LGBT Leaders: Born or Built?

Great athletes are born with potential, but it takes intense training, great coaching, and the right equipment and support from families and communities to turn that potential into winning talent. The same is true of leaders in the LGBT community, whether they work in politics, government, or nonprofit organizations. Our fight for equality is powered by those who step up to lead, so giving them the tools to build their leadership skills is a necessary and vital part of winning.

This week the David Bohnett Foundation made a substantial investment in the future of LGBT leadership when it announced a grant of $800,000 to help send mid-career, openly LGBT professionals to Harvard Kennedy School. The gift to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute funds the David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellows program, now in its 10th year, which allows out leaders to partake of Harvard's renowned executive education programs. In fact, this is Bohnett's second major gift to the program, a commitment that has totaled more than $1.3 million over the past five years.

Fellows who have graduated from the Harvard program are some of the brightest lights in politics and government, including Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, New York State Senator Tom Duane, and Fort Worth, Tex. city councilman Joel Burns. These are trailblazing LGBT leaders whose courageous voices both inspire young people and help straight colleagues understand the reality of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in America.

Right now seven Bohnett Leadership Fellows are engaged in an intensive three-week session at Harvard, the second class of Fellows to experience the program this summer. They bring the total number of Bohnett Fellows to more than 100 since it was launched in 2002.

Like great athletic trainers, Harvard's instructors help public leaders rethink their approach to solving tough problems, and they teach the skills necessary to overcome obstacles to change. Those skills are in great demand in any organization, and they are especially necessary to advance a multi-front movement to secure equal rights for LGBT Americans.

The David Bohnett Foundation's commitment to building the leadership capacity of the LGBT community is helping to change the outlook for success in reaching our community's goals.