’t necessarily all that far away.

I did not know Jeffrey, but I wanted to take the opportunity to honor his memory by reflecting on the progress we’ve made in some places, making the case that it’s way past time for this betterment to spread everywhere, and urging you to take 12 minutes and watch this film. Watch it in English. Watch it in French. Send the link to someone in Russia. Keep watching until we all speak the language of change. 

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  1. Greg Chase

    Jennifer,

    It’s awesome that SAP can put its global resources to work to help translate this incredible video.

    SAP is the second largest software company in the world to put out an It Get’s Better Video under its brand. Microsoft has one one with just a couple of employees. IBM and Oracle, while I acknowledge them as generally being supportive of gay employees, has not put out such a video.

    I also do not know of any other large company  that has released an It Get’s Better Video that includes their CEO taking a stand against youth bullying.

    This work is also having a ripple effect. We have been approached by SAP customers wanting to help them release their own videos.

    I’m very proud of Moya Watson , SAP, and the work of Pride @ SAP, SAP’s Palo Alto chapter of our Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender employee group.

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  2. Moya Watson

    Thank you Jennifer Lankheim for once again spreading the word, and thank you Greg Chase for the shout-out.

    You’re so right Jennifer that sometimes the intolerance is in our own backyard.  While you point out that we’re lucky to live in a place where we enjoy rights, this part isn’t actually quite true even in the US:

    > LGBT people are afforded the same legal rights and civil sanction as anyone else.

    There are only a precious handful of countries that offer full equality including marriage and adoption rights  — among those, Canada, South Africa, Iceland, our Scandinavian friends, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands.  Note that Germany and the US are not on this list, contrary to popular opinion amongst my German friends.

    What could this mean, tangibly, for me at work and people like me and my family? From an internal blog I circulated:

    • In 29 of 50 U.S. states, it is legal to terminate an employee for
      being lesbian, gay or bisexual.
      Pennsylvania, where the headquarters of
      SAP America are located, is one of those states. (Such terminations would be contrary to SAP’s policy, but there is no formal legal state-wide protection).
    • In 38 of 50 U.S. states, it is legal to terminate an employee for
      being transgendered.
      In various other countries around the world,
      same-*** behavior is punished to various degrees – including, in seven
      countries, with the death penalty.
    • At least one in three lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT)
      employees are not open about their lives at work
      – at great personal
      cost, and at great cost to their productivity in the workplace. (See http://www.advocate.com/news/daily-news/2011/07/26/report-1-3-employees-closeted-work.)
    • Since same-*** marriage is federally illegal in the USA, your gay
      coworkers in the US who meet and fall in love with someone while working in a foreign office are out of luck;
      they will not be able to legally live
      together in the USA unless the foreign partner finds a different way to get his
      or her citizenship sponsored. (For an overview of over 1,000 federal benefits
      denied to same-*** couples, see http://www.thetaskforce.org/reports_and_research/GAO_benefits.)
    • Although I married my wife in California when this was possible in
      2008, the Internal Revenue Service does not recognize our marriage, and
      therefore the health insurance benefits that my wife receives, through SAP, are considered taxable income.

    Don’t get me wrong : I appreciate every day my supportive workplace, my colleagues, my evolving country.  Please continue to share this message far and wide for those less fortunate.  thank you. thank you again.

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  3. Marilyn Pratt

    The map you share about the countries “more of them than you might think” is extremely sobering.  We take some liberties for granted, I dare say. 

    I know that I must write a piece brewing in me about Bullying.  It isn’t limited to youth or LGBT folks and it can be found insidiously in many environments, including this one.

    Thanks for the action call of speaking the language of change.  In a company that deals in the currency of change, we can and should be leading that behavior.

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    1. Moya Watson

      As for change, we talk often about culture change needed to stand up against bullying – online or otherwise, and perhaps we should teach our children as part of the earliest curricula.

      But as a technology company I believe we are responsible for technology change as well.  This is what I’ll be trying to grapple with next week at TechEd in this session:

      http://www2.sapevents.com/SAP/TechEd2012/index.cfm?fuseaction=agenda.sessionCatalog&sid=13274_27469

      Hope to see anyone interested in these topics there.

      thank you

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