#EPPride: Exploring the intersection of race and sexuality with two EP Alumni

Pride Month is a big deal at Education Pioneers (check out our special flag logo!). This month, our staff has gathered multiple times virtually and in person to talk about our experiences within and as aspiring allies of the LBGTQ community. Our LGBTQ staff affinity group also worked with the EP Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory to unveil an EP LGBTQ Employee Resource Guide.

Some members of our staff gathered to watch “Paris is Burning” and “Pride.” We even discussed how the newest season of “Master of None” connects the traditional Thanksgiving episode with a conversation about the intersection of race and sexuality.

On a more somber note, we took time to remember the victims of the Pulse nightclub attack.

Below is a Q&A with two of our Alumni, Adrian (AJ) DeLeon and Marvin Miller. This is a frank discussion on race and sexuality and Marvin’s experience as a queer, professional, person of color who is committed to ensuring educational equity for all students. AJ talks with Marvin about intersectionality -- and “what it’s like being a minority, within a minority, within a minority.”

AJ DeLeon: “Tell me a little bit about your story.”

Marvin Miller: “Thank you AJ. I am so honored to be a part of EP’s celebration of Pride Month.

“I see myself as an Innovative Inclusionist. I am focused on finding ways to combine my love of arts and music with my passion to provide greater opportunities for underrepresented populations. My background is in the music industry. Before enrolling in Mills College for my MBA, I was Director of Music Licensing at a record label in New York City. My Mills and two Fellowship experiences with Education Pioneers (summer and career track) have opened the door to a greater understanding of systemic inequities and social injustice. I’ve emerged from these experiences as an agent of change and a warrior for equity and inclusion. My intention is to use arts and music as a way to connect and demystify technology to underrepresented student populations.

“My education experience was similar to many college-bound charter and magnet school students of today. I was raised by a single mother in Philadelphia and graduated from Central High School, a high performing, renowned public school. At that time my mother had three dreams for me: 1) that I did not get stabbed or shot when I walked out of our home, 2) that I graduate from high school, and 3) that I get accepted to college. Check, Check, Check...now what for the rest of my life?

“I went to Cornell University for my undergraduate degree, and as a first-gen college student, by the time I stepped on campus I had already fulfilled my mother’s dreams and had more formal education than anyone in my family.  And while they could not have been more proud and emotionally supportive, my community was not equipped to provide the type of career guidance and connections that is a privilege of being a part of the mainstream.

“Even before I stepped on campus, I was sent the message that I was ‘lucky’ to have been accepted; not that I deserved to be there because I worked hard and earned it. Professors and students credited Affirmative Action, not my intellect, for my presence at such an esteemed university. This began a lifelong battle with anxiety over learning and speaking up. As most students do, I had lots of questions, but, as one of few African Americans, I was scared to speak up. Internalizing that I was ‘lucky’ to be among those Ivied buildings and historic lecture halls, I didn’t want to embarrass my race by asking ‘dumb’ questions, so I remained quiet inside of class and frustrated outside of class. I don’t think I raised my hand once to contribute in four years.

“That fear and anxiety followed me into my career and inhibited me for years. Only after experiencing the collaborative learning environment at Mills College did I develop the confidence to ask questions and began to enjoy the process of learning. I also credit my incredible Education Pioneers Fellowship, where I was placed with EP, for extending that into my professional life. I now accept challenges as exciting growth and learning opportunities and not as fear based barriers. I’d like to find ways to include and inspire young people to dream beyond the limited options life has placed in front of them.”

AJ: “What is it like being a ‘minority within a minority’ for you?”

Marvin: “I’m reminded of an interview with one of my heroes, James Baldwin. When a white reporter asked what he thought about being born --black, gay, and poor-- in the United States, he surprised the reporter by replying joyously, ‘I hit the jackpot!’ I do feel enormously proud of where I’ve come from. Because of the challenges I have faced in my life, I have developed the confidence to know I can accomplish anything with hard work. It has been tough proving ground but I see today’s challenges as tomorrow’s victories.

