Who are you and what do you do? Tell me about how you ended up there.
I am currently a MSMS Russell Fellow at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I am also a writer, LGBTQ advocate, and social entrepreneur. Throughout my career, I hope to utilize the power of branding, media and technology to pioneer positive social change. I believe in the value of inclusion and shining light on a diversity of perspectives.
Often we can only understand in retrospect how the dots in our path connected. Looking backward, can you talk about a time you failed or you were struggling? What did you think it meant at the time and what do you think it means now? Was there a silver lining, or did it influence your path forward unexpectedly?
Growing up, sports was always “my thing.” In high school, I singularly defined myself in terms of my number of varsity letters, teams I captained, coach’s trophies and all-league team honors. The field and the court were where I felt most comfortable. All of my questions surrounding my sexual orientation or future temporarily vanished at the sound of a whistle or the crack of a racket. These places were my home.
When it came time to choose a college, I was not ready to part with my sanctuary. My attention quickly turned to the quality of each school’s soccer team instead of its academic program. During my senior year of high school, I was recruited to play soccer for Bates College (a small liberal arts school in Lewiston, Maine). A year later, I found myself alone in the middle-of-nowhere Maine for soccer pre-season. My only comfort in this strange new place was the patch of green I had become so accustomed to. However, due largely to a change in the coaching staff, I found myself among the players cut from the women’s soccer team at the end of the pre-season week. My heart sank as the new coach delivered the news, effectively ripping away my familiar. “Now what?,” I remember thinking.
After I was cut from the team, really for the first time in my life, I suddenly had the time to pursue activities and interests outside of athletics. Instead of giving up or getting upset, I decided to make the best of the situation by exploring other opportunities. During my freshman year at Bates, I co-founded and served as the president of the Bates College Sunshine Society (a club dedicated to promoting happiness and community across campus through hosting fun events and facilitating random acts of kindness). I was also the Assistant News Editor for The Bates Student (Bates College’s only student-run newspaper) and a weekly volunteer at the local hospital.
Looking back, I definitely think getting cut from the Bates College Women’s Soccer Team was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Being forced to step outside of the sports world allowed me to discover new passions and in turn, peaked my curiosity about what else was out there. I decided I needed a bigger school with more opportunities and resources than Bates could offer. I credit getting cut from the Bates College Women’s Soccer Team with leading me to transfer to the University of Pennsylvania as a junior and ultimately, to become more open about my own sexual orientation (a decision that would drastically alter the course of my life). I never anticipated that I would be able to be happy outside of competitive sports, but then I was – and suddenly anything seemed possible.
This experience made me a stronger, more resilient person. And it taught me the importance of looking for the positive in any seemingly negative situation.
When are you happiest? If happiness is something that can be practiced in our lives, what are the ways in which you create happiness in your life?
I am happiest when I am laughing with friends. All of my happiest memories involve other people. For me, cultivating meaningful relationships with others is the most valuable and fulfilling piece of life. Good friends challenge you and push you to reach your full potential. Other people give you purpose. I believe that maintaining quality relationships throughout life is a powerful way to ensure your happiness never fades.
Have you taken any inspiration for happiness or resiliency from another person’s story or other cultures?
When my friend at the University of Pennsylvania, Sayid, told me about his personal experiences as an LGBTQ asylum seeker in the U.S., I was finally moved to action. Sayid was forced to flee his home country as a teenager because of fear of persecution based on his sexual orientation. He left everything behind everything – his family, friends and home – in order to seek asylum in the U.S. As a member of the LGBTQ community myself, I became profoundly aware that I had failed to speak out for more than a decade in a country where I at least had that choice. In July of 2014, Sayid and I co-founded AsylumConnect with the mission of building the first online, centralized database of service providers useful to LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S.
What I have uncovered during my research for AsylumConnect – what I have heard from existing organizations and LGBTQ asylum seekers – has deeply affected me. It has permanently altered my worldview and rearranged my priorities. Being gay isn’t a choice or a sickness; it is not a punishable offense. Being gay is something you simply are. Today, I am passionate about fighting for everyone’s basic human right to live authentically.
What are your hopes for the future?
What matters most to me is using my perspective to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. In the most basic sense, I want my career to mean something. My goal is to become the person and role model that I wish I had when I was growing up. Throughout my life, I hope to increase visibility for gay women and to challenge preconceived notions of what it means to be “LGBTQ.” Everyone deserves the right to live authentically without fear of physical abuse or emotional trauma. What matters most to me is that other people realize this and that I never forget it.