You might have noticed (probably not, actually . . .) that I have been off of LinkedIn since July for some much-needed R&R and overdue self-care. While I fully realize that the beat definitely goes on with respect to all of the utter nonsense directed at the transgender community and the LGBTQ+ community more broadly, after some serious soul-searching and concern for my overall state of mind, I made the decision to completely disconnect. Not forever, mind you (I’m not quite ready for that!), but temporarily so that I could push the proverbial reset button on my psyche and come back stronger for what I am sure will be an epic onslaught of hate-filled and misinformed diatribe as the 2024 presidential election cycle heats up.
For the better part of two months, my wife Mari and I stumbled through Europe – mostly at sea on the cruise ships we were on – but also by air and train. We were fortunate to visit places like Norway (and cross the Arctic Circle to North Cape – the northernmost point in Europe, the British Isles, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Malta (just a few weeks before they hosted EuroPride). And we even made it to Paris for a few days, as we made our way back from the Mediterranean to Amsterdam, where our ship took us to the utterly amazing and totally breathtaking landscapes of Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. Fjords, waterfalls, glaciers, the Midnight Sun, and yes, even the Northern Lights! Without a doubt, it was, and will always be, a trip of a lifetime.
But an interesting, and I’ll admit unexpected, thing happened at virtually every stop – Pride was everywhere. Fully inclusive Pride flags and trans flags seemed to show up at every turn of our journey. While in Belfast we missed their Pride celebration by a day. But luckily, we were scheduled to be in Liverpool the next day, so a quick Google search revealed that we would be there for their Pride celebration. And it was wonderful! Standing along the parade route and cheering support for not only our trans siblings but for everyone marching in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community – and there were many – was truly a magical moment for us both.
While our Liverpool experience will always be the highlight, we encountered bold symbols of inclusion in places like Stavanger, Norway and Ísafjörður, Iceland; St. John’s, Newfoundland and Sydney, Nova Scotia. And throughout central Europe in Valetta, Malta, and in Paris too.
And it all gave me hope. Hope that perhaps the world wasn’t spiraling down into a cesspool of hate and derision. Hope that maybe, just maybe, there was enough compassion, humanity, and grace left on this earth to bend the narrative to truth and love for ALL of our fellow human beings. As I have been told by more than one person in my lifetime so far: I hope well.
As an openly LGBTQ+ American traveling overseas I will admit to feeling more than a bit embarrassed by the clown show that is our political landscape. It followed us everywhere it seemed, as a number of the Europeans we met all wanted to talk to us about that. Especially in Italy, where things have gotten very bad under their neo-fascist prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. Our guide in Livorno spoke to us practically in tears about how her gay brother had to move to the U.K. because he feared for his safety. And apparently, he was not at all alone in his need to flee.
Now that I’m home, and slowly re-engaging, I see quite clearly that the myriad voices in our movement remain strong and vibrant. Their calls for justice and decency are emphatic and unequivocal: we will win and we will not be erased. I remain hopeful that these voices will never be silenced. I forever stand in solidarity with them, and it is an honor and a privilege to be counted among them. As I reflect on my place in all of it, I count my blessings every single day for the continuing journey that is my life.
As this Pride Month comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment to remind all of you that consider yourselves an ally that doing so is an active undertaking. I, and all of my trans and nonbinary siblings are our authentic selves 24×7, 365 days a year – not just for the month of June!
The reality is, that it is the same for you. Being an ally is a daily commitment to social justice and reinforcing the right that we all live our lives authentically and without fear. Especially now, when the forces that seek nothing less to eradicate us from existence are attempting – and some would say, succeeding – in bending the narrative to their wishes through a torrent of mis- and dis-information. But try as they might, the one thing they will never have is our stories. As I reflect on this past Pride month, and all that I have participated in and seen celebrated, I always come back to this simple fact: there is immense power in our stories. Our stories can move mountains, change hearts, and change minds. It is, and will always be our superpower. They define our histories, our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. They are OUR narrative.
But the simple truth is we cannot do this alone. If we are honest with ourselves, we never could. Because at the beginning of the movement and at various points throughout it, we were denied access to the spaces where we could tell our stories. I hasten to add that in many state legislatures today we are still being denied that fundamental human right.
It is for this reason and countless others, that we need our allies.
You amplify and elevate our stories. You help shape the narrative. You stand in solidarity with us when the clouds of hate, prejudice, and fear darken the path to our authentic selves. In so many ways, you are the light that illuminates the path forward when perhaps we are unable to see where our next step will lead us.
So I ask you: Are you an ally with a capital “A”, or are you an ally with a small “a?” “Capital A” allies live their values actively and openly every day, and they confront “teaching moments” that inevitably arise when it is clear that others are attacking my right, and the right of my trans and nonbinary siblings, to live as we are. “Small a” allies remain silent. They put away their Pride flags and change their rainbow Zoom backgrounds the moment the calendar flips to July. Lest we forget that silence condones, and in the final analysis, is a “small a” ally really an ally at all? One simply cannot consider themselves an ally and then disappear in the moments when we need them the most.
