Alright, first up, what is it? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month, or LGBTQ Pride Month, is celebrated in the month of June. More on its origins follows in this #tapculture Q&A with Johnny Humphrey, director of inclusivity services at The Center on Colfax. Since opening in 1976, The Center has grown to become the largest LGBTQ+ community center in the Rocky Mountain region.
1. Say you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know or appreciate the significance of LGBTQ Pride Month. What are the top three things you want them to know?
I would start by acknowledging that while PRIDE Month has evolved into a month-long celebration, it is based on the civil rights movement for LGBTQ+ equality that has included police violence and harassment, protests, marches, and demonstrations.
I would then share the foundational significance of PRIDE, which is the Stonewall Riots (a.k.a. Stonewall Rebellion and/or Uprising) that took place on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NY, and erupted over the course of several days throughout various parts of the city. While police raids on LGBTQ+ bars were not uncommon at the time, this was the first time that the patrons fought back for their rights. I would recognize two transgender women of color who have been attributed for their involvement in the movement and fighting for LGBTQ+ rights: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Next, I would share the first of two recent LGBTQ+ rights advancements through the Supreme Court: Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015, which is a landmark civil rights case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples in all 50 states.
And finally, I would share the most recent LGBTQ+ rights advancement through the Supreme Court: Bostock v. Clayton County on June 15, 2020, which is a landmark civil rights case in which the Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
2. The Center is inching closer to (soon!) its 50th anniversary. Would you say the greatest changes and progress on LGBTQ visibility, rights and inclusion have occurred because of the mission of The Center and organizations like it? Or is it culture change more broadly?
Before jumping to our 50th anniversary celebration, I must give a shameless plug for our upcoming 45th Anniversary Gala that will occur on September 18, 2021. Check for updates on our website at www.lgbtqcolorado.org.
And back to the question, I believe that it’s a combination of both. The Center on Colfax and so many other incredible LGBTQ+ organizations across the country and around the world have been foundational in pushing for LGBTQ+ rights, legislation and acceptance since the early 1970s. Many people don’t know that until 1973, being “homosexual” was considered a mental illness and you could be institutionalized for being LGBTQ+. Not to mention fired, kicked out of your home and many other harmful impacts. The founders and early supporters of LGBTQ+ activism and organizing put themselves at risk for those of us that followed. We certainly saw cultural shifts towards LGBTQ+ (and Queer) visibility and activism through art, music and culture in the 70s as well. Both mobilized to rapidly address the AIDS epidemic that hit in the early 1980s. LGBTQ+ organizations, in partnership and support from activists, artists and entertainers raised critical funding and awareness for a disease that the presidential administration at the time initially didn’t even acknowledge.
Historically, LGBTQ+ Community Centers like The Center on Colfax have provided safe, brave spaces for our community members to gather together, to share, learn from and support one another. A lot has changed since our founding. Our culture has evolved and grown to be more inclusive for LGBTQ+ people, as well. Don’t get me wrong, while things have certainly improved in many areas, there is still much work to be done.
3. Is there a single lever that could be pulled to further enhance inclusion for LGBTQ individuals in 2021 and beyond? If yes, what is it? If no, why not?
We need to address racial inequity within the LGBTQ+ community to truly represent inclusion. Our organization, like so many others across the country and around the world, have taken a long hard look internally to uncover and address aspects of white supremacy and patriarchal culture. We are investing in racial equity training and taking meaningful steps to be a more inclusive organization to all LGBTQ+ people.
4. Over 2020 and into 2021, on what programs/issues have you focused most of your professional energy? Any milestones or major achievements?
My program, RANGE Consulting, has been focused on Intersectionality within the LGBTQ+ community, as well as educating organizations on best practices for supporting their transgender and gender-diverse employees and customers. One achievement that I’m particularly proud of is that we recently had our first international client. I conducted a training on LGBTQ+ inclusion to a company based in Australia that had a regional office in Denver.
Additionally, The Center moved all of our programming to a virtual format so our LGBTQ+ elders and youth would feel less isolated, and we have also continued to provide support groups for our transgender community.
5. What is the most powerful way that an organizational leader (CEO, manager, etc.) can ensure that the needs or concerns of LGBTQ individuals are heard?
I believe that leaders need to be actively involved in their organizations’ overall DEI (diversity, equity & inclusion) initiatives and strategies. Of course, this includes LGBTQ+ inclusion. Too often, these initiatives get directed through HR, with little support or involvement from the C suite. To be truly successful, executives need to take the lead in these efforts by demonstrating to their organization, their board, vendors and customers, why inclusion matters and how it enhances their mission, vision and values.
Specifically for LGBTQ+ inclusion, organizations should create employee resource groups (ERGs), or affinity groups, that enable their LGBTQ+ (and ally) employees to have community, as well as a tangible channel for influencing their organization’s culture and values. These groups should have an executive sponsor that is actively involved and proudly supporting their initiatives. Next, I recommend re-evaluating the organization’s policies and procedures to ensure LGBTQ+ inclusion. This includes, but is certainly not limited to:
- Ensuring that sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are included within their anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies;
- Having same-sex partner benefits;
- Developing a transition plan for staff that may transition at work;
- Updating their dress code policy and reviewing restroom accommodations to ensure that people have access to a restroom that aligns with their gender identity; and
- Ensuring that all-gender restrooms are available, too.
6. What impact (if any) does an organization’s size have on its ability to make good on inclusion goals?
I believe that companies of any size can have a meaningful impact on LGBTQ+ inclusion. The common element is that leadership within every sized organization needs to be committed to these efforts. While resources may be tighter for smaller organizations, that’s no excuse for not investing in inclusion. Start small and grow from there.
7. What is The Center doing during LGBTQ Pride Month? What does inclusion mean in the context of your organization’s events and programming?
The Center will be celebrating PRIDE throughout the month. We produce Denver’s PrideFest and invite you to our website at www.DenverPride.org for event details. We celebrate the rich, beautiful diversity of our community by incorporating a variety of different events, formats, activities and venues.
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