“We are not crumbs! We should not accept crumbs! We must not accept crumbs!”
Activists Larry Kramer in 2007 Poz Magazine article
In the midst of this crisis last week, the only openly gay Senator Tammy Baldwin published a column in the New York Times titled “Building an L.G.B.T.Q. Political Pipeline: Those left out of the decision-making room must have a viable path forward.” The piece argues that lack of LGBT representation in US politics has negative consequences. A year ago, I joined in Dublin a small group of LGBTI politicians on the occasion of the launch of Andrew Reynolds’ book ”The Children of Harvey Milk” which discusses how lesbian and gay people achieved progress through getting elected to office. The conclusion of the Book is that LGBT politicians not only had a positive effect on their community but also on the wider society. Yet, there are only ten openly gay members out of 535 in the 116th US Congress (1.8%), making it the “gayest Congress” – at least that we know of. Read “Meet the 10 Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Members of the 116th Congress” in the Advocate.
At Out Leadership we believe that in all decision-making instances – including in the private sector – representation matters, and that so far LGBT people have gotten crumbs.
We consistently advocated for change in the private sector for the past ten years with a particular focus on:
Before joining Out Leadership in January, I highlighted the abysmal lack of representation of out LGBTI people in the United Nations system: an issue current Secretary General Gutierrez has deliberately turned his back on. At the United Nations, I cannot think of one single openly LGBTI high-ranking official and if there is, they are very discreet, as I never met them or heard from them in my four years there.
Tammy Baldwin’s piece did not contain any reference to the coronavirus crisis in the United States, but we believe that it is very relevant to the pandemic. Representation of LGBT people in decision-making instances is not only about fairness, it is also about reaching different solutions. Take a look at the picture of the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus team: as usual, it is dominated by straight white males.
Being LGBT is not as much about having a different sexual orientation and gender identity as it is having a different sensibility to the World.
As an example, in a recent interview our founder and CEO Todd Sears highlighted that “anecdotal evidence and research show that LGBT people have a higher level of empathy than the general population, and empathetic leaders are more sought out and successful. Sears attributes this to ‘there being certain aspects of coming out, experiencing discrimination and navigating structural homophobia and gender norms that LGBT people must overcome’ to survive. When we overcome those challenges enough, not necessarily completely, we reach the sweet spot as business leaders.”
If there is one lesson from the current pandemic, it’s that it highlighted severe flaws in our economic and social system: disregard for the lives of elder people [Read: COVID-19 and the price of human life], inexcusable economic disparities which lead to unfathomable inequalities in how the pandemic affects various parts of the population and gigantic pockets of forgotten vulnerable populations [Read: What is your community?]. In short, COVID-19 showcases our lack of empathy.
There is a song by Nina Simone I really love: Mississippi Goddam [on this link interpreted live in the Netherlands in 1965]. The song was written in response to the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL which had killed four young Black girls who had just finished a Bible study session. It’s rumored to have taken Nina Simone between 20 minutes to an hour to write the song. The lyrics read, “Don’t tell me, I’ll tell you/Me and my people just about due/I’ve been there so I know/They keep on saying ‘Go slow!'[Refrain]/But that’s just the trouble/’do it slow'”
May this crisis be a reminder that better and more fair results can be achieved if LGBT people are given [or take?] a chance to participate in decisions. Time has not only come for it; it is overdue. It is highly probable that tackling LGBT representation in politics, business, and other decision-making instances could very well bring beneficial changes to the decisions that are made in the World.