On Tuesday, October 23rd, ELP Senior Fellows, Ray Fellows, and Doris Duke Conservation Scholars who are LGBTQ+ or allies gathered to discuss our experiences navigating queer identities within the environmental movement at the event “Green Spaces, Queer Faces”, hosted by ELP Senior Fellow Drew Giddings, with assistance from DDCSP@NAU alum Ari Himber, and in collaboration with Teri Brezner, the Director of DEI at ELP. With only a few basic questions as our jumping off point, we enjoyed an active, illuminating conversation that brought us together as a community and helped us form new connections across generations and networks – and across small plates of fruit, crackers, and cheese.
First, we discussed showing up and authenticity – what we do and how we are in green spaces and what challenges we face in bringing our whole selves to work. Then, we moved on to mobility and growth – how we feel about our own experiences regarding climbing the ladder in our career fields and helping others along the way. Lastly, we explored what it means to participate in intentional community and to support vulnerable LGBTQ+ people.
Many of us felt a disconnect between how queer culture and identities exist outside of work compared to how queer people are expected to perform queerness at work, whether with clients, bosses, or coworkers, which can erode the value of the “dispersed mentorship” that queer people provide each other as a community. While we may, in some cases, self-select queer-friendly spaces to work in to begin with, we don’t always have the ability to reject clients or jobs that don’t allow us to feel like our full selves; even in spaces where queerness is theoretically accepted, it can be complicated to navigate the intersections of our queer identities and other identities, such as class, race, and gender, in the workplace. Some felt that the vague but unforgiving goal of “maintaining professionalism” is intrinsically tied to systems of oppression and marginalization, and thus unpacking “professionalism” as an ideology within any work space is important for achieving substantive progress towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We discussed the need for a mix of structured and need-based mentoring moments in our formal mentoring programs, with an emphasis on agency for both the mentor and the mentee and the importance of establishing clear aspirations, goals, and deliverables for each mentoring journey. We queried whether mentorship is about “growing” vs “climbing” and whether it’s about “learning about” vs “learning to become.” Overall, there seemed to be an acknowledgement that mentorship should be a bi-directional experience with greater intentionality to enable our efforts to have the greatest impact.
Thank you to everyone who showed up! Following the rich discussion, lessons and network-weaving that came from this event, ELP is excited to expand the opportunity for mentorship and connection across the ELP Fellowship community with a new mentorship program. Click below to learn more or apply to be part of the program.