The Fox Pride LGBT-Straight Alliance hosted an executive panel discussion during Pride Month at the Zanuck Theatre on the Fox lot in Los Angeles last week. The panel, co-hosted by Fox Inclusion, was moderated by Russell Wetanson, VP, Labor Counsel; and featured James Fielding, President, Consumer Products and Innovation, 20th Century Fox; Stephanie Gibbons, President, Creative, Strategy and Digital, Multi-Platform Marketing, FX Networks; and Ted Gagliano, President, Feature Post-Production, 20th Century Fox. During the hour, James, Stephanie and Ted talked about the importance of living authentically in a professional environment, storytelling and doing what you love.
Russell began the discussion by asking about the importance of being “out” in the workplace and how that has changed over time.
“It’s completely changed for me,” said James. “I spent the first five or six years of my career in the closet because in the ‘80s, there was not a supportive [work] environment [for the LGBTQ community].”
Employee resource groups for LGBTQ employees, such as Fox Pride, were either nonexistent or extremely rare. It wasn’t until James decided to change jobs to work for a more inclusive company that he was able to “come out” fully in the workplace. “It’s all about living authentically,” he mused. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made that decision.”
Ted echoed James’ comments: “I can’t even imagine something like this [Pride panel] happening 25-30 years ago when I started my career… It’s such a relief to not pretend and to just be myself. It’s a huge relief. And now to be able to sit up here [on stage], and to mentor people, it’s fantastic and it’s an honor.”
The importance of storytelling
When asked about the role the entertainment industry can play in shaping views of the LGBTQ community, Stephanie spoke about the film and TV industry’s important role in promoting unity and authenticity in the LGBTQ community, both now and in the future.
“Our industry tells stories,” she said. “Narrative is as ancient as scribbling on cave walls and gathering around fires. It’s important that we see each other not only as mirrors but also as windows. It’s especially important to find people who not only share [our] view but also expand [our] view. Telling stories that include us in authentic ways is absolutely critical because that’s what holds our society accountable… These stories hopefully will make [us] more human and more compassionate. When we share ourselves with each other, I think we all benefit.”
James noted how storytelling can have a profound influence on society.
“Growing up in the Midwest as a closeted, confused, hurt, scared, gay child, there were no gay role models,” James reflected. He pointed to powerful, pivotal moments in TV and film (such as Ellen coming out) that deeply affected him and helped create “visible, positive role models for the community… It didn’t make us scary anymore, and more importantly it didn’t make us scared of ourselves.” He noted that he hopes Hollywood will continue to play a key role in telling authentic stories about LBGTQ individuals.
“Media companies have made gay life more normal,” mused Ted. “The world has changed so fast, and how do we as a media company get the message out not just to our country but to other countries? The work never stops.”
Learning and loving what you do
During the panel, the executives discussed their paths to success: Ted started out in theater; Stephanie worked at an NBC affiliate in Fort Myers, Florida; and James began his career in retail. All three humorously discussed their “least favorite” jobs, including working a graveyard shift at Hardy’s hamburgers (James), dishwashing at Victoria Station (Ted), and scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins and waiting tables at a pancake house (Stephanie). Russell chimed in about waiting tables and serving buffalo meat specialties at Bison County restaurant.
“It taught us humility,” joked James.
The executives’ advice to young people and professionals? “Love what you do,” all three chimed.
“It’s much easier to do well at life if you’re doing the things you love,” said Stephanie.
“Work hard, love what you’re doing, and find the joy in it,” agreed Ted. “Follow that passion and hope for a little luck and a few breaks along the way.”
“Be a lifelong learner,” said James. “Especially in the media industry, there are jobs that exist today that didn’t exist five years ago. And, also fill your life with other things besides work!”
Mentorship and the meaning of “success”
The executives discussed the importance of mentors.
“Mentors are everything,” said James. “I don’t necessarily think it’s important that they be LGBTQ mentors, but they certainly have to be comfortable with who you are and they have to be allies.”
Finding the right mentor should be an organic experience, according to Stephanie. “In a mentor/mentee relationship, hopefully you form natural liaisons with the people you work with and the exchange of information happens naturally… You can also learn so much just by sitting in a meeting and watching how people react around you.”
The executives discussed how they defined the word “success.”
“I like to think of success as: When I die, will I have loved the people I love really well? Will I have been a good friend to the people who are my friends? Have I given more than I’ve taken?” said Stephanie.
“My view of success 10 years ago is very different than my view of success today,” said Ted, having suffered the loss of a dear friend. “Nowadays, it’s less about me and more about others. I used to be all about me, but if I can do more for others, that gives me more satisfaction.”
“A huge measure of success for me was fully loving myself,” said James. “It took a while. I was well into my forties before I could look in the mirror and feel that I was in the right place. Success is also being able to say ‘[I] have enough. I’m going to celebrate it every day.’”
Call to action
During the audience Q&A section at the end of the discussion, the panel was asked what colleagues and groups like Fox Pride can do to provide more support. “Continue to educate, be visible and share your story,” James said. “LGBTQ rights are human rights.”