Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

White-Collar Coming-Out: Being out in Corporate America Has Meant Success for Some Gays and Lesbians. Most Wish Others Weren't So Closeted

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

White-Collar Coming-Out: Being out in Corporate America Has Meant Success for Some Gays and Lesbians. Most Wish Others Weren't So Closeted

Article excerpt

Shelley Freeman

Executive vice president and regional president, Wells Fargo Age: 45 Residence: Los Angeles Hometown: Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Relationship status: Partnered with Joni Rim, 13 years

Shelley Freeman's father had three pieces of advice for his daughter before she ever set toot in the corporate world: Be nice to everyone. Arrive before your boss and leave after he or she is gone. When someone resigns, volunteer to fill their job duties.

Freeman heeded those words of wisdom before striking out on her own. After graduating from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, she worked briefly as a copywriter at the publisher Harper and Row (now Harper-Collins) before starting as an operations assistant at the now-defunct E.F. Hutton. A couple decades later, she's executive vice president and Los Angeles metropolitan regional president at Wells Fargo, the fourth largest U.S. bank.

For Freeman, who came out in her early 20s, openness and honesty about her sexual identity are fundamental. "It's a terrible thing to feel like you have to check a part of who you are at the door every day when you come to work," she says. "Part of what makes my work experience so satisfying is that I can be myself and that l can have honest relationships with other people at work."

Secondly, she says, it sets an example to others too scared to come out for fear it will derail their career. "We do live in a world where there are people who have notions about gays and lesbians that are based on long-held biases," she says. "I think that when people who are held in high esteem come out it changes the way some people think about us, and changing even one mind is worth it."

Freeman says her sexual identity is just one of her many facets. "I'm also a woman, Caucasian, Jewish, and a Democrat," she says. "All of these dimensions mid others as well, I'm sure, contribute to who I am and my beliefs and my values. My corporate identity--and my identity in general--comes from these places. I do have a sense of what it feels like to 'not belong,' and I think it has perhaps made me more open and inclusive, so that others don't have to have that feeling."

An active community leader, Freeman is a hoard member of Los Angeles organizations Jewish Home for the Aging, Center Theatre Group, Jewish Family Service, and AIDS Project Los Angeles. Her partner, Joni Rim, is retired and dabbles in real estate. Freeman and Rim have no plans for children, but they have two labradoodles, Maggie Mae and Gypsy Rose Lee.

Freeman counts herself fortunate at Wells Fargo. "It's really about how it feels every day to be a gay person here, and it feels perfect," she says. "Even back when Wells relocated us to San Francisco, they relocated 'us,' not 'me.' You can go back more than 20 years and find that Wells Fargo--way before it was cool or even OK--was providing significant philanthropic support to the gay, lesbian, and HIV/AIDS communities."--Dan Allen

Pablo de Echevarria

Senior vice president of marketing, Perry Ellis International Age: 44 Residence: Miami Beach, Fla. Hometown: Oviedo, Spain Relationship status: Partnered with Joel Magnani, 21 years

Pablo de Echevarria speaks excitedly about a recent Perry Ellis promotion in which the fashion company brought in stars from Showtime's Queer as Folk to tour department stores. He was astounded at the diverse audience standing in line for the event. "It was mostly straight people coming who were really into it," says De Echevarria, the company's 44-year old vice president of marketing. "Those people were sleeping outside waiting to meet Brian. I thought that was really great."

De Echevarria breezed through the University of Denver in just over three years and was about to start in Harvard University's MBA program when his father asked him to return to Spain and help run the automotive parts division of the family business. "I hated it," De Echevarria says with a laugh. …

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