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This Year's Setbacks Offer Opportunities to Recruit Future Leaders

Laverne Cox

The first year of Donald Trump's presidency has been exhausing and demoralizing. But it's also been galvanizing, writes Matt Kidd.

Matthew Shepard died October 12, 1998. At the time, I was a teenager attending a private, all-boys high school in Memphis, Tenn. I sat down in my science class that day and my professor spent the first 15 minutes disparaging the young man who had been violently murdered in what would become the best-known antigay hate crime in our nation's history. He said "that fa**o,t, Shepard, deserved everything he got." It was a horrifying moment for me as a young gay person. I also felt a sense of sorrow and shame. Sorrow for the loss of Matthew. Shame from the vile words of my teacher.

Looking back on that experience nearly two-decades later reminds me of my own personal progress and the advancements of the LGBTQ civil rights movement since that dark day. Now I lead a national organization that helps LGBTQ MBA students succeed and excel in the workforce; I am married to the man I love; and we will be fathers by next summer through surrogacy. These things were unfathomable to me in 1998. My journey has shown me the importance of staying strong when things look bleak, remaining resilient in the face of ongoing defeats, and giving back to my community.

I hope these insights can provide at least a small antidote to the pain and heartache LGBTQ people and our allies are feeling in the wake of several Trump administration actions this year that threaten our protections. These attacks include two draconian memos from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one rescinding workplace protections for transgender Americans, another that sanctions discrimination against the LGBTQ community under the guise of "religious liberty." Those moves were on the heels of President Trump's announced transgender military ban and an action earlier this year that rescinded guidance protecting trans students from prejudice. Thankfully a federal court recently blocked enforcement of the trans military ban, but the case is far from over. The Trump administration is also beginning to weigh in on anti-discrimination lawsuits, taking the side of "religious freedom" activists who are using faith as an argument for sanctioning bias.

I continue to draw upon my own personal experience for guidance in these trying times. My mother passed away in 2012. Being an only child and having lost my dad as a teen, I found myself in that unfortunate category called adult orphan. When you land in this place you begin to seriously consider your priorities. It forced me to get very honest with myself and admit that I wasn't happy at my job. I worked for a tech startup at the time and I knew deep down that it wasn't going anywhere. In 2013 I was lucky enough to have a mentor who pushed me to become the first executive director of Reaching Out MBA, which up to that point had been a strictly volunteer organization. I fought my wise elder pretty hard at first, but after careful consideration I realized this was my chance to fulfill a calling to serve my community. I took the leap and I've never looked back. As I grew, so did the organization. Never could I have imagined that our annual ROMBA Conference would expand the way it has or that we and our school partners would have awarded $6.3 million in scholarship funds to aspiring LGBTQ business students across the globe. This has shown me that when you face adversity, it can push you to do something that you never thought possible.

A few years ago, LGBT icon, Kevin Jennings, then head of the Arcus foundation, threw out a statistic that has stayed with me: Approximately 3 percent of LGBT people give back to our community, whether through donations, serving on a board, working at a nonprofit, or volunteering their time. Couple that news with the fact that in Boston alone, it is estimated that up to two-thirds of nonprofit leaders will be retiring in the next five years. This may come as extremely depressing news. However, I encourage you to see the immense opportunity it presents. We are at a moment of change and setback. But I see a bright future when I look at the young LGBTQ constituency we serve. I see leaders who are eager to give back. They will fill the void. They have the energy to fight our next battles and push back against discrimination. Each pushback will just make them more determined to achieve the next set of victories that lie ahead as the arc of the moral universe keeps bending toward justice.

Had the election gone another way things would undoubtedly be easier. We would be building upon the the wins we achieved under the Obama administration. But I have come to realize that after great periods of progress we can become complacent. Prior to November 2016, we may all have been somewhat guilty of taking our breakthroughs for granted. This moment has given us a jolt of energy and purpose that had begun to wane. Our priorities are once again clear. It is time for all of us to dig deep, stay focused, and re-dedicate ourselves to the greater good of serving our community. As the 2017 election results have shown us, with huge victories for LGBTQ candidates throughout the U.S., that newfound strength is already paying off.

Next year will mark 20 years since Matthew Shepard's murder. I will honor his legacy by living my truth, loving my husband, and being the best dad I can be. And I will share the best of my talents with our movement in the ways I feel can have the biggest impact. I challenge you to do the same.

Matt_kiddx100MATT KIDD is the executive director of Reaching Out MBA, an organization that educates, inspires, and connects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender MBA students and professionals/alumni, and their related graduates at business schools around the world.

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Matt Kidd