Welcome to Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox. I’m Jackie Ferguson, certified diversity executive, writer, human rights advocate and co-founder of The Diversity Movement. Happy Pride Month
On this show, I talk with trailblazers, game changers and glass ceiling breakers who shared their inspiring stories, lessons learned and insights on business, inclusion and personal development.
And for this special episode, we are highlighting some of the amazing LGBTQ+ leaders who have shared their stories, experiences and perspectives with me over the past several seasons.
I’m dedicating this episode to my friend of 25 years Felicia Smallwood who passed away in February after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Felicia’s resilience and kindness were marks of her character and creating space for young people to be themselves and encouraging them to live in their truth and purpose were so important to her. And these leaders, on this compilation are endeavoring to do the same in so many ways.
Enjoy the show!
Clip 1 - Di Ciroulo, allyship
Jackie Ferguson: Let's talk about allyship a little bit more. We talked about why it's important, but I want to really lean in on who can be an ally,
Di Ciroulo: The point of Ally Up is to show you all the places where maybe you don't aren't being impacted, but in some other place you will be. So maybe you aren't part of the LGBTQ community, but maybe you are BiPAP or maybe you're BiPAP, but you're not necessarily part of the neurodivergent community, or maybe you are a part of the neurodiverse.
You know what I mean? Like every single place, there's a place where you're not going to have that information and it's not going to be just stuff, you know, in your mind, like how we talk about. Even within the disabled community or the differently abled community, there are entire groups of people that have entire co the deaf community has an entire culture that is specific to them.
Even within certain umbrellas, there are sub umbrellas of stuff that you need to know. So there will always be a point where you need to be an ally for somebody else impacted, unless you are specifically somebody who has all of those things. Yeah. Maybe you are, and that's totally excellent. Please join my companies.
But if you're not, you're going to need to know this stuff in order to be making your company's inclusive. It's not just about one thing. It's about all the things it's about all the systems and tearing them down to make them more equitable for everyone. So we can be doing the real good here.
Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely.
And you know, it's important to say that anyone can be an ally. To someone else. And yes, as simple as if you are in the workplace and you know that this individual that's in these conferences, right in these conference rooms, doesn't have an opportunity to speak up, but you say, you know, Bob or Susan, or, you know, Kesha, what do you think?
Right. And give them that opportunity to speak. Never know. What they can contribute if they're not given that space to speak and V and very often. People who are underrepresented, you know, they, they don't have that lion dye that you have and speak up as an ally, give them a opportunity to share their perspective and their experiences as it relates to, you know, whatever product challenge, you know, issue that you're facing.
You might be really surprised at the amazing ideas that come from unexpected places.
Clip 2 - LaTonya Wilkins, family support
LaTonya: I watched my grandma through a lot of different things. She was very involved in our lives. Uh, she was very accepting of me, even though I was different and everybody knew I was different at a very young age. Um, um, if, if all you don't know, I identify as queer. And, um, my grandmother knew that right away.
Everybody knows that before you do right. Uh, when you're a child and she was always very, very accepting of that. Um, she also was, uh, just amazing. Well, with having relationships with people who are different from her, she was also just a really huge light. I remember, uh, I would always let the world stress me out when politicians were changed or something would change.
And the narrative on TV was like the world's ending. And she'd always sit me down and be like child, you don't, you have to know what I've been through. And this is, this is nothing compared to that. And we will get out of this. And so she was always my voice of reason. And so now I kind of have that, that wisdom and planted in me.
And, uh, we, we were blessed with her for 93 years. Her sisters were also were blessed with our sisters and so the nineties. And so I just have these amazing women, amazing black women, uh, in my life for that long. Um, it's just, it's just phenomenal and it's unheard of. And so, um, all of them have been such an inspiration.
Jackie: I love that. And you know, in the time that you, you said your grandmother had lots of relationships with people who are different from, from her. And very often when we think of older people, right, they're very stuck in their ways. They're not as inclusive. They're not as open and welcoming, but your grandmother was different.
Clip 3 - Elaine Montilla, lifting up others in your community
Elaine: I grew up thinking that I needed to be quiet and that I couldn't raise my voice. And especially for me as a Dominican, we were raised very conscious about respecting our elders. And so if I worked with anyone that was older than me, automatically my brain would go into, oh, this person is all that you need to respect them.
And I ended up managing people that were usually older than me. So I think that is another piece that I don't think we talk about enough. Sometimes we are raised being told, this is how much you could do. This is your level or limit, because as a Latina, especially for me being gay, which added another layer, this is as far as you will get.
