Keeping everyone comfortable at Peco

Posted: October 12, 2007

For Craig L. Adams, chief operating officer of Peco Energy, it was his sister, who waited decades - until their father died - before revealing she was a lesbian.

For Gregory S. Smith, a Peco troubleshooting foreman, it's a nephew, 18, who just announced he's gay. Smith's brother is having a hard time handling the news about his son.

For David MacFarland, operations manager at the Peco operations facility in Plymouth Meeting, it was an ex-brother-in-law, who finally had to divorce his sister to come out of the closet. A decade later, their daughter said she was gay.

Those were the kinds of stories told in the hallways, garages and meeting rooms yesterday at Peco, but then again, that was the goal of an event that spokesman Michael Wood said was unprecedented at the electric utility.

Yesterday, on National Coming Out Day, more than 430 employees in three Peco locations turned out to listen to former National League umpire Dave Pallone talk about his double life in sports and as a gay man who felt forced to keep his sexual identity a secret in the macho world of baseball.

"We want people to be comfortable here," said MacFarland, the upper-management executive who organized the event with Charles Thomas, a legal analyst who is also president of the Peco PRIDE employees group for homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders, and anyone else who wants to join.

"This is good for business," MacFarland said. "The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community offers very well-educated and creative people. If they aren't comfortable here, they may choose to work elsewhere."

At the Plymouth Meeting operations center yesterday afternoon, 120 office workers, field technicians, designers and operations people crowded wall-to-wall and spilled into the hall listening avidly to Pallone.

"The decision was, did I take my dream and throw it away so I could keep my personal life, or did I put my personal life on hold so I could keep my dream? That's when I started to live my secret life," he said.

"When I walked through that tunnel at the Vet, I had the power over what I could control for the next two or three hours. I could control the game, but I couldn't control my own life," he said.

Pallone said he was fired shortly after he was outed by the New York Post in 1988. "On Sept. 15, 1988, baseball found out I was gay, and they abruptly fired me," he said.

Like all stories, it's more complicated than that.

Pallone got his job by crossing the picket line during the 1979 umpire strike. In 1988, Pallone, who was famous for feuding with players, angered Pete Rose, then a Cincinnati Reds manager. Rose shoved Pallone after a controversial call and was suspended for 30 days. That same year, police in New York investigated Pallone's possible participation in a sex ring involving teenage boys. The investigation ended without any charge against him.

Pallone left baseball after working his last game in Philadelphia, the day the newspaper article came out. Pallone said he was fired. National League officials said he retired. They agreed to pay him to go.

Pallone went on to write a book, Behind the Mask, My Double Life in Baseball, published in 1990, and developed a lucrative career of talking to businesses and organizations about the emotional cost of having a secret life.

Yesterday, Pallone took a light tone, interspersing a serious and emotional message with sports stories, including a complete analysis of the call that pushed Rose to shove him. "Maybe Pete had a bet on that game; I don't know," he joked.

But he commanded the group's attention - not an easy task given that their attendance, while not required, was strongly requested. Some declined on moral grounds. "I had a lot of push back," said Lisa Stiefel, a manager who supervises an all-male crew of utility workers. She responded personally to Pallone's story of being alienated from part of his family after it learned about his homosexuality. Right now, she said, her family is rejecting her because she is in the middle of a divorce.

After the session in Plymouth Meeting, Smith, the foreman, rushed to call his brother and urge him to buy Pallone's book to help his relationship with his son.

"It wasn't a rah, rah, rah gay kind of thing," said Tom Schick, a supervisor, who admitted, along with Smith, that he was not particularly looking forward to attending the Pallone session. "It was a way of helping people to understand that everybody needs to be treated with respect. Everyone needs to be themselves."

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

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