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"I love my job": the opportunity to succeed as openly gay and lesbian professionals gives these men and women high regard for their employers.

Rick Cirillo, 56

Manager of military and government sales

American Airlines

Dallas

Rick Cirillo hadn't really considered his role in the rise of mainstream gay and lesbian marketing until a recent conversation with some friends at a prominent advertising consulting firm in Washington, D.C. "I was telling them how much we've accomplished since the early '90s," Cirillo says. "And they said, 'Well, Rick, you helped start it all.'"

It was a different world in 1992, when Cirillo first conceived of creating a director of gay and lesbian marketing position at American Airlines, a job he would go on to hold for more than a decade. He founded the Rainbow Team and began to build a positive relationship between the airline and the gay market. No major U.S. corporation had ever so boldly courted gay and lesbian consumers, he says. The time was right. American Airlines was looking for public-relations redemption following widespread outcry over the "pillows and blankets" scandal, in which airline workers reportedly changed all the bedding on a flight that carried HIV-positive passengers.

Cirillo started by getting the airline involved with gay groups around the nation. In a short time the corporate logo was attached to dozens of gay events. "We did almost all of it without advertising," Cirillo says. "I would be at [business] conferences and ask, 'How many of you have seen our ads in gay publications?' and 70% would say they had. But we hadn't had any [ads in gay magazines]. So those sponsorships really had a huge impact." Annual ticket sales to gay and lesbian clients gradually rose from an estimated $20 million to $300 million. In light of that success, Cirillo was promoted six months ago to direct American's massive government and military sales division.

Cirillo takes pride in his accomplishments at American and in the company's commitment to diversity. Additionally, the travel discounts for him and his partner of five years, Curtis Southworth, make it easy to love his job. A sell-described travel addict, Cirillo makes frequent trips abroad with Southworth, an environmental service director for a hospital in Dallas, where the two men share a home. "I've been to many places, but Italy is close to my heart, being Italian and all," he says. Cirillo also runs a catering company in Dallas and hopes to continue doing so when he retires from the airline. --Mike Hudson

Marge Connelly, 42

Executive vice president of operations

Capital One Bank

Richmond, Va.

How does an openly lesbian political science major end up as an executive for one of the nation's largest credit card companies? She goes to school in Delaware. "I graduated from the University of Delaware at about the same time the state of Delaware and the credit card industry were becoming good friends," says Marge Connelly, executive vice president of operations for Capital One in Virginia. "It was kind of by accident, but the jobs were available, and, as it turned out, I loved the industry because of the interaction you get with customers."

From humble customer service rep to senior executive, Connelly surfed a wave of continual success at one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation. As the person in charge of credit card business operations, a division responsible for $71 billion in loans to some 47 million clients, Connelly's job is to keep consumers happy with the company. "We look at all ways that we can better take care of our customer," she says. One such improvement was implementing a massive computer system that streamlined the often-arduous service process.

But it's her ability to he out at work that really makes her love her job, she says. Her presence as a powerful corporate leader who is openly lesbian has had an impact on the company. Connelly, who lives in Richmond, Va., with her partner of nine years, Julie Christopher, helped to get her company to offer domestic-partner benefits and has lent her voice to numerous discussions on diversity. "The corporate culture here is characterized first and foremost by respect," she says. Specifically, she cites a family leave policy that allows employees to take personal days to care for family members--without regard to a specific definition of family. "That's important because some people might not define family the sane way," she says.--M.H.

Gary W. Marr, 46

Senior director of catering

Hyatt Regency Chicago

Chicago

From intimate cocktail receptions to grand feasts for thousands, Gary Marr sees the world as a series of special occasions. "Everyone has their dream of what they want, and it's up to me to deliver that," Marr says. "That's a lot of pressure, but it also means that my job entails shopping for a living--with other people's money."

Whether it's mammoth ice sculptures or live eagles soaring across ballrooms, Marr has seen it all during his many years in the catering business. And he puts that experience to good use every day as the head of Hyatt's largest catering operation, an essential component of the company's flagship Chicago hotel and eight other Hyatt hotels across the Midwest. Situated just south of the Chicago River, the 36-story Hyatt Regency is (Chicago's largest hotel, with 2,015 rooms and 225,000 square feet of meeting and convention space.

Each day the hotel hosts dozens of events, large and small, serving anywhere from a handful of guests up to 14,000. Each event has a setup plan and a need for perfect execution. Add to that hundreds of events at the other Midwestern Hyatt Regency locations, and you start to get a sense of the daily pressure Marr is under. But he doesn't mind. "It's a dream," he says.

