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A letter from the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Executive Director Rea Carey

Rea Carey and Kierra Johnson on stage at Creating Change Conference 2020

SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

I am writing to you because you are part of the Task Force’s family and have been with me on my journey leading the Task Force through one of the most extraordinary time periods for the LGBTQ community, at a time when we have seen both extraordinary progress and unprecedented obstacles.

At the end of January 2021, after 17 years with the Task Force—12 of those years as the Executive Director—I will be stepping down. I’m thrilled that our Board of Directors has unanimously selected the fabulous Kierra Johnson, our current Deputy Executive Director, to lead the Task Force into our next era of creating positive change, tackling challenges, and making progress for LGBTQ people and their families!

It has been a remarkable ride. Just to be alive during a time of such progress over the last few decades has been astounding, and to serve the LGBTQ community, to work towards freedom, justice, equality and equity in my capacity as the longest-serving Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force has been the joy and honor of a lifetime. When I came out as a lesbian at 16 years old in the ‘80s in Denver, Colorado, I never could have imagined that I would be able to work at an organization like the Task Force and to serve and help make progress for our community.

We have come a long way since then, and yet much work remains to fulfill the dream of living our lives freely, without fear of violence and discrimination.

When I first became Executive Director in 2008, there were several things I wanted to achieve and which, together and with your support, I am proud to say we have accomplished:

Tangible progress for LGBTQ people and their families. Together, we secured the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; won marriage equality, overturned Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (and we WILL regain the right to serve for trans service members!); included the lives of LGBTQ people in the conversation and legislation about immigration, reproductive justice, voting rights and healthcare; and changed hundreds of policies at the federal level that have made life better for LGBTQ people and their families. Together, we have helped restore voting rights for millions of previously incarcerated people in Florida; we have conducted the largest ever Queer the Census outreach campaign to make sure LGBTQ people and our families are counted; and we have trained countless grassroots activists to make progress on the local level. Together, we—you—have changed millions of hearts and minds and lives through millions of conversations with our family, friend’s friends, and co-workers across the country.

Structuring our work in a way that takes into account our whole lives, our whole experiences. I have worked to ensure that our lives as LGBTQ people are seen in a broader context—we hold multiple identities as immigrants, as people of color, as parents, as people experiencing homelessness, as voters, as people of faith, as trans and bi, as workers. I have structured our work based on the belief that we are not a lesbian one day, a parent the next, and Latinx on the third day. We live our diverse identities each and every day, and we must structure legislation and community solutions that take our whole lives into account. I have worked to create a more cohesive and connected LGBTQ movement by building, convening, and sustaining relationships with other leaders. I believe that only when organizations work together that we will be able to both represent our whole community well and to achieve the justice, freedom, equality, and equity we seek. YOU have helped the Task Force ensure our lives are seen and that our movement is successful.

Providing stability and sustainability. I was determined to provide stability, consistency, and financial sustainability for the Task Force. From day one, I invested in supporting our skilled staff and building a very deep bench of talented, brilliant people as spokespeople, fundraisers, and experts. I focused on hiring staff who were better, smarter, more expert than me—and ensured the community saw them. I used a model of shared leadership with the three dynamic Deputy Executive Directors with whom I’ve had the honor to work—Darlene Nipper, Russell Roybal and Kierra Johnson. I did not want the Task Force to be overly focused on one person’s leadership. I wanted to show our supporters and constituents, our Creating Change attendees, that you didn’t just have to believe in me as a leader, but rather if you believed in yourselves and each other, as an agent of change, that we could all use this organization to make progress. And, we have.

Evolving the Task Force into a majority people of color staffed organization. From the beginning, I wanted to move the organization into one that would not only be majority POC staff but led by a more diverse set of leaders, representing our LGBTQ+ community more completely. And it hasn’t only been about who we hire—it has been about moving the Task Force more fully towards being a racial, economic, gender and social justice organization and having the diverse perspectives of our staff help to shape and fulfill that mission. I am so excited for the Task Force to be led, for the first time, by a Black queer woman when Kierra takes the helm!

Thank you for all YOU have done to make those things possible.

For the last 17 years, I have fought like hell for our ability to be fully ourselves as LGBTQ people, to love who we want to love, for sexual freedom, to be free of violence and oppression in all its forms, to be seen, valued and celebrated as fully human. What I wasn’t planning on was falling in love with all that is the Task Force. And, yet, I did. I fell in love with our brilliant staff, our committed board members, our passionate donors, and with my executive director colleagues. I fell in love with those of you who come to our Creating Change Conference or our Winter Party Festival and for the first time in their lives feel whole and free. I fell in love with those brief moments when we could see, taste, hear and feel what a future of freedom will be like. Yes, we have a way to go until that liberation is fully realized. But, having experienced the progress we’ve made, and having seen us face down challenges and threats again and again, I have no doubt that we will prevail.

We have been through some dark days and trying times together. We have lost many times before we won anything. But, again and again, and even now—in this challenging time of the pandemics of COVID-19, of white supremacy stepping even more fully into brazen and violent actions with the support and incitement of the Trump administration, of the murders of Black people at the hands of police, and the epidemic of murders of trans women of color—we have joined together for change and find ourselves stronger than before. This ability to come back stronger and more determined is why I have plenty of hope for the future.

After the human rights wrecking ball of the last 4 years, we must fight to win back the progress previously made—the gains the current occupant of the White House ripped away. But I know us. I know how resilient and determined our community is. One of my mantras as I have faced tough times over the last 17 years is, “I will outlast you” (sometimes with an expletive thrown in for good measure). And I know from my time in ACTUP that we will fight back, we will regain ground, we will pursue and achieve new dreams. Kierra is the right woman for the job and the Task Force is well-positioned to continue our leadership, take up the fight, and work towards freedom.

The beauty of the Task Force is that any of us who have had the honor of serving as its Executive Director have built on the success of those who have come before us and share a commitment to the next and future generations. I have always had an emergency succession plan in place (thankfully, never needed!) and made sure that whoever our Deputy Executive Director was could serve as the next Executive Director. When Kierra came on almost three years ago, she hit the ground running with her voice, her leadership, her brilliance in the media and elsewhere. She has been a true partner. Not only am I confident that she will take the Task Force into its next exciting era of work as we head towards our 50th anniversary, but I look forward to seeing what she and you all can accomplish together. I will do all I can to support her leadership and ask you to do the same.

As I plan my next steps, know that the Task Force is and always will be my activist home. In January, I hope you will join me and Kierra at our virtual Creating Change Conference, where I will say my goodbyes and we will celebrate Kierra’s leadership and vision! Until then, I plan on running across the finish line—after all, we have one of the most important elections in our lifetimes coming up and so much is at stake! Let’s get to work, friends!

With care and deep gratitude,