Are White LGBTQIA+ Leaders Doing Enough?

Last month, Seattle held its last completely virtual LGBTQIA+ Pride festival to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As we continue to celebrate the beauty and resilience of the queer community all year long, it’s crucial that white queer leaders in business and education, like myself, critically examine our role in our communities, the organizations we run, and movements for social justice.

Now is not the time to grow complacent or lose sight of the historical connections between celebration, joy, and activism in Pride. We’ve come so far since the Stonewall uprising, but not far enough. So much of the work of eradicating racism is the responsibility of white people, including white queer people, especially those in leadership positions. Within the movement for LGBTQIA+ rights, it’s critical that white queer leaders actively work to dismantle systems of racism and oppression that disproportionately impact BIPOC LGBTQIA+ members of our community, especially when they’re showing up within the LGBTQIA+ community itself. We must be unwavering in our commitment to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging for every member of our community because progress, for some, historically has never meant progress for everyone.

As a white, cisgender, queer woman, some aspects of my identity result in my experiencing bias, power imbalance, and inequity, but my race still allots me certain privileges and advantages. My fellow white queer leaders need to not only recognize this but go beyond mere acknowledgement of white privilege. We must focus on how we stand with and amplify BIPOC LGBTQIA+ voices and disrupt societal systems acting inside and outside of the LGBTQIA+ movement that contribute to inequity and oppression. I ask white queer leaders in our community to focus on three key things as we reflect on this past Pride Month and begin to think about what’s next.

  1. Build your knowledge around how BIPOC members of the community have contributed to LGBTQIA+ history, been erased from that history, and are impacted by that history today. And understand how cisgender white queer gains in equity can be used as a measure of progress that doesn’t represent the experiences of the spectrum of identity within the LGBTQIA+ community.
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that because you have an aspect of your identity that’s marginalized, you understand or have connections to other marginalized identities. Expand your networks and explore how the various dimensions of identity influence the experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals. Connect with people that don’t look like you, act like you, or think like you. Be humble and listen with curiosity. Most importantly, understand that when you have a platform or pathway to amplify needed voices, you should make it happen.
  3. Find concrete ways to recognize the contributions to the LGBTQIA+ movement by the many different communities that make up our broader community. There’s such a lack of recognition for trans people of color who, time and time again, have been a driving force for our collective liberation. We need to consistently show up for them in big and small ways.

It can be a scary and revolutionary act for an LGBTQIA+ individual to come out and live fully as their authentic self, to seek joy and restoration, and to continue the fight for a safer, more just world for each member of the community. But if white LGBTQIA+ leaders want their organizations and communities to flourish, we must foster brave spaces that explicitly move the critical work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging forward without centering whiteness. We must make the practice of recognizing, supporting, amplifying and—often—getting out of the way of BIPOC LGBTQIA+ leaders in our community integral to our leadership. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “No one is free until we are all free.” So please lean in to do the work of building a more equitable, inclusive, and just world, do it well, and do it with integrity.

Andrea Lovanhill | Chief Executive Officer, Committee for Children

As Chief Executive Officer of Committee for Children, Andrea Lovanhill leads a global nonprofit that has been on a mission for over 40 years to ensure children everywhere can thrive emotionally, socially, and academically. As CEO, Andrea is a driving force in advancing diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), and belonging inside and outside of Committee for Children. She advocates for social-emotional learning (SEL) as a fundamental piece of building children’s resilience, fostering more equitable schools and communities, and achieving social justice.