story title image

5 ways we support LGBTQ members and employees

Julie Butterfield, a behavioral health clinical operations manager in Memphis, married her wife in 2019, and is comfortable being open about their relationship with her colleagues. She says BlueCross doesn’t just tolerate her identity, but affirms it.

“I feel safe bringing my authentic self into any interaction at work,” Julie says. “I don’t have to hide or edit myself. I’m not just physically and emotionally safe — I’m free from any prejudice or discrimination on a corporate level.”

Wendell Banks, Jr., a claims expert in our senior care division, has that same level of comfort.

“LGBTQ support means accepting us for who we are and not holding judgment against anyone for who they love,” he says.

“That support should encompass at least three areas: to uplift, to encourage, and to respect someone, no matter how they identify.”

BlueCross Wendell Banks Jr.
Wendell Banks, Jr., claims expert, senior care division, Chattanooga

In celebration of Pride Month, Julie, Wendell and other BlueCross employees share some of the ways we support our LGBTQ members and employees all year long and demonstrate how cultural competency is ingrained in everything we do.

  1. Covering certain types of medical care

Some in the LGBTQ community have very specific health needs. For example, those who wish to transition may seek gender reassignment and gender affirmation surgery, including hormone therapy. BlueCross covers these procedures but takes the crucial additional step of ensuring behavioral health needs are met, as well.

“All of our behavioral health case managers are licensed clinicians, and they do a great job with our members who have any issues related to LGBTQ health care,” Julie says. “Many who are considering transitioning have a lot of questions, and many are looking for acceptance. Our customer service team frequently connects us directly to these members.”

The behavioral health team understands these members may feel more comfortable speaking with providers who identify as LGBTQ, LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual) or have a reputation of being a strong ally to the community.

Because we are a close team as well as regionally located, we make every attempt to link members to providers they will feel most comfortable with,” Julie says. 

“I know if I’m going to a therapist, or any provider for that matter, I’d like to go to someone who understands me and cares about my wellbeing.”

Our leadership team also understands the importance of having allies in place and how it affects our employees, our business, our provider partners and our fellow Tennesseans.

BlueCross Denise Matthews
Denise Matthews, business analytics director, Chattanooga

“We have to demonstrate a willingness to learn from communities who are different from our own,” says Denise Matthews, business analytics director and executive sponsor of the Be You @ Blue employee resource group. “As LGBTQ allies, we must also understand the health care disparities and inequities that this community can face when accessing care.”

  1. Providing equal partner benefits for our employees

BlueCross employees can immediately add their same-sex spouses and domestic partners to their benefit plans. This practice has been in place since Jan. 1, 2007, before marriage equality was law. We also provide adoption assistance for LGBTQ couples.

“If I’m in a meeting and somebody asked about my family, I’ll tell them about my wife,” Julie says. “There’s a lot of anxiety that goes along with trying to appear like you think you’re supposed to appear. At BlueCross, I don’t have to worry about that. And that’s a huge relief.”

  1. Leading internal trainings to confront unconscious bias — and using them to move forward 

Education is key to inclusivity — and it must be ongoing.  That’s one reason why BlueCross shares gender affirmation guidelines with our nurse case managers and customer service team that will help us better serve our members.

We provide formal, instructor-led training and discussion about LGBTQ topics in the workplace, so all employees can better understand our members, co-workers and communities. We also maintain an open dialogue through our Critical Conversations series for employees.

BlueCross LGBTQ support
Wendell Banks, Jr.

“These conversations allow employees to ask questions and freely voice their points of view on various topics, including race and sexual orientation,” Wendell says. “Seeing individuals willing to learn more about those who identify as LGBTQ and display a genuine interest brings a sense of happiness and connection. It’s exciting to see us progress in real time. More people have a willingness to learn about others,  and stereotypes are being debunked.”

  1. Supporting inclusivity through Pride Month and Be You @ Blue, which is open to all

Every year, our Pride Month employee event celebrates our employees across the state who are part of LGBTQ community and those who identify as allies. We also have employees who seek to understand LGBTQ rights, needs and concerns and have productive discussions around these topics. 

Our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) cultivate employee engagement and focus on areas like women’s leadership and veterans and active military personnel, to name a few. Regardless of focus, these groups have one unified goal: to help our people listen to, learn from and support one another.

In 2019, BlueCross employees formed Be You @ Blue, an ERG for LGBTQ issues, awareness and growth. Denise became involved as an executive sponsor after being approached by one of her team members who inquired about possible support from BlueCross leadership.

“I was so moved by their passion and how they wanted to focus on recognizing health care disparities amongst this community,” Denise recalls. “As a member of management, my role is to ensure we treat people with dignity and respect.”  

“As employees, we don’t have to agree with everyone, but we must have a work environment that is safe, secure and allows people to perform at their maximum potential.”

Be You @ Blue embraces that philosophy through promotion of our diversity and inclusion goals, discussions on how to better attract and retain top talent, and sharing ideas about how to foster better health outcomes for people in the LGBTQ community.

As an employee who identifies as part of the community, Julie finds serving as a Be You @ Blue mentor rewarding.

BlueCross Julie Butterfield
Julie Butterfield, behavioral health clinical operations manager, Memphis

“We in the community have to be allies for ourselves,” Julie says. “A lot of times we expect others to reach out and help, but we need to give back to the younger generation, or to people who aren’t out yet. For me, I have to be out so that I can be an ally for someone who might not yet feel comfortable being who they are or sharing their perspective.”

  1. Supporting community organizations and businesses

We believe that our efforts to help ensure equality for the LGBTQ community must extend beyond what we do for our members and employees.  That’s why BlueCross contributes to these organizations:

  • Cempa Community Care, which champions healthy communities by providing affordable, compassionate, and high-quality care through advancing comprehensive support services and person-centered best practices
  • Tennessee Valley Pride, which honors diversity in Chattanooga and combines LGBTQ resources to raise awareness, educate and improve the community with dignity
  • TriPride, a family-friendly gathering that celebrates inclusion, equality, community and self-empowerment across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia

We’ve also joined the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which provides educational, networking and community-building opportunities to advance economic growth and equality in the workplace and society for LGBTQ members, businesses and allies.

BlueCross LGBTQ ally
Denise Matthews

“I’ve been a BlueCross employee for 25 years, and our company has come a long way,” Denise says. “I think that through these types of outreach and awareness, we can really address the health care disparities in Tennessee and make a difference for this community.”

Making a difference means embracing the LGBTQ population not just through words during Pride Month, but also deeds throughout the year. That’s why we’re committed to growing and expanding the list above. Anything less would be a disservice to our fellow Tennesseans.

“My whole life is pride right now,” Julie says. “I’m over 50 and I spent a lot of my time hiding who I am. But now I’m married and I’m speaking out. Working at BlueCross has been one of the things that helped me reach that comfort level.”

“I’m happy that for me and for BlueCross, pride is all day, every day.”

At BlueCross, we value cultural competency, and we embrace the diversity of our members, as well as the employees who serve them. This inclusivity extends not just to those in the LGBTQ community, but to all demographics in our workforce, communities and state. 

About Jesse Thompson, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorJesse joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. A Chattanooga native, he has more than 15 years’ experience in content creation, management, and strategy for consumer audiences, including a six-year stint in health care marketing.

Related Content