Levi Strauss & Co. has never been afraid to take bold stances on the issues and events of the day. This often starts with employees who embody the company’s values: originality, integrity, empathy and courage. As the Executive Director of the Levi Strauss Foundation, the corporate foundation of Levi Strauss & Co., Daniel Lee is leading the charge to support marginalized communities around the globe.
Since coming out at age 20, Daniel has committed his career to serving the LGBTQ community. He went to Harvard Divinity School – and rather than getting ordained as a minister, he got involved in social movements serving the LGBTQ community. This was the early nineties, and the AIDS epidemic was raging. It was not widely known that HIV was spreading faster among Asians and Pacific Islanders than any other ethnic group in the country; stigma and misinformation were rife. In response, Daniel and a group of other young activists banded together to launch Massachusetts Asians + Pacific Islanders for Health, a Boston based nonprofit to stem the tide of the epidemic in local communities.
After divinity school and his work in Boston, Daniel moved to San Francisco, where he landed his “dream job”: senior program officer for the Asia Pacific region at a global LGBTQ human rights organization (now known as Outright International). The job gave him the opportunity to partner with strategic, gutsy activists working on the frontlines of change – an experience that helped to shape and prepare him for his leadership role at the Levi Strauss Foundation.
This Pride Month, Daniel was featured in the San Francisco Business Times as one of 12 OUTstanding Voice honorees – LGBTQ business leaders in the Bay Area who have spearheaded positive change in their industry. Below is an excerpt from his interview.
Q: How do you use your position and influence to advance LGBTQ equality?
My time at Levi Strauss & Co. has been a master class in learning firsthand the “value of values” – in our case, originality, integrity, empathy and courage. Our foundation strives to be an advocate and ally for society’s most marginalized groups. The current environment is rife with disruptive change: legal and policy changes are happening at a breakneck speed (including 600+ anti-LGBTQ bills at state and local levels since the 2015 marriage equality ruling) and rolling back decades of hard-fought gains. In early 2017, seeing many of the communities we’ve long cared about rendered highly vulnerable by our own administration’s policies, the Levi Strauss Foundation launched a $1 million fund to protect the rights of immigrants, refugees, ethnic and religious minorities and trans people across the U.S. and abroad. Given that these threats have not abated, we recently rolled out a third year of grants to shore up community defense efforts.
The Levi’s® brand has endured as an American icon: it embodies freedom of expression and symbolizes democracy and inclusion. Through our investments in partners like the Transgender Law Center, we are voting for an inclusive democracy built upon the protection of those who are most marginalized and vulnerable. We call upon every sector to do its part to stand up for the best of what America is.
Q: How did LGBTQ equality and interests become a central theme of Levi Strauss’ philanthropy?
In 1992, Levi Strauss & Co. became the first major corporation to provide domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. In 2008, we were the only company to file an amicus brief with the California Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage. It’s heartening that by 2015, we were joined by 378 other employers to sign a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on the business case for allowing same-sex couples to wed. This signals a sea change in the willingness of companies to take a stand for LGBTQ rights, and we’re honored to be at its leading edge.
Read the full Q&A with Daniel in the San Francisco Business Times.