And I had to go through a process of unlearning everything that I learned growing up, everything that I heard from society, from school, from my teachers, from commercials, from TV shows, you know, I had to tell myself, no, that is not true. You could be more than that. You could be better than that. Any, I mean, it takes a lot of practice, being conscious and asking yourself a lot of questions.
Jackie: That's such good advice, Elaine, let's talk about your TEDx, uh, on the value of mentoring women and minorities in tech. Tell us about that experience and, and why mentoring is so important. You talked about that a little bit, but let's dig into that some more.
Elaine: Yeah. I shared that earlier. I, you know, in a way I think my TEDxTalk was a think you to all the mentors that I've encountered and also in my mind, is I love letter to my nephews, because I know that they're growing up and I want them to have a better place than the one that I found. You know, I am a very spiritual person and so I journal, I meditate and I do a lot of visualization and I spent almost five years visualizing myself in the middle of that red carpet. And I will tell myself, you're going to do this one day. I know you're going to do it.
But I want everyone to know that I used to hate public speaking. Uh, so if you hate it, there is hope, just watch me. Um, I used to hate it. I used to be so afraid. I couldn't eat my stomach would hurt right before and I had to say something. And so what I decided was to take action take classes. And so I, I knew that if I had a message that was big enough, that will change other people's lives, it was now my responsibility to share that message with others.
So for me, it was a dream come true to be able to do a TEDx talk. And I know the importance of mentors because they helped me. They believed in me, they pushed me along the way. You know, when I was at the college one of my professors was a Latina and a woman, and when I saw her was the first time that I said, oh my God, I could do this. And we need more role models like that. Mentors who would look at us and say, you know what? You have it, and I believe in you. Just keep going and keep moving forward. So I try to do that now for others.
And I want to continue to do more of that because especially Latinas and members of the LGBTQ community, I want to make sure that they see themselves in me and they see what's possible for them too.
Clip 4 - Dr. Steve Yacovelli, LGBTQ+ leadership
Dr Steve Yacovelli: it started with Jenn and, and the leadership book coming out story, uh, pun intended.
But I was, I was going to go down the path of just kind of writing, you know, generic leadership book and, and kind of go from there. And then, you remember Sex and The City--
Jackie Ferguson: mhm.
Dr Steve Yacovelli: --Which is coming back out now, apparently. I, you know, I love that show, of course, "Hey, gee, I'm not gay," but anyway, I love that show.
And, um, I remember how Carrie Bradshaw would always sit down at her Mac and she's like, "I couldn't help, but wonder..." And, and so that actually went through the back of my head as I'm starting to formulate the outline for the book. Because I do a lot of work in social justice, especially with the queer community.
And, and, I've led groups, you know, volunteer and stuff here in central Florida and beyond. And just because leadership was, was, and usually is on top of mine. I started watching my queer brothers and sisters who are leading these different initiatives. And then I couldn't help but wonder, Carrie Bradshaw, is there something about being an LGBTQ Plus person that leads you to approach leadership, or at least get exposed, or the opportunity to exercise your leadership muscles differently than our straight brothers and sisters.
So for example, I was looking at the different competencies and at one point I had post-it notes all over this office working with a friend of mine who, since I'm an extrovert, I need another extrovert to kind of, you know, process stuff.
And we must have had like 40-some post-it notes on all these different competencies that we, because he's also in the OD leadership space. And we just like, what we saw working, started trying to cluster them together to see what are the ones we really want to focus on. And then I started thinking about like, "Okay, so I'm watching my queer leadership brothers and sisters do their thing."
And I'm thinking about something, like, "Well, authenticity." You go back in the generic research on, on leadership. And people have been saying for years, "You're being an authentic leader, is successful." Well, yes, of course it is, because you build trust and all that good stuff, but what does that look like through the lens of being a queer person?
So, you know, if I'm an out, trans person in the workplace, or I'm an, out gay or lesbian or bisexual person, that's amazing. And so you're, you know, it's not to say that it's better leadership, but it's just different leadership that we have the opportunity. So, that's kind of how I framed the six competencies I talk about in Pride Leadership, which is, you know, authenticity, having courage, having empathy, effective communication, building relationships, and then shaping, you can see culture, there's culture right there. But culture is the purple one.
And so this is kind of the lens I put it through, but Jackie, to your point, I'm actually hearing from a lot of allies how much they love the book because as my, my editor, Heather, which I think is funny, Heather The Editor, that's fun to say. But, when she, you know, she first read the book and gave me the first piece of feedback, I was like, nervous as anything. I'm in a coffee shop in downtown Orlando and, and waiting for a call. And she's like, "Steve, I need to, before I give you feedback, I need to preface something."
