Today is the last day of Pride 2021, one of the most co-opted holidays of my generation. Juneteenth is a close second since it is the newest to enter the mainstream. I thought I would share a bit about my journey share a few tips on being an inclusive leader.
Context – I was raised in a Pentecostal church founded by my great grandparents when they lived in Southwestern Louisiana. The women in my family wore long skirts, sex before marriage was against all the rules, and I do not ever remember hearing the term ‘gay’ while growing up. I’m nearly 50 and I didn’t have my first ‘out’ LGBTQ co-worker until I was in my 40s. Thankfully, before becoming an ally, I had amazing humans who were patient with me while I was on my learning journey.
But it was not other folx job to teach me. I read books, attended workshops. I listened. Reflected on my bias. I stepped outside of my comfort to learn how I could help create a world that would be safe for all to thrive.
Fast forward 10 years. TEN YEARS. Now, I am serving on LGBTQ organization boards and working on LGBTQ social change projects. My growth was not an accident. I was given the chance to learn and be in community with folks who had lives similar and yet so different than mine. I was able to see humanity as a bridge to understanding folx unique identities. As a Black woman living and leading in America, I made a commitment to not turn away from things I did not understand. I choose to listen. To be corrected. To learn new terms and realities that were outside of everything I knew.
Leaders grow, y’all!
As a Black woman leading in white spaces I take my role as a de-colonizer seriously. Just because something is new to me doesn’t mean I will brush it off as not valid or worthy of my consideration. Instead, I pause to consider how will someone with this identity I may not know experience this workplace. How/will they see themselves in this work?
I’m ten years into my LGBTQ ally journey and I thought I would share a few things with Black folks who want to lead from a place of liberation and inclusion. This is for the Black people who are putting down the cloaks of whiteness, classism, sexism, and capitalist norms of belonging and who are instead yearning for spaces of radical acceptance. If that’s you, read on.
- Pronouns. It is not trite to announce your pronouns, especially if you are a CIS (aka straight or heterosexual person). She/Ella/They or dammit, just say the person’s name. The old says of Emily Post prefixes should not be how you lead any invite to a meeting or convening you’re hosting. You can learn more about pronouns here.
- Benefits. One of the reasons I had never worked with openly out LGBTQ folx is that the benefits packages where I worked SUCKED. Folks had to file domestic partnership documents which many straight couples were filing to get their partners added to their benefits. Also, things like fertility treatments and access to hormones were not a standard of care. If your benefits plans do not offer these types of services (aka, your organization is in the South), you can always set up an employee benefits pool for folks most impacted by this type of medical discrimination. Here is a great resource to share with your HR team. Bonus note: While social sectors are behind in tracking inclusion, the Human Rights Campaign has been tracking major corporations. This list is helpful for social sector organizations to develop some benchmarks and for existing corporate folxs to move their organizations toward inclusion.
- Normalize unlimited paid time off (PTO). Many LGBTQ folx experience family conflict due to their gender identities and sexualities. Biological families may not be active in their lives but trust and believe that your staff has built a chosen family that supports them unconditionally. This is one of many reasons that LGBTQ folks need unlimited PTO – they may need to take time off to care for their (non-biological) mother or be a caregiver to an aging auntie. Also, unlimited PTO doesn’t mean everyone has to use it the same. It’s the flexibility for me. You?
- Inclusion. As a leader in your organization, keeping an open-door policy is one way to model inclusion. Open door = open communication in my book. One way you can show you are an inclusive leader is to say you are a safe place for LGBTQ staff and coworkers (and those of other identities) to pick your brain, be mentored, or provide/give feedback. You can do this by sending an email to your Affinity/Employee Resource Groups, writing an article for your organization’s newsletter, or sending a message out via the intranet. Having an outreach strategy within your organization shows you are serious and not just faking like you want to help your organization be more inclusive. I’ll also add, look at who you are already mentoring/advising. Are they just like you or are you leading across differences?
So why you? Because you know what it’s like to be the only, the first, the silenced. The worst thing I have seen in my years of working in the social change space is the invisibility Black LGBTQ people face, including among Black leaders. Often LGBTQ folx’s Blackness is tolerated but their genders and sexual identities are seen as ‘too much’ for the workplace. What if instead of becoming part of the problem, Black leaders became fully inclusive and supportive of all Black folxs in the organization? What if we found a way to honor the spirit of leaders from prior generations by organizing safe spaces for ALL Black people working in organizations?
You can do this!
If you step into your leadership more fully, you will find a beautiful array of Black leaders ready to take your organization into the future. Don’t be scurred. Head up, heart up.