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THE BIZ : Pressing the Suits

October 09, 1994|Joseph Hanania

Even though he had friends in the highest Hollywood places, Richard Jennings still wondered if studio executives would be receptive to seminars on 'Sexual Orientation in the Workplace,' sponsored by the group he heads, Hollywood Supports.

But he needn't have worried: With friends like MCA President Sid Sheinberg and QVC Chairman Barry Diller in his corner (they organized the anti-homophobia group, after all), the doors flew open. In less than a year, it has sponsored upward of 50 seminars at more than a dozen entertainment firms.

At the sessions, the group meets with company executives to discuss stereotypes in film and TV, policies on HIV-infected workers and ways to include gays in the social and business loop.

'When I'm talking to a group of 20 executives, the impact goes far beyond them,' says Jennings, who quit a job at a top L.A. law firm to head Hollywood Supports. 'It often affects on-screen portrayals which, in turn, shape perceptions throughout the world.'

A special focus is on how studios can help closeted gays feel comfortable about coming out. That, says Jennings, has bottom-line implications: 'Secretiveness impacts work and the whole team spirit.'

In addition to the seminars, Hollywood Supports has drawn up widely adopted model policies on discrimination and extending health insurance plans to same-sex partners.

Sheinberg says Jennings deserves 'straight A's' for his work. 'He's gotten a lot of people involved who might otherwise be reluctant, and has filled a tremendously important need.'

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