I'm like, "Okay." She's like, "I am not your target audience. She's like, "I'm a white, cisgendered, straight woman." I'm like, "Ugh." She's like, "This is the book I wanted from my MBA program when we talked about leadership," I'm like, "What?"
And you said, she said things like you, it was very approachable, it was funny, it was cheeky, dad humor, but it's, I mean, I'm an academic nerd. There's like, solid leadership research theory back there. And that's what I tried to bring to the voice was that approachability to it, some cheeky fun-ness that hopefully sticks with the learner or the reader, but really can help be kind of like a, "How To" guide to be a bit more of a consciously inclusive leader.
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Clip 5 - Lisa Cunningham, adversity and progress for LGBTQ+ community
Lisa Cunningham: I'm really proud of that TEDx because it's already outdated, and I love that because it was such a pain point for me. At the time I did it, in 2019, we were struggling in this country for the basic right to not get fired from your job just because you are LGBTQIA+, OK? Meaning, an employer in almost any city in the land could just simply say, you know what? I don't like that person. I just found out they were trans, and we would have had no legal ground to stand on. Georgia was one of those states, and I live in Georgia. So, it pained to me to think that I can be in Atlanta in this wonderful bubble bubble of inclusiveness-
Jackie Ferguson: Right.
Lisa Cunningham: -but I can travel to one of my favorite cities, Savannah, Georgia, completely different. So, it was really talking about the spirit of a city like Atlanta, the heart and soul of Atlanta that I think was kind of birthed in the Civil Rights Movement, comes from a space of being inclusive for all. And, and I feel like that, you know, should, should obviously, you know, fit for all marginalized groups, you know, not just the Mecca for Black folks, you know?
And, and it has been a wonderful experience growing up in Atlanta, being Black and a woman and gay and LGBTQ, whatever you want to call it, it's been a great experience, but I know that that's just simply not how, you know, a lot of the rest of this country is.
And so that's what that Ted talk was, was about.
This year, a law got passed that finally gave us the right to not get fired for something so simple. And so basic. So I'm ex I am a static that, that, that Ted talk is already outdated.
Jackie Ferguson: I love that, but you know, it's, it's voices like yours. That allowed the spotlight to be on the fact that this was a real issue, right.
Because if you're not part of the LGBTQ community, you're not thinking about that. Right. And you're like, well, of course they don't do that. Of course they can't do that. Right. But a laws on the books, that's one of the things that we have to do as individuals is know the law, right. Because we don't, we're like, oh, that can't possibly be right.
It should be this right. But what are the laws on the books? And then what are you doing from a, you know, the standpoint of, you know, advocate.
Clip 6 - Bernadette Smith, advocacy for marriage equality
Bernadette Smith: So my story starts when I was an idealistic young, 27 year old living in Boston, and I was living there when I heard the Supreme court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of same sex marriage.
So this was back in 2004 but there were, there were all of these protests. A lot of people were not excited about same sex marriage. So I attended the protest, so I was in favor of, and I was standing on the state house steps attending these public hearings. They were trying to change the constitution, but I was getting all fired up and looking around at these couples, many of whom had been together for decades.
And I just thought to myself. You know what, this is going to happen. Someone's gotta plan the weddings, and it might as well be me.
Jackie Ferguson: That's awesome.
Bernadette Smith: So I decided to start a business as a gay wedding planner but my vision was really to be an activist wedding planner to help these couples have, an experience free from discrimination to help them feel safe.
To help them navigate a very traditional, very straight bride and groom focused wedding industry. And it was an amazing journey. That's how my entrepreneurial journey started 16 years ago.
Jackie Ferguson: Wow.
Bernadette Smith: Yes.
Jackie Ferguson: Is there are a couple that particularly resonated with you, or a couple that you just fell in love with, and planning their wedding.
Bernadette Smith: Many, but the story that I'll tell is actually part of my why, let me just back up by saying I'm a retired wedding planner. I don't plan weddings anymore. But one of the couples that I worked with before is definitely part of why I continue to, to do diversity and inclusion work and why it is so important to me, to support the LGBTQ community.
And it was a couple named Joanne and Terry and when they reached out to me, we first met, Joanne's specifically said, I want you to help me become the bride I've always dreamed of. Joanne was probably at the time, maybe around 55 or 60 and she was a transgender woman and she was previously married and had been a groom in her previous marriage. Right. And so had, her ex wife, her late wife died of cancer and she fell in love and, you know, met someone new, she'd only been out as transgender for about five or six years at the time, but she really wanted me to help her feel safe.
