Silicon Valley/San Francisco LGBTQ Employee Resource Group Alliance founder Cindy Weintraub moved to Santa Clara from her hometown of Brooklyn, New York in 1979, seeking a place where she and her girlfriend could live together without fear of reprisal.
At the time, Cindy didn’t know anyone in California. She had a few referrals from her former boss at TelePrompTer Corp. in Manhattan. It was the height of the tech boom in Silicon Valley, and everyone was trying to move to San Jose. Cindy and her college sweetheart lived in a Santa Clara Motel 6 until she was able to get a job in the budding cable industry.
Working in the entertainment industry came with many perks. Cindy attended the MTV awards, met Cher and Madonna, saw Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg perform in Comedy Relief specials, and dined with the stars in Los Angeles, but her girlfriend never accompanied her. Even in California, thousands of miles from her parents, Cindy remained in the closet.
One day in 1986, her girlfriend of 10 years packed up all of her things and left. A few months before, she had encouraged Cindy to join the women’s group at the Billy DeFrank Center, and Cindy is forever grateful she did. “I was very depressed, being so isolated. Nobody knew I was gay, so I couldn’t say anything about my girlfriend. It was a terrible time for me.”
The night her girlfriend left, Cindy went out to the clubs and met up with a woman she knew from the Billy DeFrank group. Cindy told her what had happened and how she was still not out.
The woman said, “I will come over on Thursday and bring my guitar and some wine and you can talk to me.”
“That Thursday was the first night I was able to sleep in a week,” Cindy recalled.
She credits the Billy DeFrank Center and the community she found there with saving her life.
“I always felt that if there was a way I could help the Billy DeFrank Center, I would.”
In the late 90s, Cindy was recruited to work for Cisco, who later asked her to start their local Pride Employee Resource Group. Cindy had never officially come out at work, but she figured some Cisco employees must have seen her at a recent Billy DeFrank gala.
She and five gay men in the company joined her on the Cisco Pride ERG leadership team, and in 2008, Cindy got her chance to give back to the organization that had saved her all those years ago.
That year, the San Jose Mercury News reported that the Billy DeFrank Center was going to close due to a lack of funds. At the time, the Center was the only symbol of gay life in Silicon Valley.
Determined to keep the doors open, Cindy’s group and other local tech company LGBT ERGs joined forces and hosted a movie fundraiser at a screening of MILK. With the generous support of the gay-owned Hobee’s Restaurants, the event raised $7,000 to keep the Billy DeFrank Center afloat.
That fundraiser marked the first annual Silicon Valley/San Francisco LGBTQ ERG Alliance event, which has since included 8 more Hollywood movies, Hamilton in drag, a COVID-friendly drive-in movie night, and an incredible 12th Anniversary variety show featuring stars from Opera San Jose, Bay Area Symphony, SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, and drag countertenor and MC. By 2022, the Alliance had raised close to $250,000 to ensure the health and vitality of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center for years to come.
Outside of the annual fundraiser, the Alliance’s ERGs, now representing over fifty blue chip, tech, and cutting-edge companies, have produced over 150 LGBTQ educational and uplifting programs for their members. During their monthly meetings, progressive LGBTQ employee policies are shared so that other members can leverage them to drive more inclusive environments. The Alliance also influences political change. In 2014, the group was instrumental in fighting the anti-trans public restroom bills in North Carolina.
After the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got 80 business leaders to sign a letter to the governor saying they would refuse to do business in North Carolina if the bill passed, Cindy and the Alliance team reviewed the letter to see who was missing. At the time, Cindy was working at HP and CEO Meg Whitman had not signed that letter. Cindy encouraged other Alliance members to speak to their companies if their leaders weren’t on the list. She called the head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to tell them it was critical that Whitman sign on behalf of HP. Within 24 hours, Cindy heard back that HP had joined the other executives on the list.
The bills were overturned, demonstrating the power of Fortune 500 companies and their Pride ERG groups.
Most, if not all of the companies in the Alliance are international, so their impact extends far beyond the Bay Area.
Despite her position as founder and executive director of the Silicon Valley/San Francisco LGBTQ ERG Alliance, Cindy has never officially come out at work. In fact, she hasn’t explicitly come out to many people.
“The times I told people one-on-one, that was the end of our friendship. Maybe it wasn’t as accepted at the time, or maybe I just don’t know the right people.”
Even when her mother and father visited her and her girlfriend from New York, they weren’t aware of Cindy’s relationship. It took an intense therapeutic experience at a seminar called The Landmark Forum for Cindy to finally come out to her parents.
The Forum was all about “getting honest with yourself and getting rid of the facade you live under.” In one exercise at the event, participants were asked to write to the most special person in their life and tell them about their experience at The Forum.
Cindy wrote to her dad and came out, telling him, “I want to be closer to you, and I don’t want to be lying to you anymore.”
In her letter, she wrote that she would call him that weekend, as she did every week.
When Cindy called that Saturday, the phone rang on and on before going to voicemail.
She called back the following day. Her mother picked up and asked about the weather.
Cindy was baffled. “Did you get my letter?” she asked.
Her mother passed the phone to her father, and as Cindy says, “That was the beginning of a beautiful, life-changing relationship. A real and authentic relationship.”
At first, Cindy’s parents were accepting to a degree, but then her father “totally fell in love” with her girlfriend. “She became another daughter to him and a favorite one — an integral part of the family.”
Currently, Cindy and the Alliance is working with HRC to determine how the organization can best support transgender people facing the rash of 2022 discriminatory bills in Texas and Florida legislatures. The goal is to continue encouraging their companies to use their economic power to support LGBTQ+ communities domestically and abroad.
“We want to get past just having a float in a once-a-year Pride parade. That’s great for, I don’t know…showing up in the media, but you need to have a greater, more serious impact and you can only do that in political circles when you present a large and united front.”