Editor's Note: This article is featured in Best of Connections 2021. Read Apra Editorial Advisory Committee Chair Jessica Balsam's editor's message to learn more about the top articles of the year.
Interview by Jeffrey Walker, PhD
Lucila Canul and Suzi Elzie-Tuttle, MLIS, are senior prospect analysts on the prospect development team in UC Berkeley’s University Development and Alumni Relations Department. Michael Quevli is a principal consultant for Target Analytics (a Blackbaud company) and is based in the Tempe, Arizona, area. Jeffrey Walker, PhD, is the director of research in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Development and Alumni Relations Office.
These four individuals identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community and recently chatted over email, sharing their perspectives on their coming out journeys in the context of their career, things they would tell their younger selves, what it takes for organizations to be true allies and more.
Jeff Walker (JW): How has your coming out journey aligned — or not — with the arc of your career? Professionally, I’ve been in and out and in-between, based on societal trends and the politics of specific supervisors and employers.
Michael Quevli (MQ): Prior to fundraising, I was an actor. When I started acting professionally in the mid-1980s, being completely out was not recommended. It was always this delicate dance of who you tell and how you present yourself.
Suzi Elzie-Tuttle (SE): In my first prospect research position, I was not out as queer; it didn't feel like that part of me would be welcomed in that space. When I moved to a team at another organization, I could be my full, authentic self, and I really hit my stride professionally. I’m not saying correlation implies causation, but it is a coincidence that has not escaped my notice.
JW: Suzi, I hear you. I’ve been the most consistently out in my current role, and I’ve found this one to be the most engaging and fulfilling.
Lucila Canul (LC): I started coming out over two decades ago; I am still not out in certain aspects of my life. We’ve seen each generation shift our society toward a more inclusive democracy, but there are a variety of factors that go into a person’s decision to identify openly as LGBTQ+. It is important to create conditions where people don’t have to out themselves — where they can come out when the moment feels right for them, not for others.
JW: Let’s look back a bit — way back. Is there anything you wish you could travel through time and tell the younger you?
LC: Building an inclusive, equitable democracy will be a long, slow process. We should actively listen to different perspectives, learn from mistakes along the way and celebrate the wins — even small wins.
JW: How does your LGBTQ+ identification influence your work, your Apra volunteering, and your professional or personal mentoring?
MQ: When I became a consultant and was working with not-for-profits throughout the U.S. and Canada, I thought about whether and how to communicate being gay. Because many of my consulting engagements were brief, I realized those clients didn’t always need to know the personal sides of my life.
SE: Being a queer, Black, Asian woman greatly influences my Apra work. I don’t see many people like me represented at conferences, in webinars or on committees, and I feel obligated to “be the change I want to see.” If there is no representation, part of me feels it’s my duty to be that representation for others. At the same time, this can be exhausting, so I’ve had to develop strong boundaries.
LC: As a member of the LGBTQ+ and Latina/o/e communities, I’ve learned that the use of language to support inclusion is always evolving. If a colleague tells me that my terminology is outdated or offensive, I remind myself that, instead of being defensive, I need to listen to the feedback and adapt.
JW: Both at the international and the local/chapter level, how would you evaluate Apra's engagement with all things LGBTQ+?
MQ: I went to my first Apra International conference in 1996 and walked in to register with my husband at my side. I met so many people, and the only thing on their minds was: “How can we help you in your new career?” My sexual orientation was not a concern, and I remember feeling lighter and freer immediately. In 2004, at the Apra conference in Toronto, we legally tied the knot. My Apra friends and colleagues were at the ceremony, and Apra held a reception for us.
JW: Apra has made diversity, equity and inclusion work a high priority and a guiding principle. If you were one of the organization's leading decision makers, what would you want such work to accomplish?
LC: Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) work often starts and ends with an assigned implicit bias training or required reading. While these can build a basic understanding of our shared history and systems of inequality, they often fall short in helping us achieve the next step: a truly inclusive, equitable space. We need to foster relationships across race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and ethnicity, so we can collectively understand how this work improves outcomes for everyone. We must build policies, tools and systems that support DEIB efforts. And there is no finish line to this work. Apra and its chapters can be ongoing integral partners, by providing DEIB educational resources and by providing clear DEIB guidance.
JW: What can organizations in general do to be effective LGBTQ+ allies and DEIB advocates?
SE: I think visibility is one of the keys: not just showing that there are queer people who are members, but also having queer people in positions of power, where we can make decisions and create positive change. Organizations can also benefit by clearly showing that DEIB efforts always include the queer community.
LC: Recently, just out of curiosity, I skimmed Apra’s job postings for prospect research and management positions. The majority list a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement. We underestimate how much DEIB this eliminates. Our industry loves stories about how people rarely grow up saying: “I want to be a prospect researcher.” We enjoy hearing about the librarian, the journalist or the CIA agent who unexpectedly joins our profession. Often, though, we don’t give an equal chance to excellent candidates without a degree, who have solid transferrable skills. Many of us know that racism is systemically embedded in schools at every level, yet our approach to recruitment can be exclusionary.
JW: I want to thank each of you, so very much, for this candid and productive conversation. Any closing thoughts?
SE: Whenever substantive operational decisions are being made, having queer people at the table is vital for an organization’s success. Think of the perspectives we can bring to discussions around something as “simple” as record updating. What if a prospect has transitioned since they were initially placed in our database? What about the differences between labeling a couple as domestic partners, instead of as spouses? Queer people need to be present — and empowered and ready to speak. Representation matters. Language matters. Inclusion and respect are as vital between colleagues as they are between our organizations and the constituents and communities we serve.