AJ: “For me, similar to you, it's a very complex and unique state of being. Although there is a burgeoning interest in sexuality-related issues or conversations in the mass media and in your day-to-day engagement with people, there is still a lot that the Latinx community needs to learn about. Trans issues, for example, are rarely talked about. Latinx people don't really know what trans is, I mean they know trans people exist, but they don't know the details or how to place them. How are you living your truth in your community or within the ed sector?”

Marvin: “Honestly, living out loud has been my saving grace. I’ve never been cunning or had the patience to live in the closet. Nevertheless, being an intersectional minority (black and gay) brings some challenges…

“I’ve experienced in my African American community, that being an out gay man might have inhibited me in finding mentors and guidance. For the most part, the generation of college-educated elders before me had a different idea of gay men. Many were men of religion and my unwillingness to be closeted left me feeling shunned. To this day, if I go through my contacts, I don’t have names of college-educated African American men who would be willing to advise me professionally. So it’s been tough to find professional direction from someone who has faced similar challenges.

“Further, in my Queer community, there is a false sense that because we are all marginalized that we are immune to racial discrimination; that is simply not my experience. As Americans, we are all products of our country's negative race propaganda and, as a result, I regularly experience some of the most hurtful covert racism and hateful overt racism from other Gay men.

“So when I think about my experience as an intersectional minority...from mainstream populations I’ve been shunned by my elders and, just last year, was physically attacked because of my sexuality. In the Queer community, I’ve been required to provide multiple pieces of photo ID and made to show cash as requirements for entry into a Gay bar because of the color of my skin...in the Castro...in the 2000s!! As such, it’s been a journey to find a place where I truly feel safe and wholly accepted.

“That being said, I was humbled and amazed by the outpouring of love and support from loved ones and strangers alike from all around the world after I was attacked last year. The attack resulted in my front tooth being knocked out. I shared my experience online and found that  being vulnerable and sharing my experience allowed for such an outpour to happen. There is no doubt that what I experienced is an indication that living out loud allows people to connect with the real you.”

AJ: “Professionally I feel like I sometimes have to prioritize one identity over another; does that happen to you too? How does it play out for you?”

Marvin: “More so when I was in NY. I think that New York professionals (both Gay and Straight) tend to leave their personal lives at home, where we in the Bay Area live out loud. In the Bay Area, professionally, my sexuality has not been an inhibiting issue. However, I do live in Oakland, where the African American community made up 40 percent a few years ago. But as tech industries move in and rents go up, we are being forced to move out and our numbers are decreasing.

“One personal experience is that over the past two years I have applied to over 25 positions at a music tech firm based in downtown Oakland with 3 percent African-American employees. Despite my background in the music industry, an MBA, and their public pledge to increase diversity three years ago, I have never gotten past a recruiter because the jobs are going to people who are already in or who know somebody.”

AJ: “What advice would you give to an emerging Queer leader of color / Queer leader?”

Marvin: “My Fellowship experiences provided me with exceptional insight into our education system, and helped me develop my voice around systemic social injustice issues and the courage to speak up. Knowing that at any time, where you are is part of a journey, not a destination. Whatever obstacles you encounter, know that you are smart, you are capable, and you can figure it out!

“For Queer leaders, especially, that involves accepting and loving your whole self, as is. Additionally, I encourage Queer leaders of color to reach out to your networks when you have questions, don’t isolate yourself. And speak up when you have ideas. Your voice is really important -- it is why you are in the room -- don’t be afraid to use it!”

AJ: ‘It was amazing to chat with you and get to know you offline as well. If I were asked the same question I just asked you, about giving advice to folks out there, what I would say is that you have to show up as yourself every day of your life and be excellent. When you combine who you are inside with the talents you have to offer the world, the outcome is powerful. You have to bring your entire self to the table regardless of where you go…and for all LGBT people in education out there: be visible, come out, we need you to be proud of who you are, and let people get to know you as you are - because when they know you, they get to know all of us. Thank you again, Marvin, and I am proud of you. Happy Pride!”

AJ DeLeon was an EP Fellow in 2013 and is currently Co-Founder & CEO of Innovare - Social Innovation Partners. Marvin Miller was an EP Fellow in 2015 and is currently the Director of Operations and Finance for The College-Ready Promise.

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