Brian Richardson sat down with dot429 to discuss being gay at Google.
Richardson is a Communications Policy Manager for Privacy at Google. He also serves on the Gayglers Steering Committee (Gayglers is what LGBT Googlers call themselves) and on the board of GSA Network.
Richardson received his MBA from Berkeley, where he ran the LGBT group on campus and helped organize Reaching Out, the international LGBT MBA conference. Prior to working at Google, Richardson worked at Equality California, the Democratic National Committee, on Capitol Hill, and as a high school teacher in New Orleans with Teach for America. A native of Alabama, Richardson received his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago.
Q: What is it like to be gay at Google? What is the general attitude towards LGBT people at Google?
It’s been my first experience working in the private sector. Before Google, I worked in progressive politics and nonprofit. I came from areas where it’s very easy to be openly gay.
Google has been just as welcoming and affirming, if not more so, than all these other places I worked for. Not only is being gay not an issue at work, but they actually celebrate LGBT employees, LGBT culture, and it’s part of the entire fabric that makes Google such a cool place. A recent example would be the It Gets Better Project, the Gayglers decided to make their own video.
It’s so great that it’s a place where you can do that. We have an in-house studio that does videos for products, and they were more than happy to make room, sit down and help edit the video. As a result, we’ve had, last I checked, about 300,000 hits on YouTube. It’s pretty impressive. And as a result, other companies have started to make their own It Gets Better videos.
So yes, being gay is affirming, is part of the culture and fabric of Google, and is something even the straight employees take seriously.
Q: Was it a long process to convince Google to do an It Gets Better video?
No. Google doesn’t work like that. There’s no formal process, necessarily.
I wasn’t involved in the making of the video, but I am on the PR team. I don’t think there was any sort of approval process. It’s like, here are people at Google who want to make a video, go and make it. Google is one of those places where you really define what you want to do, define your role, define where you want to make a difference.
This is what the Gayglers wanted to do, so there was no question.
Q: What do the Gayglers do in offices outside of the San Francisco area?
We have a large office in Tokyo, but a small openly gay contingent. This past year, the gay contingent of Google in Tokyo wanted to march as Gayglers in the Tokyo Pride Parade. Never in the history of Tokyo Pride, to my knowledge, has a company actually sponsored the parade.
We wanted to, so they reached out to folks in Mountain View asking, “How do we do this? Where do we get the money for it? How much support can you give us?”
And people at headquarters, New York, and around the world rallied to support. We found the money in the budget to participate, we shipped them a number of our gay T-shirts to wear, and some of our straight employees to provide support. As a result, it was the first time any company ever sponsored the Gay Pride event in Tokyo, and I think that’s pretty rad to be able to do something like that.
Q: How do you think Google compares with other tech companies, like Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, in terms of how it addresses LGBT issues?
I can’t speak for other tech companies because I’ve never worked there, but what I can say is that Google has taken a conscious effort to be a leader on LGBT issues in the community and around the world. Google was one of three companies, after Prop 8 passed, to sign an amicus curiae brief to the court effort to overturn Prop 8 at the state level.
The other two companies being H5, which is a local technology company, and Levi Strauss.
Google has always believed strongly in not only equality at work, but also equality in the community. I hope other companies are following that lead.
I think another good example is that married and partnered gay couples are not privy to the marriage tax benefit that straight couples are privy to. A very small number of companies, among them Google, Kimpton Hotels, Cisco, and maybe two or three other companies, have since made a stand to where the company will actually augment your salary to cover for the marriage penalty.
I think one of Google’s goals is to not only do right by gay employees and gay customers, but also serve as an example for other companies to follow, whether it’s Prop 8, tax benefits, or Pride in Tokyo.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for how people who don’t have an LGBT organization in their companies could go about starting something within the company?
The first thing, I would say, is to reach other people at companies that do have successful employer resource groups and friendly management, and can work with management on these issues. I would say reach out to Google.
Feel free to email me or anyone else at Google and find out what we can offer you, because we actually work closely with people at other companies. For me it’s important to find a company where I am comfortable being myself, and that includes being open about my sexuality and my values for LGBT equality. Google has been a great place for that.
Q: Now everyone has this idea that Google does fun, crazy things. Do the Gayglers participate in fun, over-the-top activities?
otally. One of the cool things was for Pride this year, we made our own T-shirts, which was the Android logo.
It’s actually two Androids holding hands, with one waving a gay flag. Two days before Pride, we had a celebration on the main campus for Pride, where we invited the entire Google family out. We had a game show, drinks, food, balloons, big rainbow flags everywhere, and we decided to hand out the T-shirts this year to anyone who wanted one. The T-shirts were gone within ten minutes.
We had ordered significantly more than we had before. The T-shirts were so cute, so much fun, and we ran out before anyone who was going to the Pride Parade that weekend had a chance to get them.
If you walk into the store at Google, there are about twenty Google T-shirts, with the name Google, but Doodle—we call them Doodle, on the days when you have something special above the search bar—some of the most famous Doodles are there, but one of those twenty T-shirts for sale is the Gay Pride T-shirt.
Q: Facebook recently started taking off anti-gay remarks and formed a partnership with GLAAD. Is Google planning to do any filtering of anti-gay websites? Do you think it’s something people are pushing for at Google?
Well, we can’t filter anti-gay websites because we don’t own the websites, and the search results are indicative of what is online. We don’t own that content, whereas Facebook owns their content.
However, YouTube, which is part of Google, issues takedowns when videos go against our community standards. Among the community standards are videos that incite people to violence, that are defamatory or derogatory, or include anti-gay bullying. That has been a long-standing tradition at YouTube that continues to this day.
Q: Is there anything you think Google could do to help the LGBT agenda?
I can’t think of anything offhand. When issues come up, whether it’s the tax penalty for LGBT couples, Prop 8 here in California, or anti-gay bullying across the country, whenever the Gayglers have reached out, the company has always stepped up. So is there something more the company can do? Right now, I don’t know what that would be.
I have a feeling there will be something else coming down the road that we will need the company to step up for, but I have full faith that Google will stand by our side.
Brian regrets not helping to make the video below, but is so proud to work at a place this cool.
"It Gets Better" featuring Google employees: