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Making Blue Cross Equally Blue for the LGBTQ+ Community

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the corporate environment has always seemed to be a bit of a challenge. One of my biggest concerns, naturally, was the fear of rejection and a lack of acceptance as I started my internship at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Growing up in a more religious household, I didn’t know what to expect in a traditional, corporate space.

While my experience at Blue Cross so far has been excellent, I did not have much prior knowledge about groups available for those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. However, at the Motor City Pride event this past month, I came across Blue Cross’ Equally Blue table and was excited to see the company had such an inclusive space for those in the community.

Equally Blue, a Blue Cross employee resource network (ERN), began in 2011 when the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community were much different than today. With approximately 15-30 members, the group worked alongside Blue Cross’ HR team to help advance the company’s LGBTQ+ policies.

Kim Zaugg, rating and underwriting consultant and co-chair of Equally Blue, discussed how the program is focused on three pillars: education, support and health care disparities. Though marriage equality was established in 2015, Zaugg emphasized the many things left to be done for the community.

Geoff Yaros, business consultant at Blue Cross, said, “[Equally Blue] provides visibility and shows we are a safe space. You can come to work here and be yourself. If you exclude that community, we are missing the certain talents that provide a competitive edge.”

In recent years, the shift has increased towards helping fellow employees understand how to become stronger allies, shaping how transgender individuals should be recognized in health care and making sure the Blue Cross community is educated on LGBTQ+ issues. Now, with over 200 members, the ERN is making progress to address the disparities individuals still face in the broader health care industry.

“The focus of the work Equally Blue has done over the years has changed over time, it’s about educating others on not just LGBT issues, but reminding people we are all just human beings. If they see that you are just a regular [person] who wants to work and take care of your partner, it helps normalize it,” said Kurt Prettenhofer, manager of hospital contracts and MAPPO Network Management at Blue Cross, who has been around the program since its inception.

In addition to its recent participation in the Motor City, Ferndale and Grand Rapids pride events in June, Equally Blue also worked with Blue Cross’ Office of Diversity and Inclusion on promoting National Pride Month and National Coming Out Day. To broaden reach and educational efforts, company interns have also teamed up with a local non-profit to reduce health care disparities in the LGBTQ+ community. Equally Blue will work to implement the resulting recommendations.

I am invested in witnessing firsthand how the corporate environment can simultaneously grow alongside the LGBTQ+ community in terms of acceptance and assistance. It’s refreshing to take part in the many opportunities Blue Cross provides its employees to get involved, whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or an ally.

Ryan is a communications intern at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Photo Credit: Stock Catalog

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