“Our community knows the power of love without boundaries, of radical queer acceptance, and of nonbinary thinking. When we share our stories and pass on this knowledge, we can build bridges, bring people together in our shared humanity, and make the world a better place.” – Erin Uritus, Out & Equal CEO
The below speech is from Erin Uritus’s, keynote at the 2021 Workplace Summit, October 6-8.
My children are my light.
And six months ago, I was barely catching my breath, juggling my CEO role, remote school, stress and more.
And I was stopped in my tracks.
My youngest told me they are nonbinary and want to go by they/ them pronouns.
The immediate swirl in my head – and no, it’s not lost on me that I’m the CEO of Out & Equal – was intense.
What will this mean for them? How can I protect them from what’s out there?
My reaction stemmed from remembering when I came out. And how hard it was to find community and be accepted as a Bi woman in queer spaces. All of those moments in my formative years when I was dismissed as “not enough” or not really part of this community.
But pretty quickly, I got out of my own swirl and recognized this for what it is – an absolute gift. Despite my own doubts, my precious child feels supported and safe enough to share their truth with me. And they are strong enough to have their own confidence of self to lay claim to who they are.
And… I could not be more proud.
This my friends, is the future of our families and our communities and our workplaces that we are here to build.
Welcome to the 2021 Global Workplace Summit!
I am thankful to my core that you all are here with us this week. I know we have all had moments since last year where we feel like we are barely treading water. Or that we can’t breathe because the waves keep crashing down on us.
But what I also know about us… Is that so often when we’re getting walloped by life, by circumstances, by threats… that you and I have still found a path to forging our future… and this struggle is bolstered by companionship, with beauty, a call to a friend… with the kind of unbounded, unbridled queer love that is so bright, it burns the eyes of people who continue to look down on and attack us. We get to live what they are missing and so desperately want.
The workplace is undergoing tremendous change right now. For a long time, we’ve known that the workplace would need to evolve to meet the demands of a new generation, which looks, and acts, and loves differently than older generations…
For those of us who were not a part of the old power structures, we’ve known that it was too hard to show up as our authentic selves and thrive.… We had been making the case – quite successfully – that workplaces needed to be places of belonging.
Then the pandemic came. The shock. The economic changes. Remote work… The compounding human stress… workplaces are inside a crucible right now. The “way things used to be” is melting under the heat and the pressure. A new type of workplace is being forged right now in this moment.
We are here at Summit so that we can… together… determine how to recast the workplace to align with our values… with our lived experiences… with our hopes and dreams.
This is not an easy task. Among other things, it’s not just workplaces that are in a crucible. Each one of us, in our own lives, is living inside a pressure cooker none of us could have imagined. It hasn’t always been easy… But I want us all to keep reminding each other.. that we’ve been tested before… that facing pressure, and standing up when we’ve been knocked down by rejection is a key part of the Queer experience… and that each of us can draw on that past experience to give us strength.
We may be living in a crucible, but we are not stuck. We are resilient. We are growing. We are learning. And we are powerful. We just need to be strategic enough to harness the full opportunities right in front of us, and shore ourselves against the fear that we’re up against something that is too big.
Now, that said… The obstacles we are facing are real and the effects have been – and can be – devastating.
Recall that at this exact time last year, our treasured partners from federal agencies pulled their Summit registrations and many government employees did not attend. They were terrified. Trump had issued a totalitarian executive order banning DEI content and promoting witch hunts for those who dared to take on the necessary work on race and LGBTQ inclusion.
What’s most powerful to me about that moment was how our community responded. I remember conversations with ERG leaders from the government. I remember defense contractors – whose entire business relies on government funding – saying, unequivocally, that they were not going to stop. They were not going to give in.
We have real power in our community. But this fight isn’t over.
A couple of months ago, one of the prime time shows on Fox News did a segment mocking companies that were doing DEI trainings. They got their hands on some screenshots and slides from a training that Out & Equal did.
As they flashed our slides across the TV screen, they spoke about “cancel culture” and critical race theory. They chided corporations about these trainings and pressed them to stop.
This was not just some hack on cable news.
Let’s be clear, it was one of the most popular television hosts in America executing a cold and calculated political strategy, designed to maintaining the status quo.
Twisting Critical Race Theory to paint it as something that is somehow trying to “punish” or “bring down” white people is intended to drive a wedge between all of us. Mocking companies for embracing the LGBTQ community is designed to drive a wedge between our community and cis, straight people.
Maintaining and exploiting these binary-divides… White and People of Color. Male and female. Able-bodied, disabled… It’s an age-old strategy for blunting change and sustaining the status quo.
Our strength is rooted in a very a different place than the angry discourse of division:
We have inherent in our community the power of love… without boundaries…. of radical, queer acceptance… of nonbinary thinking.
It can build bridges. It can unify us in our shared humanity. And truly change our world for better.
