Lockheed’s Freedman a leader for gay rights -- Gazette.Net



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Until he can bring his foreign-born partner to the U.S. as his spouse, Lance J. Freedman calls himself “a Marylander in exile.”

And it’s in this “exile” that Freedman, 36, works as the lead for information technology strategy and transformation in Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems division.

Freedman is anything but secretive about his sexual orientation. The gay equality organization Out & Equal Workplace Advocates of San Francisco presented Freedman with an award at a national conference this month for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender professionals.

Freedman won the organization’s 2012 Trailblazer Award, which goes to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals who made contributions to advancing workplace equality. Freedman helped transform Lockheed Martin’s conventional “don’t ask, don’t tell” workplace into an inclusive one years before President Barack Obama ended that policy in the military, said Teddy Witherington, spokesman for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.

Freedman has helped organize Lockheed Martin events at LGBT career fairs and also organized other LGBT workers in the military sector.

While his company has been ahead of the curve in supporting LGBT people, Freedman lives in Canada, where his partner can reside. That’s because, while some states have passed marriage equality for gays, those marriages are not recognized by the federal government when it comes to immigration status. Freedman’s partner, Yaw Han Ngwa, who is Burmese, would be denied tourist and work visas to the U.S. if they were married and he tried to enter the country, Freedman said.

“So I had to abandon my family for a while until the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned,” Freedman said. “Lockheed allowed me to be a full-time telecommuter and I telecommute into the United States.”

Three states — Maryland, Maine and Washington — voted at the polls Nov. 6 to legalize same-sex marriage, a turning point for supporters, said Michael O'Loughlin, a professor of political science at Salisbury University.

“It illustrates where the tide is going,” O’Loughlin said.

While Lockheed Martin, with headquarters in Bethesda, is best known as a military and aerospace company, it employs more software engineers than software giant Microsoft, Freedman said.

Lockheed operates in states across the country, including those that allow employers to fire workers for being gay, but the company’s policy is to practice nondiscrimination against sexual orientation.

“For me personally, it means the world,” Freedman said. “It means the difference whether I can put a picture of my partner on my desk and not worry about being fired or being excluded. I’ve heard horror stories from other companies where their boss found out they were LGBT and their boss suddenly stops putting them in front of customers or their career plummets and in many states that is accepted.”

Being accepted is important to him personally and professionally, he said.

“When I was a young engineer and I was coming to terms with my orientation I wondered if I could even be an engineer,” Freedman said.

Freedman, whose father was a network systems engineer, said he had always wanted to work in IT.

At an age when other children were playing with toys, Freedman, who grew up in Silver Spring, was writing software code.

“That came from my dad,” Freedman said. “I learned how to type before I learned how to write letters out. My dad had some of the first home computers that were available. I was writing code when I was just a kid.”

cford@gazette.net