Embrace All People for Who They Are: Life Lessons from Uncle Johnny

Scot Rogers 缩略图
Scot Rogers
Published June 22, 2020

I’ve been the Executive sponsor of the F5 Pride employee inclusion group since its inception in 2016. When people ask me why I feel so strongly about advocating for LGBTQ+ F5ers, I tell them, “Because I loved and was loved by someone who taught me—through his life-long example—the importance of embracing all people for who they are, as they are, and wherever they are on their life’s journey.”

My uncle, John Bracey, was like a second father to me. I spent my youth, teenage years, and young adulthood observing how he interacted with the world. He was my role model, showing me by his actions—big and small—what it meant to live life “on purpose.” He brought his whole self to the business of living and made everyone around him feel that they could bring their whole selves, too. He also happened to be a gay man. He came out to me when I was 14 years old—but I wasn’t surprised because he didn’t hide who he was from me or others.

I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a white, heterosexual man, I did not—and do not—experience the systemic discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community, the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community, women (especially women of color), and all those who have been marginalized and demeaned as “other.” But my Uncle Johnny did. As a gay man raised in the South, he experienced prejudice—both subtle and overt. As I was growing up, his sexual orientation was never discussed in the family and his parents, my grandparents, never really acknowledged it or talked about it. But he chose to live his life out loud and be himself. He traveled the world and for a time lived in Europe. He was open and loving so made fast friends wherever he went. He also experienced firsthand the tragedy and heartbreak of the AIDS epidemic during which he lost over 100 of those friends. 

And yet he responded to the discrimination and unfolding tragedy with fearless lovingkindness. He would not be intimidated. He spoke up for those whose voices weren’t being heard and redoubled his efforts to be inclusive, welcoming, and to live life with an open heart. Uncle Johnny would have been the first person out in the streets protesting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. He wouldn’t stand idly by as others were oppressed.

In 2019, I attended the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Dinner in Seattle, WA. (The HRC is largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the United States.) The featured performer was singer, songwriter, and transgender activist Shea Diamond. I was blown away by her performance and was also moved by an instant connection: she, too, came from Little Rock, Arkansas. As a trans woman of color, she is courageously raising her voice to highlight the intersectionality of her experience—including the threefold discrimination she faces because the world sees her as Black, trans, and female.

According to the HRC, “[I]t is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and unchecked access to guns conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.” 

The HRC has been tracking violence against the transgender community since 2013. During that time, at least 157 transgender and gender-expansive individuals have been killed in the U.S., the majority of whom were Black transgender women. In the summer of 2018, for example, a horrific outbreak of attacks occurred over a 10-week period during which nine Black trans women in eight cities across the country were murdered. Forbes reports that—globally—at least 3,314 transgender and gender-diverse people have been murdered since 2008, the majority of whom were trans women of color.

But it isn’t enough just to be aware of the statistics, as horrifying as they are. As we’re seeing with the Black Lives Matter movement—and as my Uncle Johnny saw with the marches and protests that evolved into the Pride movement—we all have a part to play in affecting change. To help make our society a safer place for transgender people, the HRC published a report titled Dismantling a Culture of Violence: Understanding Anti-Transgender Violence and Ending the Crisis in which they write, “It’s not enough to grieve the loss of victims of anti-transgender violence. We must honor their memories with action.” I have no doubt that Uncle Johnny would agree.

Though Uncle Johnny passed away in 2009, I aspire to follow his example every single day and to live by the wholehearted lessons he taught me. I wish that he could have been alive to see the Supreme Court ruling this week banning employment discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Change is possible. Sometimes change is slow, and it comes in fits and starts. But real change requires real action.

Here are a few actions you can take today:

  • Educate yourself by reading the HRC’s 2019 Anti-Transgender Violence report (especially pages 26-29 which detail how you can help). Then share what you’ve learned with your friends, family, and community.
  • Amplify transgender and non-binary voices. Listen to, learn from, and share the stories, projects, and initiatives of transgender artists, athletes, activists, and other public figures—and support the political campaigns of transgender community leaders and/or pro-equality elected officials.
  • Donate to or volunteer with a nonprofit such as the Transgender Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or the Human Rights Campaign.

So please join me in affecting the change we want to see in the world.

Scot Rogers is Executive Vice President and General Counsel at F5

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