And this super power – Queer, radical acceptance – is especially powerful now. So many old ways of thinking are being challenged and dismantled. But we need to do more than dismantle. We need to build.
People of Color have been shouldering the burden of fighting racism for far too long. Those of us who have not been the targets of racism need to step up and do this work. Just like the LGBTQ movement needs straight folks to do the work on themselves, white people need to do step up too.
All of us need to name, confront, and dismantle White Supremacy and structural racism. We’ve just scratched the surface and have so much to do.
And I want to name one other thing: We in the DEI community have not done enough to confront and elevate the experiences of the AAPI community. The vitriol and violence directed at the AAPI community over the last year has been horrifying and shocked the conscious.
What has not made headlines are the insidious stereotypes AAPI people face at work and in society – from “model minority” to the ever-infuriating and tiresome, “but where are you really from?” these tropes need to stop now. Each of us needs to do more.
The path forward includes going outside of our comfort zones, doing hard work, listening, learning, and growing.
Those who want to stop this change want to stoke bluster and self-indulgence. They want white people to think that Black Lives Matter is about making us feel guilty about the fact that structural racism exists.
Bringing in talking points like “I’m not responsible for what happened before I was born” is designed to model a defensiveness that makes it that much harder for people to listen, to feel empathy, to understand… and to imagine a future that is better than our past.
We need to break past that. I am a white, cis woman. I know that it’s not enough for white people like myself to only read books on racism or to post something on twitter.
We need to embrace and understand the lived experiences, the culture, challenges, the humanity of our Black, Brown, and AAPI neighbors. We need to be in active listening conversations with our colleagues… We need to unlearn so much of what we’ve learned, and we need to relearn…and we need to grow.
The same goes for our transgender and nonbinary loved ones.
If you are cisgender and have not had enough deep conversations with a transgender or nonbinary person, you need to. Seek those conversations out.
And if you are not trans or nonbinary and you have had those conversations, you’ve got to bring it. You’ve got to draw on those relationships to be a strong ally.
Trans and non-binary people today are at the front lines of a struggle around gender and expression. They face unconscionable legal, physical, and emotional attacks. Those of us who see ourselves as allies need to step up to blunt those attacks. And we are deluding ourselves as cis people if we think that this is about “helping them.”
This is a problem that impacts all of us… the society we live in… the future of our children… and the closed, binary mindset around gender that we learned as children, is a prison that we need to break out of….
My own child is showing me this every single day. Building a future for them is also getting me closer to the future I have wanted for myself.
Remember, Queer, radical acceptance is our superpower. It can be our gift to allies, and it can remake our world.
What do we do with that? How do we create change? How do we make the future different than the past?
Well… We don’t use the same playbook as those who want to bring us all back 50 years.
We don’t call people out, we call them in. We don’t drive wedges between people. We bring people together. We need to connect with people at a human-to-human level, and draw on empathy to transcend what divides us.
And one of the best ways to connect at a human level is to tell our stories.
As you go through this Summit, I want you to locate your story, your truth. Take a breath. Take stock.
How have you grown/gained strength by surviving? By holding up your community? By supporting your colleagues?
Take this self-awareness and bring it back with you. Tell your story. Do it strategically. Do it creatively. Show your superpower. Spark the empathy of those you touch. It will make a difference. It can change the future.
As we explore, we cannot shy away from hard truths. I love Queer, radical acceptance. At the same time, our community also suffers from binary constraints. They’re holding us back. I’ve been in too many rooms; I’ve seen too many people roll their eyes when a young person opens up and identifies as pansexual.”
Why do we do that? What they’re saying – and I am in this group- is that we don’t want to love within the binary. We are saying that we want the freedom to love who we love. Isn’t that why we started this movement decades ago?
There was a Gallup poll that came out earlier this year. It found that more than half of the LGBTQ community identifies as bi.
And in Gen Z, 72% identify as bi. We as a community need to accept that, for some of us – maybe even most of us – sexuality isn’t just a binary of either homo or hetero. It’s both, or it transcends those categories.
And for those of us who occupy these both/ and, neither spaces, we know all too well the message:
Are we “enough?” We’ve all felt that. It’s a terrible feeling. I want to challenge our community to be more open, more inclusive, less stuck.
Remember that insisting on your own truth and supporting spaces for all to belong in their own fullness is the most radical and transformative project you can take on.
Summit has just started. We are at the largest LGBTQ-focused conference in the world.
We are surrounded by thousands of LGBTQ+ and Ally changemakers from the largest workplaces there are. What we do together, what we learn together, how we grow together over these next three days can drive change at workplaces around the globe.
So, take a deep breath and start challenging yourself. Start connecting. Start learning. Start thinking about how you’re going to bring back what we do at Summit to make a difference.
Because these acts will enrich your life and those around you. Have the courage to see and embrace the gifts you are given.
Thank you for being here. Welcome to Summit!