OUTstanding Virginians 2014

Jean Segner – Banker, Richmond

JeanSegner3 (7)

“The concept of fairness is in my DNA,” explains Richmond-area bank executive Jean Segner when asked about the roots of her activism. As one of six children, she was acutely aware of when someone was not being treated equally.  Her mother, a Lutheran married into a Catholic family, inspired Segner by quietly but firmly holding her ground on matters of religion. In high school in Louisville, Kentucky, Segner used her influence as class president to lead a sit-in when a student was suspended for wearing his hair too long. In college, she got involved in precinct politics and women’s rights issues, including the campaign for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. It was only later, during the AIDS crisis, that she began concentrating on LGBT activism.

In the mid-nineties, after moving to the Richmond area and beginning a marketing career in financial services, Segner discovered the Central Virginia Business and Professional Guild.  At that time, the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT advocacy groups began to see potential for advancing equal rights in the business world that was not yet present in the political sphere. The economy was going strong and businesses were putting aside discriminatory policies in order to compete for top talent, as well as to recognize the contributions of LGBT employees.  At the same time, the economic power of LGBT consumers was starting to be felt. At the urging of national organizations, business groups were springing up around the country, in Segner’s words, “to help LGBT people connect professionally and to demonstrate the power of the market.”

The Guild was one of these groups. As Segner describes it, “the organization offered professional people an alternative to the activism of parades and protests.” At its first meeting, the Guild drew a capacity crowd, and the group quickly moved to the Downtown Club. In 1997, Segner became its Director and in 2000 its President. The Guild thrived under her direction until it disbanded in 2004 after having generated numerous local and on-line successor organizations. Through the Guild, Segner became active in statewide political fundraising for LGBT-friendly candidates and against the Marriage Amendment.

Segner’s leadership abilities were again put to good use when she became first a board member and then Interim Executive Director of Equality Virginia. She also chaired the committee for the Commonwealth Dinner from 2009 to 2011, never imagining that in a few years she would receive the OUTstanding Virginian award herself. In her fundraising work, Segner was particularly gratified by the generous support of the banks she worked with in her business career. And all along, she says, she was “surprised and humbled by the unbelievably courageous pioneers” for equal rights that she met in her work with EV.

Reflecting on recent developments in public policy, entertainment, and sports, Segner observes, “By being unabashed and proud of who we are, we show what equality is.” She sees marriage as the last hurdle before the day comes when being LGBT won’t be remarkable in any way. Visibility will continue to be essential, she believes: “It’s very hard to look into the eyes of a person you know and say, ‘I don’t believe you deserve to pursue liberty and happiness as I do.’” Besides helping create a more just society, living an authentic life is good for the individual person. Says the lifelong advocate for fairness, “I don’t know anyone who has come out who regretted it.”