At some point (and I can remember exactly when), it became clear to me that I needed to balance my work on LGBTQ rights and AIDS research, with volunteer time on environmental issues as a way to “feed my soul.” Getting out in the field to see firsthand the issues confronting eco-system health, forced me to wrap my brain around challenges unlike any others I had worked on. I met people who had actual career paths and training in conservation—people who weren’t burning out from trauma. These were people who marveled at the places their jobs took them, the people they met and could witness with wonder the beauty of nature.
Initially I did sort of worry I was being invited on-board at TNC under the presumption I was another “white man of privilege.” I worried I was going to be asked to rubber stamp initiatives and the pace of change that drove me would drive others nuts. For example: I was used to an unapologetic standard in the LGBTQ movement where you’d automatically lack a quorum to conduct any business if only the “white guys showed up.” Boy did I squirm the first time I realized I was going to give voice to under-represented perspectives at a TNC meeting. I knew including diverse voices brought immense strength to the LGBTQ movement, and I expected no less when participating in the leadership of the conservation movement.
There is plenty we all can learn from the work of LGBTQ leaders over the past 40 years. For example, it is powerful to learn to “check your privilege at the door,” to acknowledge how stereotypes influence your decisions, and to recognize that absolutely every group you join in your entire life will have DEIJ work to do. The urgency the LGBTQ movement felt during the AIDS crisis is now the urgency we all feel in the environmental movement as we reckon with the climate crisis. We must speak with one voice, continue to build a movement and embrace diversity as a vital part of all we do.
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