My fellow Gen Yers tell me daily they’re convinced there isn’t anything left to fight for after marriage. Sure, they’re aware that workplace inequality is still an issue and that transgender rights is part of the next big conversation, but they expect those issues to be solved by "someone else." I gently but passionately remind them of a proverb that I heard Sen. Cory Booker share before a packed crowd of LGBT donors: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” If togetherness is the key to unlocking the potential of our ever more equal and empowered community, how do we connect? By mentoring one another.
If the equality movement is about ensuring that a rising tide lifts all boats, don’t we have an obligation to ensure that every boat’s sails are as ready to catch the wind as possible? Those who reap the benefits of equality must be willing to pay it forward with guidance to future generations. Now more than ever we need leaders who are mentors. We may not all be schooled in LGBT history — incapable of telling our Harvey Milks from our Harvey Fiersteins — but we are all students of life. We must share these lessons with the next generation to ensure our community respects and recognizes our past and future challenges. Our online lives make it easier than ever for someone with all the resources and support of a successful, out life in New York or San Francisco to connect and share all of that wisdom with someone who desperately needs a role model in Tupelo or Topeka.
Some may challenge this by saying, “I succeeded on my own without any help, and look how well I turned out,” but I would encourage them to think about how much easier their life would have been with the support of an LGBT mentor. Mentors provide direction, wisdom, assistance, and inspiration. More importantly, LGBT youth can relate to them because they have endured many of the same challenges and adversaries and gone on to succeed. Those who are able to mentor should strive to be good role models and set the bar high so future generations can continue to learn and grow from all we’ve overcome. Through what seemed like insurmountable adversity, we built businesses, we started families, we made the American Dream our own.
The successes of the LGBT community movement seem to be collecting quickly, like a great avalanche of equality. The rush of victories often leaves many of us watching proudly from the sidelines; believing that changing our Facebook profile to a red equal sign is enough to say “I’m a part of that.” And for some, that is enough. But what we may not recognize is that we do a tremendous disservice to those on whose shoulders we stand, as a prouder, more equal community, every time we ignore our personal responsibility to keep the momentum going. The avalanche may have knocked down a few trees along the way, but the playing field is anything but level for our community, especially in business and the workforce, both domestically and abroad. Just because our rights are achieved on paper does not mean attitudes and biases toward our community vanish overnight. Out and proud mentors create out and proud mentees who shatter misconceptions about our community at work, at church, and even at home.
There’s a subtle murmur among those who work in the LGBT advocacy world about how our organizations must evolve and adapt in order to stay relevant and engaging. The greater fear, however, is that after years of preaching to the converted, we may be losing the congregation altogether. Organizations like StartOut prove that a strong, educated, well-funded community of LGBT entrepreneurs and professionals can succeed, thrive, and then return their riches — both the financial and experiential — to the next generation. Mentorship creates a virtuous cycle, one that recognizes the achievements of the mentor, the potential of the mentee, and endless ways both can keep giving back to all of us.
In the LGBT business community, most entrepreneurs are able to single out a mentor who changed the playing field for them. StartOut offers a network of thousands of potential mentors with a great wealth of knowledge, resources, and personal experience to aid aspiring entrepreneurs. If business is not your forte, become a mentor in the arts, health industry, or simply pass on your stories of how to live the greatest, proudest, and most out-loud life possible.
Quoting a friend and fellow fighter of the LGBT economic empowerment cause, Alex Capecelatro, “Unlike gender or race, being part of the LGBT community is not easily transparent and in fact it causes many of us to recede. I struggled with how out and open I could be in meetings prior to getting involved. Seeing examples of role models and seeing LGBT entrepreneurs getting funded while being out lifted my spirits, increased my confidence, and made my professional life a better one.”
Members of our community have an obligation to give back. The best way young entrepreneurs can give back is to succeed, proving that being out, and being successful, are not the mutually exclusive goals they used to be. We can all be that mentor for someone else, demonstrating how our success was possible because we had someone in our corner, showing us it truly does get better.
JONATHAN D. LOVITZ is the director of communications and operations for StartOut. Follow him on Twitter @jdlovitz