Gregory Hawkins, chair of FCAs Gay and Lesbian Alliance, speaks at the Fiat media discussion Sunday while fellow panelists Darrious Hilmon, executive director of Affirmations, and Dave Wait, chair of Motor City Pride, look on. BTL photo: Jason A. Michael

Fiat, Major Sponsor Of Motor City Pride, Hosts Discussion With LGBT Community Leaders

By Jason A. Michael

DETROIT - Representatives of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the Fiat brand joined Detroit-area LGBT leaders Sunday morning to discuss the growth of Motor City Pride and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the LGBT community in the state of Michigan. About 60 people came out for the discussion, which took place just before the start of the Pride parade in the Great Lakes Business Center of the Chrysler House building in downtown Detroit.

"This is a very special day for us," said Michael Palese, manager of corporate communication for FCA, who moderated the event. "The first weekend of June is all about Motor City Pride and we've had it marked on our calendars each year. We put a lot of time and attention working with our employees and our leaders in trying to put forward the best sense of our commitment to the LGBT community and to all diverse communities throughout southeast Michigan. And, really, Motor City Pride represents the best of that."

This year marks the fourth year in a row that FCA has been a part of Motor City Pride. This year the company expanded their sponsorship with an entertainment stage at the festival in Hart Plaza and by being the lead sponsor of the Pride parade.

"For all intents and purposes, as much work as this is, I can tell you being involved in this is a labor of love," said Palese. "This is something that the company really cares about and has cared about for a long time."

Following Palese's remarks, a video message from Jason Stoicevich, vice president of the Fiat brand, was shown.

"The fabric of Detroit's resurgence includes the contributions of a growing LGBT community and we are very pleased to be a part of it," Stoicevich said. "The Fiat brand strives to maintain a special relationship with the LGBT community. We work hard to understand the issues and concerns that you feel and try to make a positive difference."

Panelists for the discussion included Casey Hurbis, head of Fiat brand communication; William Greene, interim executive director for Equality Michigan; Georgette Borrego Dulworth, director of talent acquisition and diversity for FCA; Gregory Hawkins, chair of FCA's Gay and Lesbian Alliance; Darrious Hilmon, executive director of Affirmations; and Dave Wait, chair of Motor City Pride.

After talking about the present and the success of Motor City Pride, Palese changed the topic to the future. The moderator asked whether, with the possibility of marriage equality being granted by the Supreme Court in a matter of days or weeks, full gay rights will have been achieved and the battle been won.

"Unfortunately the state of Michigan lags (behind) many states in its friendliness to the LGBT community," said Greene, pointing out that there are still issues such as hate crimes, employment protection and the threat of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to address. "The fight only begins. It's an evolution and continually, unfortunately, the LGBT community is becoming a pawn in this legislative jockeying and lives are hurt, people are hurt."

Borrego Dulworth said that FCA still has trouble attracting LGBT talent from outside of the state with Michigan's reputation for intolerance being well known.

"While we as a company are doing everything that's right, I think we need the state behind us to be able to support and provide an inclusive environment for these potential employees that will continue to build our city and our state and make it a great place to live, work and play," she said.

For his part, Hilmon said that while gays and lesbians are making great strides, there are still groups under the LGBT umbrella that are struggling.

"One of the commitments that we have made at Affirmations is to the letter T, the transgender community," said Hilmon. "This is not over at the end of June or beginning of July. There are communities within the LGBT community that there is so much work to be done in, just to get caught up to the progress we're making as a whole."


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