She wanted to feel beautiful and safe and supported, on her wedding day, and it was really an honor for me to give her that gift, and I really do feel like I gave her a gift. Being part of the experience, shopping for a wedding gown with her was amazing and transformative and seeing how amazing she looked in every dress. It was just a very special experience.
Jackie Ferguson: That's awesome.
Clip 7 - Jake Rostovsky, gender identity
Jake Rostovsky: So gender , um, identity is how you identify in your gender, right? So you can identify as male, female, non-binary. So non-binary is actually part of a gender identity. And then not to be confused with sexual orientation, which is, who in your gender identity are you attracted to in their gender identity?
Right. So male to male, female to female , um, male to female, whatever. Right. Gender expression is how you express yourself , uh, through your gender. So, you know what I'm wearing, what I decide to wear, and then non-binary, which is a relatively newer term to the non-queer community, is someone who lives in-between genders. So I don't identify as male and I don't identify as female. The easiest way to remember this, I call it the bed metaphor. Right? So gender expression is what do you go to bed wearing? Right. So what do you go to bed wearing? Do you wear a nighty? Do you wear nothing? Do you wear boxers? Gender identity is, who do you go to bed as? Do I go to bed as male? Female? Non-binary? Uh, The 400 other definitions that there are for gender? And then, sexual orientation is, who do you go to bed with? Or who do you not go to bed with? Right. Cause asexuality is also valid. So that's the easiest way for me to remember that.
Jackie Ferguson: So helpful.
Jake Rostovsky: Of course.
Jackie Ferguson: As a DEI leader, I found that people often don't have access or experience with people from the trans community.
And so they avoid conversations as to not offend, but in doing that, it makes people feel excluded and unwelcomed. Let's talk about some trans basics. What are some things that we need to know?
Jake Rostovsky: It's really interesting because a lot of employers that I work with say, Oh, well, we've never had a trans employee. I don't know how to have these conversations. To which I respond, well, you've never had an trans employee that you know of. Right. It's quite possible they've not come out yet. Or they're, you know, living stealth, right. Which means that they just don't tell anyone. So already it's a bit too late for these conversations that employers are not having.
Um, But some basics that are really important to know are just to be open, honest, and always take the lead of your employee. Right? So if an employee comes out, instead of being like, well, I took this training, which is good, please take trainings. But say, okay, this is what I've learned in this training. How is this applicable to you? And how can I help you? Because I could sit here and list, you know, the top five things to know when working with a trans employee and your employee will come out. And it's absolutely not applicable to that employee. In a nutshell, the great answer to that is take as many workshops with varying different facilitators because we each have our own perspective.
And then when , um, you're ready to have those difficult conversations, follow your employees lead.
Jackie Ferguson: Love that.
Clip 8 - Precious Brady-Davis, her trans experience
Precious Brady Davis: I grew up a child who was very resilient. I was very optimistic for as long as I can remember, I was outspoken in who I was, even though I didn't have the words to describe my identity.
I was being my authentic self. And that's why the book is titled. I have always been me, whether it was walking in my sister's high heels, down the hall of our home, whether it was accidentally wearing my sister's choose wearing my sister's shoes accidentally to school, wearing a dress at a drama club party and through the momentous activity of performing drag.
In college. So drag was the first gay way for me to be my authentic self in discovering my womanhood, because I felt at the end of the day, I didn't want to take it off. Being precious and being the, the authenticity of, of my person, but it took me many years before I, after that, before I could officially transition, because I was way down with a Myron of religious teachings.
That, that to me felt like. If I were to transition that I would be doing something out of God's will, or that I would, would go to to hell. Um, because you know, I was raised, you know, and was ingrained with a mired of tropes surrounding. The LGBTQ community. Even when I did drag, I kept it like very light. I kept like very light in terms of like my music, because I said, oh, I still want it to be an in God's will.
But ultimately after I graduated college and in college, I was like a very gender non-conforming and I felt like I crept out of the closet, little by little. It started, you know, I would wear heels. Around campus, then I would start wearing nails and then I would start wearing, so it was like a gradual process, but the thing about it was I didn't have a label for what I was doing.
It's just being my authentic self. Like I have my entire life, but after I graduated college, I went to work at an LGBTQ community center here in Chicago. After I started working at that center cause I was male identified when I started working there. I saw this young girl, 16 years old, Coco skin, beautiful hair down her back.