Now I realize that not everyone possesses the mettle, or can find it in their nature, to be a vocal, bullhorn-blaring, sign-waving ally. But the good news is being an ally is not a one-size-fits-all deal. To be sure, Capital A allies come in all shapes and sizes and in multiple varieties. So, as we move into the hazy days of summer and further away from a Pride Month filled with celebrations, protests, marches, and parades, I ask you to please create a moment of contemplation and discernment to examine your own values, your own belief system, and your own sense of grace. It is my hope that you emerge from that reflection ready and willing to be an ally – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
I am so very glad that I listened to my wife Mari’s advice a couple of weeks ago as I sat down to write this blog at the start of Pride Month when she said, “Just give it some time, babe, Pride Month is all of June.” Now while that may sound like very straightforward advice from one’s spouse, I need to offer up some context. You see at the very beginning of this month I had basically had it with all the complete and utter BS that was being dished out on a daily basis from Republican state legislatures, religious conservatives, outright haters, and everyone else on the lunatic fringe on the right swimming in a sea of mis- and dis-information about what it means to be a transgender person.
If I saw one more story, or one more post from some ill-informed, bigoted moron quoting the “gender ideology” of the transgender community, I thought I would absolutely lose it. I was beyond angry and just full of the proverbial “piss and vinegar.” This Jersey girl was absolutely fed up! I was enraged to the point of not being able to see straight, let alone think clearly about and comment on all of the utter nonsense being heaped upon my community.
So, I stepped back, took several deep breaths, started meditating again – and decided to shift my focus on the positives, and there are some: positive court rulings in Florida and Indiana (and literally as I was pressing the “publish” button – Arkansas!), Tennessee’s ridiculous restriction on drag were struck down, and even the U.S. Supreme Court permitted a trans student in West Virginia to continue participating in sports. Wins, to be sure, for trans and LGBTQ+ rights at a time when we really need them. When, quite frankly, I needed them. I realized I was internalizing everything from my news feeds. It had become very debilitating – psychologically and physically. It was time to slowly step away from my laptop . . . and my tablet . . . and my phone.
Pride is supposed to be a celebration of who we are – of who I am – and I was not at all feeling like the life of the party. My rage and my frustration were clouding my vision of that – as well as my embrace of hope. And that is something I have always had in abundant supply. But it caused me to pause. Were the forces that seek to eradicate my community actually succeeding in their efforts to disrupt our celebrations – my celebration and embrace of my authentic self? I feared that I was allowing the slow creep of despair to enter my thinking.
Mari was right (as most spouses are, I hasten to add . . .): I needed to step back and step away from the electronic devices and reflect for a bit. Now while I can say with total honesty that those things did actually help, what really pushed the reset button for me was the time I spent last week with my friends at TD Bank, back in my home state of New Jersey. I had the distinct honor of serving as the keynote speaker for their AMCB Pride event. Now you might be wondering what the initials stand for, and what they do tells you everything you need to know about the culture at TD: Allyship, Mentorship, Courage/Confidence, and Be Visible. I don’t think I can love that enough.
It was truly a transformative day for me as I listened to employees from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum tell their stories of bringing their authentic selves to work each and every day. And from senior executives, whose remarks made it very clear that they wholeheartedly support all that is being done to make all LGBTQ+ employees feel included and seen. I was so touched by the energy and passion that was in the room – and the commitment to evolving the already inclusive culture that has been built there.
For anyone who has yet to hear me speak, there is a story I always tell – as I did to the fine folks at TD – about a seminal moment in my journey where the realization that pursuing my authentic self was akin to taking a leap into an abyss not knowing if I would ever reach the bottom. But leap I did, and a bridge rose up to meet my fall made up of people who love and celebrate me for the real person I am. I now count the wonderful folks at TD Bank as forever a part of that bridge.
Without knowing it, the stories you shared about your own journeys and just being you’re out and proud selves were the salve my soul desperately needed to renew my spirit and strengthen my resolve to resume the struggle. You restored my faith in what Pride is all about. You were the Linus to my Charlie Brown when he so eloquently informed Charlie about “what Christmas is all about.”
Thank you so very much for that and for helping me realize that we must keep on keeping on, living our truth, being loud, being proud, and letting our freak flags fly – high and wide! Happy Pride!!!!
Well, I must say this was a very pleasant surprise! It’s really an honor to be included among such an amazing group of women who are truly making a difference in our world. THANK YOU to everyone at myGwork – LGBTQ+ professionals & allies! That I am included along with my sisters in the Movement, Katie Neeves FRSA, Celia Sandhya Daniels, #LaverneCox, and #JennyBoylan makes it even more special. Also, I see you Julie Harris, and Sarah Kate Ellis! Let’s change the world – together!