Tree stands tall for LGBTQ rights

June 27, 2019 | GET MORE : Life

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The Stonewall Inn bartender continues to advocate for his community 50 years after historic uprising.

In New York City’s Greenwich Village, one longtime bartender has built a family centered around the Stonewall Inn. 

“A lot of kids call me mom,” says Tree (pictured above), speaking at a recent U.S. Bank event. “A couple call me dad or granny. [LGBTQ youth] have always gravitated toward the big cities when there’s nowhere else to go. Who’s going to take care of them?” 

Fifty years ago, Tree was present at the historic Stonewall Inn uprising that marked the tipping point toward LGBTQ rights in the US. He’s told the story countless times – to friends, family and strangers via documentaries, interviews and curious customers. To the latter, his response is now “Google it.” 

Stonewall Inn is located in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood in New York City famous for its prominence in LGBTQ culture and history, as well as in the Beat and Counterculture movements of the 50s and 60s. It’s a place where the residents are unapologetically individual, and each has a story to tell. There’s Danny, a bartender around the corner from Stonewall at Julian’s, who’s passionate about maintaining the history of the Village from the viewpoint of its residents. John, who takes care of his elderly mother and indulges a love of fine art by collecting and creating. Ken, who’s eager to share pictures of his family’s travels and will recommend the best children’s book.  

Tree’s story is peppered with the requisite ups and downs of a life lived against the grain, including working for mafia members and forming friendships with LGBTQ celebrities – which he’ll happily talk about with anyone who asks. As he was growing up, however, namedropping was a societal death sentence. Being outed meant losing a job, losing your home, losing your family – and even being imprisoned. 

“You never asked anybody their last name or what they did for a living,” says Tree. “Being gay was against the law.” The community had safeguards against being found out. Tree recalls a pizza parlor that served as a makeshift dance club. Two of the steps were rigged to turn the lights on when someone was walking up the stairs so the dancers could pause and assess whether the newcomer was there for dancing or pizza, and behave accordingly.

Since the Stonewall uprising, life is much different. Gay marriage is legal. Many states afford protections against discrimination for their LGBTQ residents. And companies are working to create and sustain cultures that encourage employees bring their authentic selves to work. 

For all the support, the result can feel inauthentic. “When companies get involved in Pride, they need to do it in a way that feels authentic and supports the communities they’re trying to serve,” says U.S. Bank Global Industrials & Services Vice President Andrew Armour, who hosted the event with Tree. 

That’s why U.S. Bank’s efforts are driven strongly by input directly from LGBTQ employees, including LGBTQ segment strategy lead Ann Dyste

“Getting feedback and perspective from employees who are part of the LGBTQ community is essential to our success,” says Dyste. “A cornerstone of my work is ensuring we’re actively supporting the community all year – not just dropping in for Pride. Our strategy works because employees and consumers know we’re walking the talk.”  

“We actively support the LGBTQ community during Pride month by walking in parades and with a marketing campaign – but also year-round, with our LGBTQ flagship branches in the Castro district, West Hollywood and Capitol Hill,” says Kevin Tran, marketing specialist at U.S. Bank. “Not only do we support the community, but we support those who are part of the community in our own workplace. Of all the professional environments in which I’ve worked, U.S. Bank is the first place I was able to feel comfortable in my own skin and meet others like me through networking and the Spectrum LGBTQ business resource group (BRG).”

By supporting LGBTQ employees, U.S. Bank efforts are lifting those with intersectional identities as well as modeling how to authentically reach and support other communities. 

“As one group gets more rights and becomes more visible, it helps bring along other groups that are diverse in some way,” says Todd Ackerman, Executive Vice President, Head of Global Compliance and Spectrum BRG Board representative. “The LGBTQ community is one of those horizontal groups, in that we encompass many other kinds of diversity within our overall umbrella.” 

And in Greenwich Village, “granny” has seen that firsthand.

“The gay community is a family,” Tree agrees. “We don’t care who you are – we’re the biggest family in the world that sticks together. And with allies, we’re an even bigger family.” 

Written by Arielle Goldberg of U.S. Bank. To learn more about U.S. Bank’s Pride activities, visit usbank.com/pride. To learn about our year-round support of the LGBTQ community, visit usbank.com/lgbt