Originally Posted on November 14, 2018. By Pam Davis
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 weworking so hard to create a new affi nity group targeting just one demographic within the larger profession, when isn’t the ultimate goal foruniversal inclusion and equity, not singling out particular groups? I was initially shocked that it was even a question, but recognized it as anopportunity 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 ofcourse they were correct—the future we want for our profession is one in which all individuals who serve their communities are embraced andsupported. However, I do not believe we can get there without doing the work to recognize our diverse experiences growing up in the professionand seeking opportunities to create more inclusive policies, cultures, and behaviors across our profession and in our communities. Our hope is thatCivicPride will be the platform for all of us in the profession, whether transgender, gay, or any other stripe of the queer spectrum, along with ourstraight 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 LGBTQcommunity throughout history. The 1969 Stonewall uprising, including leaders like Martha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, was a confl ict betweenlocal police in New York City and LGBTQ patrons of the Stonewall Inn sparked by discriminatory enforcement practices. Harvey Milk, the fi rstopenly gay elected offi cial in California, built his political capital by focusing on pot holes and cleaning up dog droppings as a candidate for citysupervisor years before his famous “Hope Speech,” which began with his unforgettable words, “My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruityou.” 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 whatCivicPride 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 professionand 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 inan environment that was less than friendly to me. To combat the social isolation and bullying that followed, my best friend and I collaborated toform a Gay-Straight Alliance, an extra-curricular club committed to providing a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ students and their allies andpromoting a more inclusive school culture. When our school administrators tried to prevent us from forming the club, I was able to point to theEqual Access Act, a federal law protecting our right to form the Gay-Straight Alliance. This simple protection turned me into a government fan forlife. 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 toincrease 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 thatlesson close to my heart as I grow in my local government career, because we must not lose sight of the impacted—intended or otherwise—thatour work has on individuals’ daily lives. I challenge you to think of your own community: are you being intentional about sending a message thateveryone will be supported through your current policies and programs? You may have your own young resident Pam out there right now, watchingfor 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 fi nd a mentor in the profession. I was particularly interested in connectingwith someone that I could safely be open with—ideally an LGBTQ-identifi ed city manager. Basic statistics told me that there must be a contingentof out LGBTQ public administrators. Except… where were they? None of my classroom guest speakers shared that part of their identity if it wasthere, 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 mycareer even started.
It was not that I did not benefi t from the wisdom and experience of many other fantastic public administrators, but I had no frame of reference ormodel for what being an out LGBTQ professional in local government looked or felt like. While I had chosen to be unapologetically out since dayone, 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 buddyPhil Smith-Hanes. FINALLY, there was proof of the small but mighty presence of people like me in the profession! Since then, CivicPride wasestablished, 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, butcelebrated 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 benefi ts 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.