Yeah. It was a young trans girl. And there I was to inspire the young people to inspire them. And there she was inspiring me and I said, She goes to school like that. And there are, yeah, like she is, Hey young trans girl. Awesome. And that night as I walked back to my desk, I said, I wish I could be sitting here as the precious.
Hm. And one of my coworkers leaned over to me and said, why can't you? And it was like that final moment. I mean, that was a, probably a 10 year journey. You know, it's tough to get to that point where I could release all of the stigma that I had around the trans community and all of the things that had been ingrained in me from my childhood about it.
Being feminine, you know, as a child, I was extremely policed. You know, my gender was of wear your watch on, you know, a different risk don't switch. When you walk down the aisle of a grocery store, I didn't even know what that meant, but for me it was that pivotal moment. When I worked at the sound Halstad, when I saw these trans youth being the autheticity of their person, it was, it was like them holding up a mirror to me.
Jackie Ferguson: That's so amazing. And you know, the title of your book, I have always been me and you talk about being your authentic self, but it's hard for a lot of us, especially those in the LGBTQ community to, to feel comfortable in stepping into their own skin and who they are fully and being able to express that.
Clip 9 - Michael Bach, being open about who you are
Michael Bach: I grew up in a very privileged, middle class household. Parents, both were at home, still married today, 53 years. I was raised in a very inclusive environment. Parents were both, very left-leaning. Socialist leaning, like, hippies. My father may or may not have been a pot dealer in the sixties. It is unconfirmed. Unless of course you check the police records. And I was taught to be inclusive. And if you look at my elementary school, photos, which of course are in black and white and drawn on slate, it's a diverse group. You know, I went to school with a few Black kids, a few East Asian kids. It was a pretty diverse group. And no, you have to understand. I grew up in downtown Toronto in what it was at the time, it's now Midtown Toronto, North Toronto, a very affluent, predominantly white neighborhood, and I was taught that every kid had value. As I started to come out ,and I came out to myself at 16, and I came out to my parents at 18. That's when I started to really challenge those things. And, and my, my parents at the time were not thrilled. They always knew I was gay. That was not, I mean, talk about the worst kept secret. I like, you know, at nine I knew the entire score to "A Chorus Line."
Like I was not, there was no football or sports activitie. And so, when I came out, I came out in the 1980s, and 1989 to be exact. Now, you know how old I am. And it was not a fun time for my people. Like, it was the very beginning of the HIV AIDS epidemic, and queer people were the pariah of society. But my mother was really determined.
My mother in particular, was really determined to make sure that I was not living a lie or hiding who I was. And so, relatively quickly, I was out to my entire family, and they were, they sort of forced themselves to go through the discomfort, and in a remarkably short amount of time, like I'm talking a year or two years, they became real advocates for the LGBTQ plus communities.
At one point I was like, "You should get a P flag," and then I realized, yeah, you could probably run "P flag." You're just so - such big advocates and they continue to be. I didn't come out at work until I was 30, and that was largely because it was the times, like it was the nineties and just not a great time to be an openly gay person.
And I came out because I worked for a politician who was openly LGBT. And I said, "Well, if he can do it, then I can do it." And, I came out and I'm really glad I did. And it, if you cut to 2005, when I started working for KPMG, I had a background in doing what is now referred to as diversity inclusion work, but at the time was community activism, it was volunteer work.
No one was going to pay you for this, and so I've been involved with organizations like the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-violence Project and the AIDS Committee of Toronto and different organizations. 2005, I'm working for KPMG. I helped start - I was one of the people that helped start - the employee resource group for the LGBTQ plus population.
Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.
Michael Bach: All of a sudden the CEO knows my name, so does the head of HR. And I said to the head of HR, "If we're serious about diversity and inclusion, we need full-time resources, and I want the job." And I didn't know what that meant, but I, I was pretty sure that I wanted people to pay me to do something that I was passionate about.
Thank you for joining us on this special episode. We celebrate PRIDE all year long but we use this month to encourage others to be intentional about renewing their commitment to LGBTQ+ learning and empowerment. Whoever you are, look for ways to sponsor LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace, shop at businesses owned by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, and commit to voting out politicians that do not support human rights for our LGBTQ+ friends, family, neighbors and colleagues.
For every download of this episode in the month of June, I am personally committing to donate a dollar to The Trevor Project, supporting LGBTQ+ youth who are in crisis.
This show was edited and produced by Earfluence.
I’m Jackie Ferguson. Take care of yourself, take care of each other and Happy Pride Month.
Connect with Jackie on Linkedin.