Post submitted by Kristopher Hawkins, HRC Diversity Program Intern.
This past weekend, HRC hosted the third annual Men & Leadership Retreat: Equality Leaders for the 21st Century. This summit of 26 HRC volunteers and personnel from across the nation worked to further develop their leadership skills, and to take on positions of leadership at HRC on their respective steering committees and boards. As part of the Equality Leaders program, this retreat is a complement to the Women & Leadership Retreat and the Equality Leaders alumni gatherings that convene alumni of both retreats for day-long sessions of joint facilitated learning. The participants left the retreat with enhanced self-awareness, a developed awareness of others, a new sense of courageous action and a better understanding of collaboration. The common theme at the end of the experience can be described in one word: brotherhood.
I had the honor of participating alongside these men and I left with a better understanding of myself and a refreshing reminder of why I am here at HRC. I was reminded of the larger work that HRC fights for, and the ways that my brothers execute their work across the nation. Because I had the opportunity to work both behind the scenes and as a participant, I had the chance to help develop the program from start to finish. In my leadership stand (a statement made by each participant about their leadership goals moving forward), I stated that I would continue to develop my leadership skills to better myself, my local community and HRC. For me, it is important to give back to the HRC, when it has given so much to me in just three short weeks. The retreat consisted of several different elements such as emotional development, presentation style, effective communication, active listening, leadership style and archetypal awareness. Trying to explain the true experience of the retreat, however, isn’t easy.
Kevin Stone, for example, who serves on the HRC Los Angeles Board of Governors, said that he is grateful because he now has 27 pillars of support (brothers) that he can rely on, including the incredible facilitators. Through reflecting on his experience, Kevin said, “I have been a leader for more than 30 years and thought my leadership style was complete. Then I walked into the Men & Leadership retreat. Early on, my mentor taught me that people will not remember what you say or do, but they will always remember how you make them feel (a quote from Maya Angelou). That’s why I’ve worked hard to support others and be my best. But I also learned that I need the support of others. That a team is a living, breathing organism with infinite loops and circles of dependency and needs. Which is why I will lead with concern, care and clarity; be emotionally available to my team; understand my weaknesses and even laugh at them, and also share how I overcome them … and most importantly, I will accept that I am a work in progress and that I always will be.”
Oliver Blumer, Diversity Co-Chair of the HRC Dallas / Ft. Worth steering committee and passionate advocate for the transgender community, said that his experience of the retreat, “transcends most leadership trainings. It provided a space that challenged my comfort zones and allowed me to step through barriers that had kept me frozen in my leadership. Concomitantly, it helped me build a community of brothers to support and hold me in my new directives.”
Rich Meyers, who serves as the Corporate Sponsorship Co-Chair on the Los Angeles Steering Committee, shares one of his directives: “HRC chose to make an investment in me, and I plan to show a return on that investment. Through public education and advocacy, I’m working with the HRC Foundation to organize its first Inclusive Blood Drive on September 20th to encourage the FDA to reconsider its permanent ban on gay men donating blood, while we honor those who are unable to donate for themselves. Overturning this ban has been a passion of mine and we’ve galvanized strong community support. The leadership support HRC has given me, and the network you’ve allowed me to build, will help our efforts tremendously.”
In addition to 23 HRC volunteers from across the country, two staff members Michael Toumayan (Religion and Faith Program Manager) and Jason Lott (Deputy Director, Direct Response & Monthly Giving) left the experience with a similar sense of camaraderie. As Jason pointed out, “HRC’s volunteers are so essential to the work that we do every day, and I was grateful for the chance to build deep connections with these men as we started a transformational journey together. A community of mutual love and support has been forged that will support us as we further the cause of LGBT equality in the years to come.” Michael echoed this sentiment, stating that, “the experience was incredible. Understanding that even the best and brightest of us have doubts, worries and anxieties, but persevere nonetheless has now enlightened me to step up out of my shell and become a catalyst for my personal transformation and self-awareness.”