ELGL is the proud host of CivicPride content. CivicPRIDE is a social and networking organization devoted to promoting LGBTQ leaders in local government. Pam (Weir) Davis, Assistant to the City Manager at City of Goodyear, writes why CivicPride’s work matters to all of local government.
A local gov bud of mine recently asked why I am helping to lead the growth of CivicPride. They were genuinely curious why, in 2018, were we working so hard to create a new affinity group targeting just one demographic within the larger profession, when isn’t the ultimate goal for universal inclusion and equity, not singling out particular groups? I was initially shocked that it was even a question, but recognized it as an opportunity to build empathy and support rather than confrontation.
I have no doubt my colleague meant well, but could not immediately relate to my experiences having a historically marginalized identity. While of course they were correct—the future we want for our profession is one in which all individuals who serve their communities are embraced and supported. However, I do not believe we can get there without doing the work to recognize our diverse experiences growing up in the profession and seeking opportunities to create more inclusive policies, cultures, and behaviors across our profession and in our communities. Our hope is that CivicPride will be the platform for all of us in the profession, whether transgender, gay, or any other stripe of the queer spectrum, along with our straight and cisgender brothers and sisters to recognize both our similarities and differences, and work together to ensure true inclusion.
Like so many social equity issues in our communities, local governments have been the flashpoints of both conflict and progress for the LGBTQ community throughout history. The 1969 Stonewall uprising, including leaders like Martha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, was a conflict between local police in New York City and LGBTQ patrons of the Stonewall Inn sparked by discriminatory enforcement practices. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, built his political capital by focusing on pot holes and cleaning up dog droppings as a candidate for city supervisor years before his famous “Hope Speech,” which began with his unforgettable words, “My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.” The history of our profession is inextricably linked with the history of our social movements.
As we continue to organize and develop our work and mission, I want my well-meaning friend, and the rest of you reading to understand what CivicPride means through the eyes of one of us co-creating it.
Here are a couple of my own stories to illustrate why our work matters to not only LGBTQ public servants, but all of us working in the profession and living in the communities we serve.
Coming Out in High School
I work in government as a direct result of my own coming out story. I came out as a high school junior with the support of family and close friends in an environment that was less than friendly to me. To combat the social isolation and bullying that followed, my best friend and I collaborated to form a Gay-Straight Alliance, an extra-curricular club committed to providing a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ students and their allies and promoting a more inclusive school culture. When our school administrators tried to prevent us from forming the club, I was able to point to the Equal Access Act, a federal law protecting our right to form the Gay-Straight Alliance. This simple protection turned me into a government fan for life. The idea that my own life could be made better thanks to public policy, inspired me to become a part of the system that had the power to increase equity and access for all people in our communities.
Long before I knew I’d pursue a career in government, I felt the power of government systems to either prohibit or enable my dreams. I keep that lesson close to my heart as I grow in my local government career, because we must not lose sight of the impacted—intended or otherwise—that our work has on individuals’ daily lives. I challenge you to think of your own community: are you being intentional about sending a message that everyone will be supported through your current policies and programs? You may have your own young resident Pam out there right now, watching for signs that she belongs.
Graduate School: I Can’t Be the Only One… Right?
As I began my MPA program, the most frequent advice I received was to find a mentor in the profession. I was particularly interested in connecting with someone that I could safely be open with—ideally an LGBTQ-identified city manager. Basic statistics told me that there must be a contingent of out LGBTQ public administrators. Except… where were they? None of my classroom guest speakers shared that part of their identity if it was there, and I did not exactly feel comfortable at the time broadcasting what I was looking for out of fear that I would be marginalized before my career even started.
It was not that I did not benefit from the wisdom and experience of many other fantastic public administrators, but I had no frame of reference or model for what being an out LGBTQ professional in local government looked or felt like. While I had chosen to be unapologetically out since day one, I wanted the assurance that were others like me having successful careers.
I will never forget when the 100th anniversary edition of ICMA’s PM Magazine landed on my doorstep in 2014, more than a year after I graduated with my MPA. Inside was an article about the experience of LGBTQ public administrators authored by my now dear-friend and lip-syncing buddy Phil Smith-Hanes. FINALLY, there was proof of the small but mighty presence of people like me in the profession! Since then, CivicPride was established, and now provides that starting place that did not exist when I was in graduate school less than a decade ago. I have immense pride (pun intended) that LGBTQ students today will have a go-to resource to connect with LGBTQ managers in the profession.
So Why CivicPride Then?
Visibility, empathy, and connection are crucial to the progress of LGBTQ members in our professional associations and communities. While we have unquestionably made progress since the Stonewall uprising, our profession can do more to ensure that all of us are not simply tolerated, but celebrated for the diverse perspectives we bring.
I welcome you to be a part of our movement in any way you can. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Help the next generation of professionals see that local government leaders come in all kinds of identities.
- Ensure your organization provides equitable access to benefits for LGBTQ employees and their families.
- Promote inclusive policies and programs in your communities that embrace your LGBTQ residents.
- Volunteer to make CivicPride successful by blogging for us, helping to plan an event, or become a speaker.
If these ideas, or anything else in this article has sparked your imagination, please don’t hesitate to connect with us.