Make a difference: Advice from queer executive coach Patrice Ford Lyn
Patrice Ford Lyn on how being your authentic self makes a difference, everywhere.
I talk about my wife everywhere I go — not only because she is legit spectacular but also as a way of normalizing our same-sex marriage. During the pandemic, I moved from Washington, DC to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Now that we are back outside, I’ve been in the process of finding local merchants for my routine life-maintenance activities e.g., dry cleaning, hair grooming, shoe repair.
I recently met up with a new hairdresser, Keddis, for a consultation and cut. Keddis, a plump 40-something Black woman, was pleasant, professional and engaging. As we got to know each other, she shared anecdotes from her life: What her kids were up to, her latest workout routine etc. and I did the same. But, she stopped in her tracks (literally stopped speaking) when I casually mentioned my “wife.”
“Oh wow. You said it just like that.”
“What?” I asked.
She was surprised that I would casually reference my same-sex marriage. Sometimes when we think of breaking barriers we imagine being a “first” at something extraordinary, but there is bounty in showing up powerfully in the everyday moments.
While not everyone wants to be the first LGBTQIA+ entertainer or politician, we all want to love and be loved. Yet, when I met my wife in Englewood NJ in 1999, it wasn’t possible for us to be legally married. In 2015, when the Marriage Equality Act was passed, that changed and so did the possibilities for our life together. Now we can access the same legal rights and protections as opposite-sex couples, and be recognized as spouses under the law. This legislation was an important step, but not a solitary one. The visibility and continued normalizing of our love is key to our safety as individuals and the survival of our union as legal.
When my older cousin came out as gay in the ’90s, I watched how my immediate family, cousins, aunts and uncles reacted. They were bewildered AND they loved him. They were confused AND they were accepting. We underestimate the impact of these small moments of reckoning. Yet normalizing being gay by showing up proudly in everyday moments can be one of the most important ways we enhance the safety and quality of our lives.
Research shows that personal contact with LGBTQ+ individuals can increase understanding and decrease prejudice towards us. This personal connection often challenges stereotypes and misconceptions leading to greater acceptance and support. Translation: the visibility of our very BEING promotes acceptance and equality.
And yes, I know it can feel risky and in fact at times it is risky to be visible. Maybe someone will gasp or stutter. Maybe we will no longer be welcome in certain spaces. Maybe we will be attacked. Yet, it is in being myself, openly and unapologetically that I normalize my difference. I am pushing 50 and feeling steady in my career and clear about my worthiness. If someone reacts negatively, I am not defeated. Where can you lean into your badassery and allow it to help you to show up bravely?
Now, I am going to say the quiet part out loud because the impact doesn’t end there. While I identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I live in the same world as everyone else and have also internalized messages of what “normal” looks like. I wish it weren’t true, but I too, often default to heteronormativity. However, as I affirm my same-sex relationship out loud, I am also reaffirming it as standard to myself.
Therefore, as I check for safety, I also lean into discomfort. I hold my wife’s hand in an airport. I tell customs agents in foreign countries that she is my wife after they insist that we aren’t traveling as a family. The impact of those ordinary moments can be extraordinary.
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About the author
As a badass Jamaican-born, Black queer woman with a discernment for seeing and elevating the leadership in others, Patrice Ford Lyn uses her mindful practices, consulting expertise and executive coaching skills to elevate other senior Black leaders breaking barriers of race and gender in their respective fields. With decades of experience driving transformation at the organizational and individual levels, Patrice launched Catapult Change, a coaching and consulting company in 2010. Patrice creates a safe space for self-awareness and growth for executives across industries and sectors, working with executives from Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola, Ralph Lauren, Netflix, Johnson & Johnson, United Airlines, AARP, the Equality Fund and more.
Always advocating for women’s health on both a mental and physical level, Patrice is also a breast cancer survivor, using her personal experience to help other women openly discuss thriving in their 40s and beyond, with a focus on deepening somatic awareness and the nervous system regulation, to shift from surviving to thriving.