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Monday, June 18, 2007

Talking Gayglers with Google’s Bennet Marks
By Ludwik Trammer

“Googler” is what Google employees call themselves, and most people interested in Google heard about “gayglers” (gay googlers) as another funky Google name, along with nooglers (new googlers) or looglers (googlers from legal department). Through instant messenger we talked with Google’s Bennet Marks, gaygler himself, to find out more.


Could you first tell us who are you and what are you doing at Google?

I’ve been a tech writer at Google for about three years. Previoulsy I was a software engineer at Apple, where I started the LGBT group (Apple Lambda).

Oh, interesting. And are gayglers also an organized group? The word basically means just “gay googlers”, but we know about meetings, official t-shirts, Google banners on the gay pride parades. Someone even spotted a poster for an internal “Ask A Gaygler” website in Google Tel Aviv Office. To what extend are gayglers a formal group?

We have a mailing list (actually, several, for different locations) and a steering committee. Most of what the group does originates in the steering committee. Wes Thierry has done all the arranging (a lot of work!) for SF Pride this year, but he passed every decision through the Steering Committee. Other people have been working on NY, Dublin, and Madrid Pride

How did you choose people for this comittee?

Whatever people’s personal opinions about gay rights, they know that respecting their colleagues is the googley thing to do

Any Gaygler can join. There’s a steering committee mailing list, and meetings. We don’t really have elections or officers, although I’m the semi-official “coordinator.”

What is your main aim?

Everyone would probably have a slightly different answer. But I think the main idea is to ensure that Goolge is a place where all employees, including gay ones, feel safe, respected, and included. And also to make sure that prospective employees know that, so they’ll be even more eager to come to work for us. Also to have fun – we have lunches, the Parade, other events – these are both useful for our goals and a real googley pleasure.

What are main activities organized by a group? Do you mostly just hang out together and have fun or maybe usually you prepare some actions?

Pride is probably the biggest activity of the year – it takes a lot of preparation. We’ve also had speakers, with authors@google, and sponsored a photography exhibit (Love Makes A Family). Some Gaygler events are just for Gayglers to get together and get to know each other, but we also need and have events to educate the whole company on issues of importance to LGBTs.

Does the fact that you feel need to educate your co-workers means that sometimes you are faced with symptoms of homophobia at Google?

Less at Google than at any other company I’ve worked at. But people who are simply unaware of LGBT issues can always benefit from a little education. They can just forget to use inclusive language, for example. The other thing is to make sure that people know that Google is a safe space – so that they can feel free to come out, and know the company will back them in the unlikly event that they run into any bad experiences.

But in such a big company like Google there have to be people with more conservative points of view, who basically don’t like gays. Is there any opposition to gayglers within Google? Do you meet people who don’t like that this group is so active in Google?

I have run into no people at Google who have objected to the existence of Gayglers (or any of the other employee networking groups). The Google attitude of acceptance and cooperation is very strong in the culture here. It’s emphasized here from the top on down. Whatever people’s personal opinions about gay rights, they know that respecting their colleagues is the googley thing to do.

Are people discussing such issues like gay rights on internal forums, or do people prefer rather not to discuss controversial stuff?

In some ways Google is still a young organization and we are figuring out what’s appropriate

Some controversial issues are discussed on lists for that sort of thing – politics, ethics, etc. Sometimes political issues come up on our misc list, but gay rights haven’t been one of them. The general response has been favorable – my boss is very excited for me when I tell her about some of the cool things going on in Gayglers.

Didn’t you have any problems with getting permission to use Google logo for such events like gay parades?

Last year we ran into the usual brand concerns that come up in all areas. We used the standard Google logo – there were no problems with that. This year – now that we know more people around the company – we worked with the right folks to create a specific Gayglers logo. It’s beautiful! We can get you a copy for your piece if you want. [Edit: I’ll add this to the article when it arrives.]

Most gayglers actions are performed internally. Is it possible in the future that gayglers will do something for an external audience, for example Google’s service for gay audience, similar to Yahoo Gay & lesbian Pride Portal, or educational website?

We’re looking into such things, and figuring out what’s appropriate for Google. In some ways we’re still a young organization. Recently Google bought a table at a fundraiser for Outlet, a local organization for LGBT youth, so we are helping the community.

Do you feel that Google is unique in its treatment of homosexuals and other minorities?

I think Google is an extremely positive place for minorities of all sorts – not just tolerant, but truly accepting. It’s part of our general culture of treating people with respect.


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