This installment of the author showcase we speak with Dr. Joel A. Davis Brown, author of the new book, The Souls of Queer Folk: How Understanding LGBTQ+ Cultural Values Can Transform Your Leadership Practice.
Q: What made you decide to make activism as a focal point for your career?
A: I don’t know if I ever consciously decided that I wanted to be an activist. As a Black Queer man coming into consciousness, I just became aware of my own need (and that of others like me) to survive in a hostile world. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that what me and others were doing was called activism. In that sense, I didn’t choose to be an activist. Activism chose me.
Q What do you think people need to do to move from thinking about injustices to taking actions against it?
A: I encourage people to recognize that fostering inclusion and equity is not about perfection. If you’re invested in social justice, you will make mistakes. And I understand the concern: making mistakes in the realm of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging has the potential to create great harm. But making mistakes is also how we learn and grow and become equity champions. As one of my mentors said, “You can’t learn from a place of comfort.” And…the fear of making mistakes is not a reason to disengage. Instead of perfectionism, people should exhibit discipline. Perfectionism is when you try to avoid making mistakes. Discipline is when you acknowledge your mistakes but use resilience to recover from your mistakes and try again. If more people can show courage and avoid perfectionism, then I think more people will take earnest steps to address injustice.
Q: You have a new book that just came out The Souls of Queer Folk: How Understanding LGBTQ+ Culture Can Transform Your Leadership, what were some of the takeaways you gained from doing research for it?
A: I gained a number of takeaways:
1) Leadership wisdom need not come from “on high.” It exists in the fierce spaces where LGBTQ+ people attend to their liberation every single day.
2) Our culture (LGBTQ+ culture) is unworthy of study, analysis, and exploration.
3) Everything that I learned from the study about Queer culture is everything I sensed intuitively about Queer culture since I was a little boy.
4) What the LGBTQ+ community embodies reflects the sensibilities that the world needs in terms of modern leadership.
5) In overcoming social stigma and bias, LGBTQ+ people exhibit a cultural genius™ that reflects transformational leadership.
6) The beauty of LGBTQ+ culture is that it is informed by people from every culture and every walk of life.
7) Queer culture has impacted communities in almost every part of the globe, whether people are explicitly aware of it or not.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges to the LGBTQ+ community in making strides towards more equality in society?
A: You asked a big question so I’m sharing a big answer 🙂 All bias is rooted in fear. I firmly believe that. However, that fear manifests itself in a particular way. In 2023, I would call that fear “the willful ignorance” of the LGBTQ+ community. In this day and age, I’m surprised how many people (including allies and well-meaning upstanders) know relatively little about our community. In mainstream circles, our culture is either hyper-sexualized due to Victorian notions about sexuality or its presumed to be a-cultural. But in truth, the bigotry our community faces is similar to that of all marginalized groups. Any group overcoming oppression has had to overcome the narrative that their culture is superficial, threatening, or deviant. Of course, the social phenomena that feed the fear and cause people to ignore or devalue LGBTQ+ culture are 1 ) patriarchy and 2) religious hegemony. Masculinity is very restricted in our society and anyone who deviates (even slightly) from the traditional masculine norms can be stigmatized or ostracized. I remember being challenged for wearing a pastel pink shirt when I worked for a law firm. Relatedly, toxic masculinity presupposes that Queer culture is substandard and that any investigation of it is unwarranted. Religious hegemony is this idea that one religion should predominate and speak for everyone. Although LGBTQ+ people are inherently spiritual (you have to have some form of spirituality to believe in yourself even when the world tells you you are ungodly), religious fanatics would suggest otherwise. And with the prevalence of religious extremism (particularly in the U.S. as of 2023), Queer people face the persistent narrative that our culture is deficient or contemptible. Religious fanaticism can reinforce an emotional commitment to ignorance. And a person cannot be closed to others and open to learning at the same time. As a result, there are many who will never recognize the complexity, humanity, richness and transcendent flavor of the LGBTQ+ community.
Q: What steps do you think people should be taking in communities and companies to build consensus on inclusivity?
1) Be clear about your intentions – some people are invested in equity. Many are not. Read that again.
2) Center the needs of those who are marginalized and learn from their experiences.
3) Examine your worldview and how it’s been framed by your place of origin and your family of origin.
4) Be honest about your assumptions, biases and stereotypes.
5) Facilitate dialogue, both internally and externally, about interpersonal and organizational dynamics.
6) Create sufficient space for learning and healing. Warning: this cannot be done overnight.
7) Reflect on which actions are needed to sustain equity in the environment. Some needs will be urgent, some will be critical, and others will be important. They will not all be priorities at the same time.
8) Take concrete actions to create measurable impact. Choose 1-2 things to focus on. Achieving some targeted goals will give your overall efforts credibility.
9) Adapt and recalibrate to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable have actually been met.
Q: If people want more info about you or your book where should they go?
A: Although I am really not a big fan of social media, you can find me on Linkedin at linkedin.com/in/joelanthonybrown or Instagram @joelabrown. You can also reach me directly at the following websites: http://www.joeldavisbrown (goes live July 15, 2023 ) or https://www.pneumos.com/the-souls-of-queer-folk-book/ I am a native Midwesterner so please reach out…we pride ourselves on being friendly. 🙂
Final four questions ( We ask everybody ):
Q: When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
A: On the streets of NYC waiting to do the Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance with them.
Q ) What is your favorite Fandom
A: It’s a tie: 1) Pro-basketball: WNBA or NBA. I’m hardcore and will organize my evenings around watching playoff basketball. 2) anything sci-fi. I geek out on everything from Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) and Star Trek to the Transformers (the 80s cartoon) or Westworld.
Q) What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
A:Love Jones: the best romantic film of all time.
Q: Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
A: That I’m an ambivert (equally introverted and extroverted). As much as I love meeting people and doing public speaking, I love having quiet time writing, hanging in nature, watching sports, or listening to soulful music.