The ‘Hat Theory’ : How I Deal with My Anxiety in the Non-Profit Sector

Working in the non-profit sector means that you have to network, talk to volunteers, educators, constituents, and donors. A lot.

Right after starting my non-profit, I couldn’t talk to a new person without reminders to breathe. Speaking in front of people or with large groups of people was borderline debilitating. Even now, years later, my co-founder and I usually divide tasks into what requires talking to people, and what doesn’t.

When I have to talk to people about the non-profit, I do enjoy it- but it drains me considerably. I have tried various techniques and coping skills to help me through these situations, and I have finally come up with something that allows me to enjoy the networking and social interactions required of me.

I call it the Hat Theory.

The Hat Theory let’s me go into specific characters in specific situations. The hats in this theory are invisible, but if real hats work for you, great!

Need to talk to a donor? Without my hat I am extremely anxious and shy, but when I wear my Financial Hat (which I usually imagine as a top hat), I can answer any questions with enthusiasm. Need to present a workshop to volunteers? My trusty volunteer cap turns me into a pumped up motivator read to rally the group together.

Get the picture?

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t need my Hats. But as someone who has Panic Disorder, these Hats allow me to step outside of ‘myself’ to do the work for the organization that I have created and fallen in love with.

Being anxious doesn’t need to stop you from making a difference.

You just have to find the right hat.

Assuming Does Make You an Ass

Culture isn’t real- at least what most of us think of when we hear the word culture. The “homophobic culture” of a country (i.e. Russia) is not the entire country. Saying that there is only one culture in a country or geographic area is ridiculous. Yes, there are features that are unique to specific countries, but saying there is only one homogeneous American culture would negate the differences that the North, South, East , West, and Midwest are proud of.

I think it is getting better, but a large amount of the aid/non-profit/government workers still treat countries and regions as having one collective mindset. Going into City A with locked in expectations is counter productive to whatever your mission is.

Assuming that a group of people in any aid/non-profit/government situation has nothing to offer will also decrease the chance of your program making the most positive impact. We are not the true experts, and utilizing  every resource, even if it’s not an obvious one, is crucial.

I do need to remind myself of these things quite often: every time I travel, give a workshop or work with volunteers. Assuming that a person, group of people, or entire country hates who I am closes me off from creating the most positive impact.

I’m not saying that every gay humanitarian should tattoo the word “Queer” on their forehead, but putting every Russian, Ugandan, or American in the same homophobic box discredits the diversity of opinions that exist in humanity’s spectrum.

When going into a new location, we need to remind ourselves that politics and political agendas are not people.

And it’s not why we do the work we do. It’s the people.

Why its Actually a Good Idea that Clay Aiken is Running for Congress

I was pleasantly surprised when researching the topic of LGBT* politicians. I was not aware that all 50 states have been served by an out LGBT* member in some capacity, and 41 states have elected openly LGBT* politicians to one or both houses of their state legislature. REPRESENTATION!

But… on a Gubernatorial and  Federal level…

Only one governor has come out, and no openly LGBT* has been elected as governor or president. And there are only 8 out LGBT* members in Congress (Representatives Jared Polis, David Cicilline, Sean Patrick Maloney, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan, and Mark Takano ; Senator Tammy Baldwin). This is a record high; I’m glad that the number has increased, but with the United States having 100 Senators and 435 Representatives in the House, the LGBT* community is grossly underrepresented.

I think there are many obvious reasons for this (mainly homophobia and discrimination), but I want to talk about liability. There are many in the Democratic party who view backing an LGBT candidate as too risky, especially in swing states or in districts that lean Republican. Obviously in any election these places are risky. My guess, if someone isn’t going to vote for an openly gay candidate, they probably wouldn’t vote for a Democratic candidate anyway… especially one with “San Francisco Views“.

This past Wednesday, Clay Aiken announced his candidacy for Representative of the 2nd District of North Carolina. Regardless of how you feel about Aiken, if he wins the primary, it should lead to an interesting battle with Tea Party member Renee Ellmers. When in comes down to it, and openly gay man is running for Congress in North Carolina. That alone should help put future LGBT* politicians into the national spotlight.

Obviously the LGBT* community needs more than a white skinny guy from American Idol for representation in Congress, but he is certainly far from being the worst candidate that could be elected. (And he actually has a decent platform – mostly liberal with a touch of North Carolina politics).

As I have said many times in the past – visibility is the key to the LGBT* movement; true and diverse representation on the national and global stage is crucial.

SO LGBT* community – run for office! Be politically active! Be socially conscious!

We are NOT a liability. We should not be considered a political risk.

And shit… if Clay Aiken can run for Congress, maybe someday I can too.

Young and Sportastic – Visibility in the LGBT* Community

Honestly my first temptation was to rant about the lack of LGBT* representation in the State of the Union last Tuesday, but as I promised my girlfriend and my readers  last week , I won’t turn my blog into a rant fest. (Though I really want to… all I wanted was ONE ENDA mention…)

…Anyway, I want to focus on the increase of youth representation and LGBT* visibility. Many of the kids /young adults that are coming out are active in sports culture, and that’s fantastic. Between Olympians worldwide, and people like Conner Merterns in Oregon, many current players are at the forefront of the LGBT* movement. I can’t speak for the sports culture outside of the United States, but here in the USA the culture surrounding athletics could easily be compared to religious ideology.

The You Can Play project is an example of the decrease of homophobia in sports (even if it’s slow). I love that people are challenging what it means to be strong, and that LGBT* individuals can challenge current perceptions. But gay athletes in the Olympics, college sports, and major sports teams prove that being queer does not fit into a nice hetero-normative picture.

Queer kids can play hockey, football, baseball, or soccer. Go for the Gold (I mean just getting to the Olympics sounds pretty rad).

The thing that I think is the most important about this trend in sports is the spirit of athleticism. Pride in teamwork, hard work, perseverance, etc. are all lauded in American society. The LGBT* community are of course capable of expressing these virtues already, but having kids be able to see these virtues openly expressed in people like themselves is powerful.

Telling kids not only does it get better, but they are amazing, unique and strong in their own way is quintessential. Recognizing your own personal strength is one of the first steps into empowering yourself and making the world a more positive and better place. With more visibility in sports, it’s becoming more of reality for queer kids.

Visibility matters. We’re here, we’re queer, and we can be whatever we want to be.