The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Brian K. Bond of PFLAG National
Every Pride Month of the past few years has felt unlike any other in recent memory. With so much happening so fast, and attacks and assaults on LGBTQ people ramping up in the courts, in statehouses and on the streets, it makes sense that many of us are tired, depressed, fearful, and fed-up. Fortunately, there are many LGBTQ people and allies working to push back and make the world a better place for all of us. One such group of LGBTQ people and allies is PFLAG National.
Founded in 1973 by the mother of a gay son, PFLAG is the first and largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and their families. PFLAG’s network of hundreds of chapters and more than 250,000 members and supporters works to create a caring, just, and affirming world for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them.
PFLAG National is an inspiring organization with a fantastic Executive Director: my friend Brian K. Bond. I’m so happy Brian is participating in the Common Sense Colloquy as our third Pride Month interviewee (after Bob Witeck and Stacey Stevenson).
Brian is a former Obama Administration official and an LGBTQ community leader with decades of experience in government and advocacy. And as it happens, he’s one of those rare LGBTQ community leaders with solid energy and environmental credentials as well. He served as Coalitions Director for the Climate Action Campaign and Associate Administrator for Public Engagement and Environmental Education at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He was also Deputy Director for the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Obama Administration and primary liaison for the LGBTQ community, becoming the first person to serve in that role.
I first met Brian twenty-five years ago when he was Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. He was an inspiring leader then and his stature has only grown over the years. Remarkably, Brian remains as grounded and authentic now as the day I met him: he’s a wonderful person whom I’m proud to call friend and colleague. I can’t think of a better person to talk with this – or any – Pride Month.
My thanks to Brian for sharing his wisdom with us – and you.
Q: How does PFLAG work with companies and organizations to advance your mission? What’s the role of communications in that work?
A: Most folks readily recognize PFLAG as those proud, hugging parents in the parades, but what many don't know is that an incredible amount of our work happens in the workplace. In fact, PFLAG National has a long history of working with non-family allies. Much of that work is done in the workplace, through our Straight for EqualityTM program, which was established in 2007. Corporate America is leading the way in creating LGBTQ+ friendly and inclusive environments, as they continue to implement inclusive non-discrimination policies providing explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, policies and procedures have not necessarily translated into culture change in the workplace, and this fact remains a difficult reality for LGBTQ+ people, their families, and allies. The lag in culture change is damaging for individuals and organizations, creating extra stress for LGBTQ+ people in their day-to-day work.
Our incredible Learning & Inclusion and Communications teams work with organizations to help make the case that “LGBTQ+ issues” are everyone’s issues at work by empowering allies with specific plans for change, and broadening the conversation to ensure that change to an LGBTQ+ inclusive and affirming culture thrives.
We see this work broadly across a number of partners we’ve worked with, including OREO, WalMart, JCrew and Calvin Klein, and more. From a communications standpoint, we ensure that the messages put out into the world and internally by the companies we work with align with our values of an equitable, inclusive world, and that this is a year-round vision, not just during Pride month.
Q: Climate and environmental policy and LGBTQ advocacy aren’t always seen as related, but your career (and mine) would argue otherwise. What communications lessons have you learned from each community that you have been able to apply to the other?
A: Well, both clean water and clean air are as essential as equality and equally worth fighting for. Bold change requires bold voices, bold storytelling. And these are two areas that absolutely need bold change to save lives, right now. It’s so important to speak up, even when it’s maybe not the popular thing to say—but when you have RIGHT on your side, and personal passion and stories, change happens.
The communities most affected by climate change are those that have the least access to the levers of power. Working together with incredible public relations masters like Flo McAfee and Environmental Justice leaders and activists who are rooted in Black and brown communities ensured that the message about climate action came from within and through the stories and experiences of the people who needed action.
PFLAG works in much the same way. Sharing our stories and personal experiences, helps make the real lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people and our families much more relatable. You find that when a PFLAGer shares their story, you learn that loving your kid and affirming others for who they are is a pretty good way to live your life. Interestingly, a recent conversation that tackled the intersection of these two movements was part of our “Something to Talk About Live!” weekly broadcast, where we had a conversation with Glen Hooks, Director of the Arkansas Sierra Club. A great conversation, I encourage folks to check it out.
Q: In your career, you’ve helped elect openly LGBTQ officials, served as the first liaison to the LGBTQ community in the White House and helped build and expand the nation’s premiere organization for LGBTQ people and their allies.
The through-line of all of these positions seems to be “service” and a commitment to others. How have you applied this focus in communications? What lessons should we draw from your experience?
A: Authenticity is important; you have to believe what you are saying, feel it in your heart. I draw my strength from the words, passion, and actions of others. I have learned to listen with humility and to be open to continually learning.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Be true to your authentic self and to those you are trying to serve. Staying on message is key, especially in the current climate, where opposition messengers are strategically (and, sadly, successfully) sharing harmful and damaging messages, many of which are just entirely untrue. Most critically? Don’t repeat the lie. It’s too easy for others to take our good messages and words—and facts—and twist them to suit their own nefarious purposes; don’t help them. And always listen to your communications team, of course!
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: Be brief.