VOICES: Geoffrey Brown on Intersectionality
Association Forum’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Group presents a series of videos to celebrate and reflect upon Pride Month. Over the course of the month, we’ll speak with members of the association community and ask them what Pride Month means to them. Geoffrey Brown, CAE, is the Chief Operating Officer of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and a former chair of Association Forum’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee. In this video, he speaks with Association Forum CEO Artesha Moore about what Pride Month means to him and intersectionality. Check back for more videos from this month-long series!
Below is a transcript of the conversation:
Artesha Moore: So hello, I’m Artesha Moore and I’m the President and CEO of Association Forum. I’m very excited today to be interviewing a friend, Geof Brown, and hearing a little bit more about what Pride Month means to Geof. But first, Geof, please introduce your yourself.
Geof Brown: Hey Tesha. Hi everyone, I’m Geof Brown. I’m the CEO of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.
Artesha Moore: So Geof, thank you so much for being with us today. We want to start with just the grounding question. Tell us a little bit about what Pride Month means to you.
Geof Brown: For me, Pride Month has always been that opportunity to one, celebrate being a member of the LGBTQI community, two, to help raise the visibility of our community to those on the outside, and really just to celebrate everything that we’ve accomplished, but then also to be cognizant of the long road that we still have to go, to claim the rights and opportunities that we should all have as Americans.
Artesha Moore: And it’s important as you mention that, and I think about the Pride, and where it’s an observation of really bringing folks together and celebrating the community. But it also was starting protest. So when I think about Marsha P. Johnson and really the process that led to where we are today, there’s another part of an intersectionality that we started in, not started in, but in 2021, really started to put a stake in the ground in the federal holiday of Juneteenth. And that’s right in the middle of Pride Month. And so as a Black man in America, what does that mean for you as you look at Pride and Juneteenth in the same bucket?
Geof Brown: For me, it’s been a great opportunity to bring both sides of my identity together, if you will. I think there are still a lot of segments of the Black community that aren’t as accepting as they should be, or need to be, of their LGBTQI brothers and sisters. And I think having Juneteenth in the middle of Pride Month is not taking away anything from observing any of those opportunities, but it’s an opportunity to raise the fact that yeah, being LGBTQI, there’s a people that are Black Americans, there are Mexican Americans. And so things like that, I just think it’s a great opportunity for us to celebrate both observances.
Artesha Moore: And thank you for saying that because it is important to me, and as an ally, to be able to lean in and have some understanding around that, in ways that we can’t amplify that there’s not just one bucket that folks fall in. They fall in a lot of parts of their identity that they bring forward. So I love the reminder of how Pride is for us all, allies in those in the community, but to bring our full, true selves forward.
Geof Brown: And there were a lot of conversations, and some of it was in jest, but some of it was serious of can’t we just have our month? And I think there’s time and there’s space to observe it all because the struggle is real, regardless of whether you’re an LGBTQI American, a Black American, we’re all in this together, we’re all being deprived of some level of rights. And the fact that we need to come together, Pride Month allows us to do that.
Artesha Moore: And, and so that drives me to my next question. And I really think about that coming together. I’ve been in association management for 25 years, and as I look at it, in some aspect, we are at the forefront of some movements, and also behind the curve. So my question for you is, how can the association industry become more inclusive?
Geof Brown: I’ve always felt like I was fortunate to be in a field where I could be my authentic self, meaning that I had the opportunity to work for people and with people that said, “Geof, be you.” But then I had to remember that not every profession or every group of members was going to be about that life. I’ve definitely had professional communities where I was a little apprehensive about showing up as my true self, but ultimately, I said to Geof, “You need to be authentic.” Luckily when I started in this role at NAPFA, the chair of the board was a lesbian woman. And one of the first things she said was, “Tell me about yourself.” And I was like, “Well, I grew up in Maryland, dah, dah, dah, dah.” And she’s like, “No, no. Tell me about yourself.” And she wasn’t doing it in a threatening way.
Geof Brown: I think it was her way of saying, “You know what, Geof? This is a safe space. We don’t want you, just you as the association professional, we want all of you. We want to know about your family, we want to know about your life outside of NAPFA.” And I think the more that professionals like us can embrace that mindset, I think that we can create a more inclusive space. You know, I think that we also have to walk the walk to match our talk the talk around diversity, equity and inclusion. So if we’re not modeling a way and setting the expectations that we have for our member communities within our staff teams, then we’re not living up to our true potential. And so we need to create the space and the opportunities for our staff members, our volunteers, to just be authentic. And that means just celebrating them for who they are, allowing them to show up and show out. And that’s one of the things that comes with being an association management professional.
Artesha Moore: Yeah, I love that you said that, Geof, I really do, because in some aspect, it is this profession that allowed me to authentically lead and then inspire others. But giving that space, I think, and as a leader, for you to give that space to give psychological safety for your teams, and for your members, and leaders, to show up as they are, and then show out in the work that you all do, that’s impactful and it ripples throughout the community. So you were on the board when I started here at Association Forum and you all really leaned into me being my authentic self. So when you were speaking, I thought, “Well, thank y’all too,” because I came here a whole 100% person. And so as I look at our last question, and this one is always something that is near and dear to me, daily, or whether it is in our families, or in our work, or people like your first chair, when you came there that wanted to know about you as a person, who do you look up to and admire? Who are your heroes that you carry in your daily work?
Geof Brown: Yeah, I mean, it would be very easy to point to the notable figures, the Bayard Rustins, the James Baldwins, the people that we know for being unapologetic about who they were and living their lives sometimes when it wasn’t safe to do it. But I’m going to be really honest, I’m going to say that one of the people that I look up to, one of my heroes, is my mom. When I came out, her first words to me were, “We love you, we support you. But remember you are a Black man in America, and now you’re going to be a Black gay man in America. And we don’t want your life to be harder, so we want to be here to support you, we want to be here to walk through this life with you, and we’re going to give you the tools and the support and the love to be successful, so you know regardless of whatever you experience in the external world, you can always come home to us because we’ve got your back.”
Geof Brown: And those words have stuck with me. And that message is something that I’ve tried to advance with members, new professionals, people that I knew that were struggling with their own sexuality and identity, and just giving them the safe space that they need to open up and live authentic lives. And that’s always stuck with me. And so I would have to point to Arlene Brown. I know it’s kind of cliche, but she’s the one that did it.
Artesha Moore: Hey, and that’s big because she also modeled for other parents, who may struggle to figure out. And folks that are parents right now, listening to this video and watching this who may figure out how to bring that forward and be supportive in that way. So thank you for saying that. And my mom’s [inaudible 00:08:21] she wrote too, for so many things. I just spent three hours on the phone with her yesterday, talking about random things, but life lessons. So Geof, thank you for sharing, and thank you for being with us today.
Geof Brown: No, thank you for this opportunity. And I really appreciate Association Forum being out there on all of the issues relative to diversity, equity and inclusion, and definitely making the space to celebrate Pride Month, that’s one of the things that has helped make this community such a welcoming place for professionals like me and those that are still to come.
Artesha Moore: Right, thank you much.
Geof Brown: Thank you.
In this video, Collette speaks about Pride Month, her heroes, and inclusion.
Links to everything from job boards to DEI trainings to books.