Remembering Those We Lost

This Week: Todd's reflection on the horrific violence in Colorado and his message for moving forward.

Dear Leaders,

I hope this finds you safe and sound. This was originally meant to be a letter about the approaching holiday season, specifically about thankfulness and gratitude. Then I woke up to the news on Sunday that an armed assailant had entered Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He murdered at least 5 people and injured as many as 25 more in an act of violence and terror that we’ve all come to dread, and worse, expect.

After some reflection, I decided that I needed to acknowledge this tragedy — and those that have happened before, and will happen again — and STILL use this letter to write about my profound gratitude for leaders, members, and partners like you.

As business and nonprofit leaders in a community of LGBTQ+ and allied people, you understand as much as any, maybe even more than most, what it means to create a safe space. If you are a reader of this newsletter, then you know VERY well that an inclusive environment — be it social or work-related — is essential to health, happiness, and yes, the bottom line. This is true for everyone, but especially for people like those gathered at Club Q on Saturday night. People for whom spaces have frequently been nothing less than hostile.

To be clear, ALL SPACES should be free from hostility for EVERYONE. But because that’s not the case, spaces that are LGBTQ+ friendly are SACRED to my community. And gay bars? Well, they are a kind of church in and of themselves. They have provided me and so many of us with safety, sanctuary, solace, and a place to connect (and dance!) for decades. I think back to those uniquely lonely summers when I was home from boarding school, specifically the summer before college when I was 18 years old and had just come out to my parents. I went to my first gay bar that summer. It was in Charlotte, NC, and called Scorpio — the reference was lost on me at the time.

I had met a friend “online” — I’m talking AOL dial-up — who promised to meet me there and introduce me to his “family.” His name was Joe, and he assured me that I would be fine — despite Scorpio being on the wrong side of town, in the corner of a huge parking lot, with blacked-out windows. Joe had been unusually silent online before our agreed upon meet-up at the bar. When I arrived, terrified and excited, Joe’s friends let me know that his partner had just died of AIDS the week before. Despite the unimaginable grief he was experiencing, he showed up. When I asked him why he didn’t cancel on me, he explained that he felt he was honoring his partner by bringing a “new” gay into the world the same week his other half left it.

For Joe, I am so very grateful.

In time, Scorpio became MY safe space when I was in Charlotte. A place where I could figure out who I was away from my life at school and at home. On the dance floor, around the pool table, and in the country roadhouse upstairs (remember, this was NC!) I found family, friends, and ultimately myself.

To someone in Colorado Springs, perhaps another young gay person, Club Q was their Scorpio. In fact, gay bars often create a kind of safety net across the country and around the world for LGBTQ+ people. When it is disrupted, we all feel it. And it’s not just in Colorado Springs or Orlando, Florida. A brick was thrown through the window of a gay bar a few blocks from my apartment here in New York City just this past weekend. As my Dad said to me when he picked me up from the airport on Monday, this could have been The Pavilion on Fire Island where I’ve danced for the last 22 summers. It could have been Low Tea at the Blue Whale.

Disrupting this safety net — with a gun, a brick, online hate, or discriminatory laws — can shatter a community. But communities are resilient, and none more so than my community, which has had to fight tooth and nail for every square foot of safety that we have. This past Sunday a community was shattered and lives were lost. But also, our community fought back.

It’s been reported that patrons and staff at Club Q disarmed the shooter, subdued him until the police came, and cared for the wounded. It should always be remembered that on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a trans woman’s high heels stomped on the murderer’s head and saved lives. And as heartbroken as I am by this tragedy, I am equally INSPIRED by these acts of bravery. I’m reminded of the lesbians who cared for gay men during the AIDS epidemic. I’m reminded of the allies who bore witness at the AIDS quilt and at countless gay pride parades and marches and rallies. I’m reminded of the young people who tried to shelter their friends in the dressing rooms at Pulse.

For them, all of them, I am grateful.

And for you, I am grateful as well.

Because, for more than 12 years now, Out Leadership has worked with you to create environments that are safe for LGBTQ+ employees: places where they can thrive and achieve their ultimate #OutVANTAGE(™). Together we’ve moved the dial SO FAR FORWARD on demonstrating the value that an inclusive work environment can provide not just to LGBTQ+ employees, but to ALL employees, to consumers, and the community at large – and we’re not going back.

In recent months, online and in State Houses across the country, those opposed to equality have escalated their attacks. But be it a Tweet calling for violence or a proposed anti-trans bill that dehumanizes us, THEY WILL FAIL. We have a plan at Out Leadership, state by state, to take our second-to-none research on the quality of life for LGBTQ+ people across America and use it to amplify our advocacy efforts. YOU are a full partner in this endeavor because you know that business drives equality.

And for that, I thank you.

To all of my friends and family in bars like Club Q around the world: the next drink is on me.

Todd G. Sears
Founder and CEO
Out Leadership

PS. You can support the victims and community in Colorado Springs by donating to this fundraiser. Out Leadership will match donations up to $5,000.


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