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Silicon Valley Gays Say Lotus Plan Boosts Job Benefit Hopes

September 10, 1991

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Boosted by Lotus Development Corp.’s decision to extend benefits to gay and lesbian couples, Silicon Valley groups said Monday they would press their fledgling civil rights movement for homosexual workers.

″This is what we’ve been striving for for years,″ said Don Nelson, a Lockheed Corp. employee and president of High-Tech Gays, a 500-member organization in the Santa Clara Valley, about 30 miles south of San Francisco.

″The Lotus decision certainly allows us to hold that company up as an example,″ he said.

″I think we’ve got some momentum going here now,″ said Bennet Marks, of Apple Lambda, a homosexual employees’ group at Apple Computer Inc. ″It’s hard to be a trendsetter when it comes to things like this. I think Lotus has shown it can be done.″

On Friday, Lotus announced it would allow workers with same-sex partners to qualify for benefits offered to employees’ spouses, such as medical and dental care, vision and hearing coverage and bereavement leave. The extension does not apply to unmarried heterosexual couples.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based software maker became the first large U.S. company to offer benefits to gay partners. Lotus estimates 10 percent of its 3,100 workers are gay - a percentage gay advocates say applies to the general population.

The Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC), which endorses politicians in the area dubbed Silicon Valley because of its many computer- related companies, planned to discuss the Lotus decision Monday at its board meeting in hopes of encouraging a gay workers’ rights movement.

″There’s certainly been some movement in some private companies and some governments, but there hasn’t been any giant sweeping movement,″ said Judy Rickard, president of BAYMEC. ″Perhaps this will open the door.″

Apple Lambda has been in talks with Apple for nine months seeking benefits for gay partners.

Lockheed Corp. and Hewlett Packard Co. warn homosexual employee groups not to adopt names that appear as an endorsement by the company. The groups are called the Gay, Lesbian or Bisexuals At Lockheed and the Gay and Lesbian Employee Network at Hewlett-Packard.

″Companies are sensitive about this subject, although they discuss it now,″ said Greg Gloss, of the HP group. ″Now that Lotus has set a precedent, we’re hoping it can be used as a model situation.″

HP spokeswoman Mary Lou Simmermacher said the company is considering extending benefits to all non-traditional families. Digital Equipment Corp., a Maynard, Mass., company doing business here, also is thinking of expanding its coverage.

Andrew Swartz, who leads Apple Lambda’s talks with Apple, said, ″The reason companies offer health insurance for spouses of straight workers is for peace of mind. This is true for my family, too.″

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