I used to dream about being a college president. It was one of the ways I imagined making a difference in our world. Perhaps it was because education had such an impact on my own life. Teachers and professors supported me during trying times and guided me toward important truths and discoveries -- not only unearthings found inside books but epiphanies I found inside myself. Education moved me, and I wanted other young people to be inspired too.
As I got older, wiser (or maybe more jaded) and less carefree, anxieties and questions about being openly gay became cumbersome as I ruminated on my future. I wondered if boards would accept my sexual orientation. I questioned whether I could ever live openly in the president's house with my husband. Even worse, I feared discrimination when simply submitting my application. Instead of forging through the thickness of uncertainty ahead of me and trying to crack the glass ceiling above me, I acquiesced into the shadows of quiet (albeit important) university administration. I did all I could to support the college or university president for whom I worked.
I chose a different path. Then, after years working as an administrator, I found a new profession. I help discover talented people who become university and college presidents, CEOs of hospitals, leaders of academic medical centers, heads of schools, and executive directors of not-for-profit organizations. Most days I feel good about how I'm making a difference finding outstanding leaders who change our quality of life.
The other day I felt differently. I received a call from a highly experienced, very qualified higher education leader. I'd gotten to know him through my work at Witt/Kieffer. He called me because he dreams of becoming a university president. He surely has the skills, competencies, experiences, and background to become one. I was curious about why I heard hesitation in his voice. So I listened.
"But Jon, I'm gay," he said. "Can I really become a president?" I asked why that mattered and wondered how being gay could derail his dream. But he continued. "Do you think alumni would accept me as their president with my partner by my side? I mean, do you think my spouse could even live with me in the president's house?" His concerns sounded eerily similar to the thoughts and fears I had had as a young graduate student at Boston University.
At first I empathized with his trepidations and felt disillusioned. But then I encouraged him to champion on. I wasn't about to let another gay man give up his dream just because of whom he loves.
Today there are more openly gay university presidents than ever before. I've even had the distinct privilege of helping place one of them -- and she's been wildly successful in the community, living openly with her spouse in the president's house, just like her straight counterparts all over the county. The times indeed are changing.
Progress is bittersweet. As organizations courageously advocate for LGBT people, young and old, and as equal rights sweep across our nation, it's hard to deny the momentum, but there is more to do. LGBT Americans deserve equal rights, equal pursuit of happiness, and equal pursuit of their own American dreams. Therefore, LGBT Americans are ready for, and deserve, equal access to leadership positions, not only in higher education but in government, health care, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. Some of the most creative, brilliant, thoughtful, and thought-provoking minds in our history have been LGBT Americans, but many of them had to live in silence or in the closet because of fear.
But I believe in the day when I'll stop getting calls from aspiring leaders wondering if they have to temper their passion or vision just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We need LGBT Americans, passionate and compassionate, to be at the helm of organizations that change our quality of life.
I believe in the day when there will be even more openly LGBT presidents of colleges and universities. I know the day is coming when there will be more openly gay presidents and CEOs of hospitals, NGOs, banks, law firms, and corporations. I see the day when there will be even more openly gay members of Congress. I envision the day when this country will elect our first female president, but I also imagine the day when our president shares the White House with her first lady.
Don't be afraid like I was. Be bold and believe in this new day; submit your applications today.