Emphasizing Their Own: Minnesota National Guard LGBTQ Special Emphasis Council

When diversity and inclusion is at the heart of an organization’s values, there will usually be the presence of an employee resource group or affinity group, especially in corporate America. The Minnesota National Guard being a military organization is no different. They face the same diversity and inclusion issues and have the same people groups that desire safe and welcoming spaces to connect with others like them. 

At the Minnesota National Guard they’re called Special Emphasis Councils, and they have eight. The African American Heritage council; American Indian/Native American Heritage council; Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage council; Disability Employment Awareness council; Hispanic and Latino American Heritage council; Holocaust Remembrance Day/ Days of Remembrance council; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender council; and Women’s council.

According to the annual report, these councils work to promote leadership development and inclusion within the organization. Their goal is to increase mentorships, build personal relationships to strengthen retention, expand awareness further into all ranks, increase participation, and ensure all feel welcome and proud to be part of the force.

Major Corey Robinson is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the Minnesota National Guard. He says, “We need to get under-represented groups and get some flames behind them, get them going, get them out there, and start to recognize that they are a big part of our existence.”

Each council has an advisory group that meets monthly and is responsible for hosting monthly events. Many of them provide regular newsletters and they each host at least one larger scale “anchor” event every year. 

For the LGBT Special Emphasis Council, they are taking part in the Twin Cities Pride festival and hosting a well attended panel with LGBTQ guard memeber speakers, sharing their stories and answering questions to help better understand things that the organization could do to facilitate better diversity and inclusion. For the Holocaust Remembrance Day/ Days of Remembrance council its taking a group to tour the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

The Special Emphasis Councils have done, and continue to do a great deal in changing the culture and affecting change. The Women’s Council holds a Women’s Leadership Forum that started as 30 women gathering to discuss leadership tactics and support each other. It’s turned into a 600 plus event with male and female attendees. Major Robinson works diligently to keep the “non-believers” attitudes in check who say, “if you drop women from the title you get more men.” To which Major Robinsin replies, “We’re at a 60% women 40% men ratio. We don’t need you there with that idea.”

Participation in the councils is on the rise but that wasn’t always the case. Major Robinson says, “People were nervous that they would get scolded by their supervisors,” but they shut that down right away. 

Each Special Emphasis Council has an Executive Champion, a senior leader who supports the group’s advisor. General Dan Gabrielli is the Executive Champion for LGBTQ Special Emphasis Council. The Executive Champion’s presence makes it very clear that participation is allowed and encouraged, he says, “When there’s a general officer involved who’s enthusiastic, that breaks into that cynicism, they’re buying into themselves. Setting a culture is important when you’re a senior leader.” Major Robinson adds, “ the lower ranking, they see these generals who are involved and actively participating and they know that this is cool for me to go ahead and get involved.”

Combined with a campaign to spread the word throughout the organization about the councils, participation is as high as it’s ever been.  New members are getting connected and involved right away. They are able to find mentors who have had similar experiences. Major Robinson says that those who participate in the councils have,  “a strong backing. If there’s someplace you need to go to speak to somebody and you don’t really want to talk to the people that you work with, you’ve got your group.”  The councils have created a space for building relationships where members can meet to get advice or counseling from one another. Major Robinson says, “It’s not only a great social aspect but a personal one too. They become pretty close.”

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