Earlier this year, I was honored with a Bohnett Fellowship to attend the Harvard Kennedy School of Government for a leadership program designed for mid-career State and Local officials. I didn’t know quite what to expect from the program, but 3 weeks away in Boston, who can argue? It was an intensive 3 week program with 8-9 hours/day of programming, 3-4 hours of reading and some forced social interaction. To describe it in the briefest possible statement, they made us take out our brains, have a good look at them, poke them, and put them back in a slightly different way. That exercise is what made me really sit and ponder what has been keeping me motivated.


About midway through the first week of the program, the main professor introduced a guest speaker named Joel Burns from the Fort Worth City Council. Many of you may recall Joel – the video of his tearful discussion of gay teen suicides went viral last year and helped start the “It Gets Better” video campaign. Joel is also a graduate of the same program.


As an introduction, the professor played the video of Joel before the Fort Worth City Council. Having been blessed with both a first and last name that is alphabetically first in line, I was stuck smack in the front row. I had to sit and watch that damn video. Yes, I just cursed the video – I had never been able to get all the way through that video without turning it off because of my own emotional reaction.

So there I am, stuck in the front row as Joel goes on to talk about bullied LGBT youth who have committed suicide. He then breaks down himself and can’t seemingly muster the language to impart his own experience with that same issue. You see, I’ve never been able to get through that video because I had that same experience.


When I was 17, my family had expected that I would be the family Priest. I’d spent a couple of summers attending a pre-seminary camp. It was the perfect out – no relationship allowed and a commitment to social justice, but something was wrong. I came to that same point that everyone does during the coming out process – you knew you were lying to yourself and you can’t take it anymore. I faced a choice, and I decided to come out over other alternatives….. and it did get better. A lot better.


I found myself going back to that moment in time for the next couple of hours after being forced to listen to Joel’s speech. I realize now, looking back, that is from where I personally draw my own strength to look at politics, not just as a political game of egos, but as a personal mission.


While in Boston, I met several amazing people from around the country, not all LGBT, but one young man did stick out for me. Ryan is the friend of a former head of the state LGBT group in North Carolina, and he is actively involved in the state teacher’s union in Massachusetts. In just a brief conversation with him, I took away his passion for bringing LGBT issues to the forefront for his union. Ryan is making a difference, and I found that conversation inspiring and his vision to be passionate.


That got me thinking about the people within our own Saint Louis community who exhibit a passion for what they do. Take, for example, Sherrill Wayland of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders). 

Here is an amazingly committed woman who started an organization based on community needs, didn’t and couldn’t draw a salary from it for several years, and still managed to build a highly respected and capable organization that provides a much needed service. I’ve worked closely with Sherrill over the years, but I don’t know that I’ve ever shared with her just how much she inspires me to keep going on.


When I stop and consider all the people who do inspire me with their passion and commitment to change right here at home, too numerous to mention, I feel that in some way they provide me, personally, with an anchor to the community – a guide point by which we continue to circle around as a community.


It is from those passions and those anchors that I draw my own desire and commitment to changing the environment for LGBT people right here in Missouri.


So how about you? Where do you draw your passion and commitment for change?  I’d like to hear from you and share some of your perspectives in an upcoming article. Drop me an email at AJBockelman@PROMOonline.org.


A.J. Bockelman is Executive Director for PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBT advocacy group. This bi-monthly column will explore the LGBT political world and he hopes that you will join him in that exploration. If you would like to provide feedback or get further information, feel free to contact him at AJBockelman@PROMOonline.org.