Where are you from, and why there?
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was living abroad for a while, and found myself emphasizing that I was from the South — actual place didn’t matter. Having spent eight years studying in the Midwest, I realized that the regional differences in the U.S. — and role that South plays in our national narrative — are extremely important. And for all the negative associations that the South carries with it, there are positive associations as well; either way, that’s where I’m from, and that fact won’t change.
Which issue(s) do you work on/care about, and why?
My work is on equality, anti-discrimination, and inclusion, with a focus on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). The most interesting projects that I’ve worked on, however, have taken an intersectional approach. As a man who likes men, my work on SOGI has some self-interest wrapped up in it, but I enjoy finding the unifying characteristics among marginalized populations. Oppression often has similar iterations when experienced by different groups, and exercising that empathetic muscle is crucial for us to find the strength to make the world a better place for everyone.
How did you get involved?
My parents emphasized service when I was growing up. As early as ten years old, I saw altruism as something to strive for. In 4th grade, I volunteered with disabled students on my middle school campus. The opportunity existed because I excelled on my schoolwork, therefore I had extra time to spend with those students with extra needs. I later went on service trips to some pretty exciting places during the summers. Somehow, these early experiences instilled in me a commitment to making the world better and being able to soak it up without gratuitous spending, so my priorities for work and profit came out of a different system than the ones that value making money.
What are the biggest challenges for the issue(s) today?
The divisiveness that is spreading throughout the world is extremely troubling. With more and more people focusing on our differences as being dispositive, our society becomes more and more fractured. That ossification of difference, and creation of deeper factions with differentials not only in political power and access to goods and services, but in the bare life of experiencing violence by the state, is creating a brittle societal structure that is at risk of breaking. As I mentioned above, my most satisfying work has been on intersectionality: finding our commonalities and shared experiences, along with an attempt to understand the meaningful differences that make all our lives better.
Who are your most frequent allies in your field?
Unsurprisingly given some of the above answers, frequent allies include those working the right of other identity-based groups. Those other social movements often have already learned some solutions that can influence how the LGBTI movement can achieve success. But most importantly, those leaders of other movements are important allies because there are LGBTI people in every community, and LGBTI people are not solely defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.
What drives you?
Being a part of bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice (hat tip, MLK Jr., whose memorial I often run by). This work can be frustrating, and inconsequential, and like we’re often on the losing side. But if I’m not shouting for justice, there’s no guarantee that there’s someone behind me who will continue shouting. Also, I have had some wonderful mentors through my studies and career, so I hope that I am playing a part in making sure that someone knows that shouting is important, and knows the right things to shout.
What do you want your career/advocacy to stand for?
Advocacy that is focused on the rights of LGBTI people, but that thoughtfully recognizes that we are all in this together. I consider my fight to be about the principles of law that guarantee rights of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. When I make the world a better place for LGBTI people, I like to think it makes the world a better place for everyone.