Prism of Identities

This week's guest writer, Mark Fowler, CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding reflects on the prism of identities and what makes us who we are.

Dear Leaders,

I am so excited that Mark Fowler, friend, partner, and #OutLEADER, has agreed to share his always inspiring and illuminating thoughts with us in this issue of OutNEWS. Before you read his letter below, I want to let you know how proud I was to represent Out Leadership at the historic signing of the Respect for Marriage Act yesterday in Washington DC. As I’ve written over the past few weeks, I honor the victories we’ve achieved thus far; commend the LGBTQ+ leaders, businesses, and activists whose persistent advocacy has led us to this moment; and look forward to harnessing the economic power of business to continue the fight for equality here in the US and around the world.

See you next week!


Prism of Identities

As 2022 draws to a close, I’m reflecting about the complexity of identity, even more so than usual. Each year that passes I become more aware that every one of us is a prism of identities, a vision that Out Leadership understands, protects, and celebrates. At times, my identities might seem on the outside to be in conflict with one another. Yet, they intersect so seamlessly as I move through the world that without even one, I wouldn’t be me.

I got the NYT alert about the Club Q shooting on my phone when I was in Fez, Morocco, in the middle of conducting a training on our work with social identities becoming salient.

My immediate reaction was that this was probably another hate crime of some kind. Horrific, but unfortunately, not new. As I returned to the U.S. and read an article about the accused, some new thoughts and questions have surfaced. Was the accused in some way struggling with his own identity? He says he is “non-binary,” could this be an extension of an internal hate crime?

During my readings, I was moved by a comment made by Richard Fierro, the army veteran who disarmed the Club Q gunman. As he described the night he said, “These kids want to live that way, want to have a good time, have at it. I’m happy about it because that is what I fought for, so they can do whatever the hell they want.” 

This resonated with me because it is so similar to a fight that Tanenbaum is embroiled in currently.

Tanenbaum submitted an Amicus Brief in defense of CADA (Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act) with regards to the case of 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis which has been presented to the Supreme Court of the United States. In this case, a Colorado graphic designer is defending her right to deny services to LGBTQIA+ couples on the grounds of her freedom of speech. Our brief maintains that CADA and other similar anti-discrimination laws promote and protect equality in the public square to the fullest extent, for persons of all religious beliefs and those without.

I learned a long time ago that it was my right not to give my money to any business that didn’t acknowledge or respect me. And I am thankful for The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and individuals like Richard Fierro who realize how their situations are bigger than just them. As organizations like Out Leadership make clear — thinking about how the world can best accommodate only you is not how we grow.

Creating spaces for people to live authentically and to safely embrace their full identities, is. This was the center of the conversation during the OutNEXT Summit I had the pleasure of participating in last July. Being in a room with young LGBTQIA+ leaders embracing their full selves at the start of their careers, it was impossible not to feel the inspiration they exuded. Looking back now, I can’t help but think of the bright futures that were taken far too soon, in another room celebrating our full selves, just under a month ago. This is why we need young leaders who carve a future where we navigate difference with respect instead of fear. Building inclusion instead of division. 

Todd and the team at Out Leadership have been making the case for the power that businesses can bring to bear on the world’s most important issues for 12 years. It’s been an honor and a privilege to participate in a small way in this community. Businesses can help build this path forward by making space for those impacted by current events; continuing efforts to make sure your company’s policies recognize the dignity and complexity of all your employee’s identities; and considering how to use your individual and institutional influences to impact government and local affairs to build a world that respects difference. Whatever the differences – please remember Daniel, Derrick, Kelley, Ashley, and Raymond.

Knowing the motivations of the accused might fill in some blanks, but it will never fill the holes in our hearts. We are all a beautiful prism of identities that when touched by light drive out the darkness around us. In 2023, my hope is that we continue to honor the way these differences weave together to make our world a more colorful place.


Mark Fowler
Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding 


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