If you told the 24, or even 34 year-old version of me that one day I’d be sharing thoughts publicly on what Pride Month means to me I’d have called you crazy. Or worse, back then, misguided. My path to Pride hasn’t been clear or easy, and it’s probably been more private than some. The truth is, this 44 year-old is still figuring it all out, and every day gives me a chance to learn something new about myself, my community and our place in these evolving and complex times. So what Pride Month means to me is that how you define yourself doesn’t matter. What matters is that you stand up.
Because I “sat down” for a long time.
I sat down because in our business, chemistry – sometimes even alchemy – with our clients means the difference between a thriving relationship or a challenging one. We live to “click” with our clients. So I thought for a long time that I needed to play a part… to be whatever version of myself the client wanted to see to get the job done, to deliver value, to create that chemistry. In truth, I don’t think this thinking is limited to LGBT people… we all learn to “play our parts” when we need to. But I remember many years ago a client described his co-worker to me as “light in the loafers,” and joked, “He’ll never get ahead” because of it. I remember chuckling along, amiably, desperate to shift the focus… but gutted. What else could I do, as my fears were confirmed? I was convinced that revealing my true self would limit me. So I sat down, convinced I’d be more successful for it. I was wrong. I know now that clients need us to bring our truest selves to any issue, and to counsel them from a place of honesty. Today, in an era of fake news, rife with skepticism and propensity to doubt before we trust, I’m trying to stand up for authenticity, particularly in the way I carry myself or show up with our clients… to earn that chemistry, not force it. My ask of you – stand up as your own authentic self, and work really hard to create an environment where others can, too.
I also sat down because I thought that even in a culture as inclusive as Ketchum’s, I was afraid my colleagues would brand me as “different” or think I was less commanding a leader or capable in our craft if they knew I was gay. Maybe you’re shaking your head right now or saying, “That’s crazy.” But think about yourself… Don’t we all worry that something about ourselves might hold us back? It’s universal. So for years, I was masterful at the deceptive use of pronouns, especially at work. Colleagues would ask how I spent my weekend… “A bunch of us went to a great dinner,” I’d reply. Or, “We went away for the weekend,” masking the great adventure my partner, now husband, and I shared together. I sat down because I thought leadership meant work/life separation, not balance and certainly not harmony. I was wrong, as scholar and University of Houston Professor Brené Brown has said: “Leaders and employees who are vulnerable and authentic with one another are more likely to feel connected, increasing workplace productivity and employee engagement.” (Check out her inspiring TED Talk here). My ask of you – give friends, clients and colleagues the space they need to be themselves, and the invitation to be their full selves when they’re with you.
I also sat down because in my zeal for a definition of what I was or wasn’t, I craved finality. Even when I chose to share my orientation with someone, I would offer an inoculating caveat – “You’ll never see me march in a parade. That’s not my thing.” On Sunday, June 25, I’ll join 100 other Omnicom colleagues to participate in the New York Pride Parade – a first for the agency network, and a step on my own journey I never would have predicted. My ask of you – recognize that whether you’re gay, straight or still sorting it all out, Pride Month celebrates the journey, not the finite destination.
We are living in times that require resiliency and resolve, passion and patience, regardless of your beliefs or orientation. As communicators, what an opportunity and an obligation we have to uncover the great human truths, to report on the issues that matter to people and help our clients do great things to advance our global society… authentically. For me, Pride is a month-long reminder of a life-long professional calling, and a personal promise to never sit down again.