|By Patricia Daddona, The Day, New London,
Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 27, 2010--Lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered people not only represent an important market for Foxwoods Resort Casino and the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, they represent a minority among employees who deserve progressive civil rights.
That's the message the casinos chose to issue publicly Thursday at a press conference at the Shrine Asian Kitchen, Lounge and Nightclub in conjunction with the Connecticut Alliance for Business Opportunities, a New Haven-based LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
"Foxwoods has truly emerged as an LGBT ally," said Dena Castricone, CABO's president and founder.
CABO and casino officials jointly announced the enactment of newly expanded human-resources and procurement policies at the casinos that formally recognize and protect the rights of LGBT employees.
Foxwoods and MGM Grand have made policy changes to provide equal employment opportunities for their LGBT workers. They also are providing same-sex medical benefits, and four couples are now taking advantage of them, said Steve Heise, vice president of human resources for the two casinos.
In addition, the Foxwoods Procurement Minority Vendor Program has added LGBT to the list of potential minority-owned business partners to ensure there is equal business representation, he said. Ongoing educational programs at the casinos also cover sensitivity training, diversity and sexual harassment, he added.
The two casinos employ more than 9,000 people, but Heise could not estimate how many may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. It's not something the casinos track, he said.
Singer and actress Debbie Gibson, who said she is straight but has a large gay following, joined casino officials in endorsing the casinos' public embrace of the gay community as an "important breakthrough." She is currently appearing at the casinos in "Cirque Dreams."
"I was so thrilled all of this was happening while I was performing, because I've always felt a kinship with the LGBT community," she said. "Obviously, it gives people a voice and dignity at a place that is so steeped in history and tradition."
Heise, who worked in the past at Disney, acknowledged that attracting the lucrative LGBT market is a part of the casinos' strategy, just as it was at Disney. He noted, however, that the casino owners, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, have made the changes in policy to add legitimacy and power to their convictions.
"Some companies will just throw an ad in a gay or lesbian magazine, but that's not the same as walking the walk," Heise said.
Lori Potter, a spokeswoman for Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprises, added that the tribe knows what it's like to be in the minority. She herself is a straight but emphathetic tribal member, she said after the press conference.
"Our Pequot culture has endured a lot of discrimination over the centuries so we understand the importance of being able to embrace all the freedoms" Americans treasure, she said.
Normand Houle, a single gay man who has worked in uniform operations at Foxwoods for four years, said it was important to him to attend the press conference, since he helped create an LGBT booth for a diversity fair last year.
"It means I'm equal to everybody around me," he said of the new policies. "It's very important. It shows the employer does care and you do have equal rights."
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Copyright (c) 2010, The Day, New London, Conn.
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