Are Gay CEOs Still Controversial?

C1bank CEO Trevor Burgess at the company’s headquarters in St. Petersburg Photograph by Brian Blanco/The New York Times via Redux

Trevor Burgess, chief executive officer of C1 Financial and the first openly gay CEO of a publicly traded bank, was introduced to Florida by way of a confused courthouse clerk. Burgess moved to the state about five years ago to start the bank and was at the courthouse to present documents for his daughter’s passport application.

Running her fingers over the seal of his daughter’s birth certificate, which listed Burgess and his husband as the parents, the clerk pointed at Burgess and asked, “Are you the mother?”

“In her mind it was more likely that I was a biological female,” Burgess says, “than that there could be a little girl raised by two men.”

Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of students attending a conference last Friday celebrating LGBT MBAs in San Francisco , Burgess said he doesn’t see his sexuality getting in the way of business.

“I don’t think that ultimately consumers, broadly, really care that much about the sexual orientation of the CEO.”

When his company went public in August, Burgess’s sexuality was big, splashy news. “A Gay Chief Makes History as His Bank Goes Public,” read the New York Times headline. “Wall Street Leaders Welcome Gay CEO of Public U.S. Bank,” wrote Bloomberg.

Burgess, though, is pretty sure that all the attention to his sexuality is tied to a particular moment in the history of business—the one right before the tipping point. In five years, he says, no one will be shocked that a CEO identifies as gay because it will be so mundane.

There is a cadre of executives who’ve been out their whole lives, he says, and those leaders will soon ascend to the top levels of their companies without much fanfare. These future CEOs will break barriers, but on their own corporate schedules. “We will have lots of openly gay CEOs in a very short amount of time,” he says.

Then, standing in the virtually empty conference hall after the talk was over, Burgess turned to meet a tiny, unexpected guest. “Daddy!” exclaimed his 5-year-old daughter, who sprinted into his arms and giggled into his chest. “How you doing, princess?” Burgess asked, before letting the little girl down and returning to the business of the day.

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