The Future of Equality

Amber Hikes: Generosity of Leadership

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When I was in second grade, I approached my mother and proudly declared that when I grew up, I wanted to be a business owner. Being the reassuring yet level-headed person she was, she encouraged me to pursue this dream but cautioned me with one piece of advice: “As you become successful, remember to not lose sight of your purpose. The goal is not merely to reach the top. The most important part of success is the moment when you take the rope you used to climb and throw it back down for those who are climbing behind you.”

This is what I call the generosity of leadership – the concept that we are responsible for cultivating the next generation of leaders in our community and our movement. Making the journey a little lighter for those coming after us through the sharing of knowledge, access, and space with others. This takes on a powerful significance for LGBTQ businesses—the backbone of our community.

Before any others, these spaces provided our community the opportunity for us to authentically be ourselves. Many LGBTQ business owners started out on their own because entrepreneurship was the best option for them to live their truth. Some climbed a frayed, hand-me-down rope left from another’s journey. Many climbed with no rope at all. Each paved the path not only for themselves but also for the LGBTQ people coming behind them.

That generosity of leadership has helped our community thrive, but often that success is enjoyed by those in our community who hold the most privilege. As we lean into the future of our community, it is our responsibility to ensure our next generation of leaders reflects the true diversity of our brilliant LGBTQ community.

Out politician Barney Frank said, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” While this is certainly true, one’s mere presence at the table does nothing to change the conversation if one’s contributions aren’t seriously considered. It’s not enough to diversify the seats at the table. We must make way for voices and experiences that have historically been silenced in these conversations, and we must make room for the substantive contributions of those who’ve been left out.

True representation addresses the lack of diversity and inclusion on our boards and in our organizations. That’s why in Philadelphia, Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, along with the Independence Business Alliance, and William Way Community Center are developing a Community Leadership Pipeline to build resources in our LGBTQ community and equip individuals with invaluable leadership skills. Our communities are bursting with the untapped potential of people of color, trans folks, people living with disabilities, and youth and elders who have been routinely overlooked or ignored.

That must end. Leadership in the LGBTQ+ community must be grounded in the voices of those who have experienced layers of historical and systemic oppressions. Philadelphia is building infrastructure to ensure future generations of leadership are set up to succeed through active listening and engagement with those who have been silenced.

At a time when our community, and many of the communities we hold identities in, are under attack, we must build the future of our movement upon inclusion, intersection, and radical visibility. It’s time to throw the rope back for the next generation of LGBTQ business owners, leaders, and entrepreneurs to create a future that encompasses our diverse LGBTQ+ members and the pride we share.

Together, let’s continue to fiercely prioritize a future of inclusivity for everyone and continue to confront our past, set foundations in intersectionality, and expand the lines of communication and understanding. Regardless of its difficulty or popularity, we must be committed to doing the work that makes history include our story.

Amber Hikes is the executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia, where she develops policy and serves as the principal advisor to Mayor Jim Kenney on issues that affect the LGBTQ community.

Business Equality Pride (BEQPride) is the first publication from the BEQ family of national print and digital magazines exclusively addressing the needs of LGBTQ small-to-medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals.