Who are you?
This question makes me take a deep breath and smile. It goes right to the heart of what Leeway does and does so brilliantly--which is to shift the conversation about intersectional social identities away from the objectifying question "What are you?" to the empowering question of asking people to tell their own stories in their own words. So often, the question is “What are you?”, which is dehumanizing and objectifying.
As a biracial, black and white trans man who transitioned at 38, I've had the "What are you?" question thrown at me countless times. Often people aren't satisfied with my response to the "what" because they have a preconceived idea of my exoticism and are disappointed to hear that I'm "simply" black and white. And when my gender presentation was more androgynous than it is now, the "what" was not question but an epithet. The "who" changes over time.
These days, I would say I'm a dad, a husband, a brother, a writer, a teacher, and a person who fights for institutional reform in a variety of organizations on behalf of marginalized communities.
How would you define your place within Leeway's community?
I was a board member for three years, and then I stepped down when my daughter was born, and it became hard for me to get to meetings and give the board the energy it deserved. I was heartbroken to leave. Now, I see my role as one of Leeway's biggest fans. I probably have a conversation at least once a month where I bring up Leeway as the non-profit social justice organization I most respect. I always end up saying some version of "I've never seen an organization like it that walks the talk so intentionally and consistently." Denise and the Leeway staff and board figure out ways to make the organization responsive (quickly!) to the communities it serves. There is no lip-service to diversity; they do it through actions and they never stop.
I guess what comes to mind during my time on the board [is that] they were reaching out to Camden and South Jersey. I guess I was just struck during that time about how intentional and methodical they were. Not just doing this in a performative way, but like who do we need to talk to and how do we recruit…how do we get the word out? Just those kind of conversations about specifics. Because I’ve been in meetings where diversity plans get discussed, they were always very clear about like how do we make this happen, do we want this population to know about us, and to cultivate those relationships in real ways.
What role has Leeway played in your own evolution?
Leeway has played a big role in my own evolution both personally and professionally. I'm a trans man married to a queer woman who's often perceived by other people as a cisgender straight guy. I personally identify as a life-long feminist and LGBTQ advocate. When Denise and Amadee interviewed me for a position on the Board, they seemed curious about how I reconciled these layers. They asked me a lot of "who" questions, which I really appreciated because it allowed us to have a deep conversation about the herstory of Leeway and its values and mission.
I remember thinking about that they had asked me how do I identify, not just in terms of gender identity but also racially, and I thought that was really interesting and important. It’s not a question that I get asked a lot…I thought that was really cool because it matters for them -- just not how I might be perceived, but also how I identify and what I would bring to the organization.
Professionally, Leeway has helped me to develop leadership skills. As a board member, I was permitted and encouraged to learn about how a non-profit operates financially. And Denise modeled a leadership style that was both inclusive and decisive. At a Summer Community Partner Gathering networking event, I met academic consultant Cathy Hannabach, who has helped me achieve my dream of helping businesses, schools, and other organizations design and implement trans-inclusive administrative policies.
What would you like Leeway to do in the next 25 years?
I hope it continues to innovate and keep its finger on the pulse of the communities it serves.
If Leeway were a playlist, what song would you be?
Strange Little Girl by Tori Amos because I definitely was one and I carried that to the board meetings.