Marr is proud to work for a company so committed to promoting diversity within its ranks and among its clientele. When the International Mr. Leather contest was looking for a host venue in Chicago, Hyatt and Marr were able to provide a location as a matter of course. "Because of [attitudes toward] the nature of IML, they don't "always anticipate the best treatment," Marr says. "I like working for this company because the answer we gave was that we don't discriminate against any group or person. And they thanked us for that welcome."

Marr, who lives in Chicago with his partner of 15 years, Mark Allen, also serves as Hyatt's diversity officer, and he successfully worked to get domestic-partner benefits for company employees. "I've gotten the point across to our leadership why it is so important to get Hyatt's commitment to diversity out there," Marr says. "If you've got a kid who's trying to figure out his sexuality and he sees a name like Hyatt supporting gays and lesbians, maybe that will give him or her more confidence and maybe save their life."

In his spare time Marr also works with several gay and lesbian community groups in Chicago, where he mentors gay youth.--M.H.

Shelly Alpern, 39

Director of social research and advocacy

Trillium Asset Management Corporation

Boston

This investment analyst is looking for stellar financial performance--and equality. At Trillium Asset Management Corporation in Boston, Shelley Alpern enjoys setting up investment opportunities with companies that not only perform well in the stock market but work to protect the environment and the rights of their employees. "We invest across pretty much all industry sectors," she says. "We'll find who's making the best efforts to work in that industry in a responsible way."

Trillium is the oldest and largest "responsible" investment firm in the nation, with $750 million in managed assets. It promotes social responsibility in corporations by tying the investment dollars of high-net-worth individuals to good corporate citizenship, one solid tenet of which is the promotion of gay and lesbian rights in the workplace. Alpern says her firm has convinced nearly 50 other companies to implement nondiscrimination policies.

Making a positive impact on corporate America is what Trillium is all about, and that's why it's easy for Alpern to say she loves her job. "We often do really make a difference, so it's very rewarding," she says. "Corporate America needs to be nudged all the time to devote more resources to look at how they are impacting society."

Alpern's career began in the nonprofit advocacy field, where she "frittered away" her 20s fighting for various causes, most notably the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

When she entered a graduate program in public policy at the University of Texas, she also landed an internship at Trillium. Her business acumen, combined with her experience in the nonprofit sector, helped her rise through the ranks to research analyst and, eventually, to her current senior management position.

Alpern and her partner of 18 months, Marjorie Kelly, editor of Business Ethics magazine, are looking to move in together in a home north of Boston. In her spare time she enjoys participating in "sports that take little or no talent."--M.H.

William M. Hohengarten, 43

Partner, Jenner & Block

Washington, D.C.

When the groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas came down last summer, some of the lawyers who had spent years fighting to get antisodomy laws overturned cried tears of joy. William Hohengarten was one of them.

An attorney with the highly respected firm of Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C., Hohengarten wrote the arguments for John Lawrence's appeal to overturn Texas's anti-gay-sex law. "We waited at the Supreme Court for three days for that decision to be announced, and by the time it came it was overwhelming," he says. "We knew we had a good chance to win, but you can't be too confident."

It was a crowning moment in an exceptional career for Hohengarten, a graduate of Yale Law School and a Fulbright scholar who also holds multiple degrees in philosophy. From his academic achievements to his clerkships with the U.S. federal court of appeals and Supreme Court justice David Souter, it was apparent that he was bound for success. But even he wouldn't have guessed he would be part of such a historic event this early in his career.

Jenner & Block allowed Hohengarten and a team of lawyers to take on the case pro bono for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in May 2002, and they made the most of the opportunity. Over the course of a year, the team put together mountains of legal briefs to support the argument that Texas had no right to control the private sexual conduct of its citizens.

In March 2003 the case was argued before the court, and on June 26, 2003, the winning decision was handed down. "It was a powerful, affirming opinion," Hohengarten says. "It was an emotional and exhausting experience, but it was the high point of my professional life."

While many analysts hold that the Lawrence decision sets the stage for judicial action on the same-sex marriage front, Hohengarten says it may be years before the right case comes along to argue that issue before the Supreme Court. But he'll be ready. "We're continuing to look for the right case to try, but that case could be several years away, even a decade or more," he says. "The focus is now on state constitutions. The big issue for the Supreme Court would be whether states need to recognize [marriages lawfully performed in other states]."

Hohengarten--who lives in Washington, D.C., with his partner of 20 years, architect David Knudson--says his firm's dedication to gay rights makes it easy to love his job.--M.H.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Careers
Author:Hudson, Mike
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 11, 2004
Words:1917
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