“Because I Can:” MassEquality Director Kara Suffredini Dedicates Career to Advancing Equality
Editor’s Note: In June, New Leaders Council named their “40 Under 40” — a group exemplifying “the spirit of political entrepreneurship.” Below is a guest post from Kara Suffredini, one of those recently selected who were kind enough to share some of their wisdom with Care2. You can meet Kara in Boston July 20th. More posts will be shared over the coming days — so stay tuned!
BY KARA SUFFREDINI, Executive Director of MassEquality
Brandon Teena. Carl Walker-Hoover. Sakia Gunn. Tyler Clementi. Gwen Araujo. Matthew Shepard. Across the United States, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and adults face bullying, harassment, discrimination, violence and even murder at alarming rates just because of who they are. We know some of the names and some of their stories, but so many others remain unknown.
I’m often asked why I’ve dedicated my entire career – 13 years and counting – to advancing equality and justice for LGBT people. The simplest answer is: because I can.
Like many youth, I had a bully growing up. I was teased because I could beat the boys in tetherball; I was called “tomboy” to my face and “dyke” behind my back. But I was lucky. I had a supportive family. I had a mom who was proud that I was her “free spirit.” And I lived to see the day, earlier this year, when my bully found me on Facebook and apologized to me. In an ironic twist, she also came out to me and thanked me for my work on behalf of the LGBT community.
Not all youth are so lucky. In my first three months at the helm of MassEquality – the statewide organization working to protect every LGBT person in Massachusetts from cradle to grave – five boys across the U.S. ranging in age from 13 to 18 killed themselves after enduring, in some cases, years of anti-LGBT taunts and physical violence. It was a stark reminder of the importance and urgency of this work. Lives hang in the balance.
Even here in Massachusetts, where we’ve enjoyed marriage equality for the longest in the U.S., LGBT youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. When their families reject them, they become eight times more likely to commit suicide. And queer youth make up 40 percent of unaccompanied minors in our homeless population – many of them homeless and unaccompanied because their families rejected them because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
At MassEquality, we are working across issues, identities, and communities to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all. A Commonwealth in which young people are no longer bullied in schools because of who they are or the families they come from. Where our parents and grandparents can age without retreating back into the closet. Where we have curbed the rising incidence of HIV and AIDS. Where everyone in our communities, including our transgender friends and loved ones, is safe to live openly and free to thrive. Where government dedicates adequate resources to support life-saving social services. And where the simple fact of living as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person stops resulting in documented reports of higher stress and poorer health outcomes.
Attaining this vision requires a broad, inclusive and sustainable movement to change hearts, minds, votes and laws. These changes happen only when families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and lawmakers get to know the people behind the policies. And so our work, at its core, is to make as many of those introductions, lift up as many of those voices and ensure that as many of those stories and experiences are shared and heard as possible.
So, for me, progressive leadership is about doing everything I can to ensure that others may one day be in a position because of my work to join me in doing it. For those of you that already can, there is much to do, and it’s never too soon to get started.