Finding our voices – Brief Article
As a teen I was tormented by a dim awareness that I was different from my friends. I found myself numbly emulating feelings I suspected I didn’t truly possess. I lived in the hurlyburly Long Island that produced Alec Baldwin, Rosie O’Donnell, Billy Crystal, Billy Joel, and Joey Buttafuoco. My father, a prominent Irish-Catholic politician, had his campaign posters painted by Jerry Seinfeld’s father with the slogan PERFORMANCE NOT PROMISES.
I tried very hard to fit in–cheer-leading, dating, social clubs, swim teams, and proms–and for the most part succeeded. But while my peers reveled in their social ascent, a countercurrent of despair lay directly in my particular path. A voice reached up from inside of me and demanded to be heard: “You must be who you are, no matter what the cost.” It was enough to make me want to jump off a bridge. This was only the first of many life intersections that my sexual orientation would present.
I became one of the youngest female CEOs of a public company in America and later a joint venture partner with a Fortune 500 company. I felt like I was the female executive with flip charts in the FedEx commercials, only with better outfits. I hoped the power of my position would quell the voices. It seemed to work–until cancer stopped me in my tracks.
In the quiet of a hospital room the voices returned, like whispered prayers. Through a haze of morphine, I struggled to make some sense of my life. I heard “The Dance” by Garth Brooks for the first time while lying in intensive care and felt a thunderbolt of wanting another chance. If I were to survive, the charade was over, even if it cost me a career, family acceptance, or social esteem. I paused at another intersection without a road map and vowed simply to let the truth be my guide. I left the hospital room without looking back and discovered the Human Rights Campaign.
Three years later I was invited to executive-produce Equality Rocks, the RFK Stadium concert in Washington, D.C., on April 29. It is a concert to address the epidemic of violence committed against gay and lesbian youth in America. While it may be easier for many adolescents to be open about their sexuality today, the suicide rate of lesbian and gay teens remains up to five times greater than among their peers. They deserve a better chance, and for these reasons we must make this an excellent show.
On the executive-producing team with me are HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch (the concert is her brainchild); Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America; Lisa Sanderson, partner-producer of Red Strokes Entertainment; and Bill Leopold, president of W.F. Leopold Management. Creating a concert with four other people is the emotional equivalent of being in a pregame locker room gearing up for the Super Bowl. After all, we are trying to fill a football field with people.
Our weekly conference calls are huddles: Artists in. Artists out. The list is shuffled, and new E-mail arrives. Next play. Next call. Agents who respond. Managers who don’t. Personal contacts being accessed to the point where even the Rolodex looks like it needs a vacation. We press on because there is also the elation of knowing that soon almost 40,000 people will come together to hear many different voices celebrate our passionate effort to achieve fairness and equality.
I stand at this life intersection renewed by having found my footing in American society. The voice within me knows that the long, hard struggle to believe in the value of my sexual orientation has given me a priceless appreciation of the value of justice for all humanity.
Equality Rocks is a battle cry that America must protect all of its children, that they should be able to grow and hear their voices speaking clearly to them. Our children should be free to find their way down the road without suffering dangerous consequences. For those who will be watching on April 29, we want you to envision a tomorrow that is safe and sure. We want you to believe in the certainty that you have the same right as everyone else in this country to dream. Equality Rocks. The name says it all.
Healey is president of EMA, a marketing consulting firm based in Los Angeles that creates E-commerce, direct response, and retail distribution on behalf of its clients.
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