What seems like a lifetime ago, the LGBTQ+ community, global brands and major cities were readying for our annual June Pride celebrations. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic and Minneapolis and Pride 2020 became a hard look in the mirror.
I am a middle-aged, gay white man thankful to still have a full head of hair. I have spent much of the last 20 years as an activist, fundraiser, walker-of-halls in Congress and a loud voice for LGBTQ+ rights. I see it as my responsibility to build a better future for LGBTQ+ youth which is why Pride has proven so meaningful to my family.
Did I mention I am a white man? Just making sure that did not get lost. You see, even though LGBTQ+ people around the world encounter inequality daily, my whiteness protects me from being Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor or George Floyd. I will never face the fear of being pulled over while driving my car due to the color of my skin. In fact, when I had to cross state lines to retrieve something from my workplace I did so with zero fear that any encounter with law enforcement could result in violence. Statistically speaking my 50+ years as a white American man has brought me higher pay, more education opportunities and better health care outcomes. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of my awareness of my white privilege.
It is shameful – check that: I am ashamed – it took the murder of a man I never knew to shake me to my core. I was sitting in front of my big screen television in my comfortable, relatively crime-free neighborhood and wept as a black man explained to a TV reporter in Atlanta that he was marching for his nine-year-old son. As complicated as systemic racism is in America, racism is unforgivingly simple. I still encounter homophobia, but my mother does not need to worry that I will be killed if I am insufficiently deferential when pulled over for driving without a license. I must face the question: Will that man’s son live in a just nation– including enjoying the privileges afforded a white man? Or will his son become another victim of racism like Ahmaud? The answer is up to me.
In 2013, I served on the National Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign. My visits to Washington to meet with congressional offices and Members of Congress to discuss LGBTQ+ issues were commonplace. At that time, still two years from marriage equality becoming the law of the land, the NAACP gave their full support for legalizing same-sex marriage. Fast forward to 2019 and the National Urban League threw its weight behind the Equality Act, congressional legislation that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to federal non-discrimination protections. These were brave and powerful statements from the black community that every LGBTQ+ American should have etched in our minds.
So, what are we, the LGBTQ+ community around the world, going to do now? Did the murder of George Floyd shake our community to its core? And what about our allies, those global brands and businesses who are making us feel more welcome in the workplace, supporting our full equality and in return seeing our loyalty grow – what commitments to end racism will they be making? Will they be as bold as the NAACP and National Urban League were to the gay community? Will they embrace #blacklivesmatter as they did #lovewins? Is there room in the rainbow for black and brown?
The past week gave me hope. Many of our clients and other brands have made their intentions clear. They, too, were shaken to their cores. This is how shock changes into progress. I was reminded a few years back when I met with my CEO of an historically conservative Atlanta-based company where I led communications and public affairs to brief her on the legislation pending at the state capital that would allow for discrimination of LGBTQ+ people on the basis of religion. She knew me, my husband and the work I was doing, but she also saw me as a counselor to her on these and other D&I issues. I had facts, pros and cons and possible impact as part of my presentation, and we began discussing our options. As I continued to present the issue, she stopped me and said “What do you think? Not Ed my employee, but Ed.” That was progress.
It is my hope that Pride month expresses itself more fully in the future. Let us use this month to, yes, celebrate our community, as well as to work for a world of expansive equality, of justice for everyone. Is that not what we have been fighting for all these years? We know how to do the work, so let us all commit to doing it. My work has already begun. For starters I am engaged in uncomfortable and educational discussions with close black and brown friends, my reading list of black authors and activists has tripled in size and in my home state I have a list of black-owned businesses that are now getting my money. And importantly, I am making a conscious effort to shift the passion and energy I used for my own equality to address racial injustice.
So, to my white, gay brothers and sisters, and our allies I leave you one simple question: How are you using your white privilege and solving for full equality today?