Densil Porteous, Executive Director at Stonewall Columbus, is very transparent in his sit-down interview about his executive role and its responsibilities, Blackness & Queerness while uplifting the community.
Densil Porteous Q&A
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Densil Porteous: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know that it means anything more than a moment when, as a society, we force people to take time to take stock of the significant accomplishments of Black people across the world.
I think it’s a moment where again the world takes or not even the world, because Black History Month happens in different points, in other countries. I believe it’s in February in the states; in Europe or England, it’s October. So yeah, it is also in different times in different places.
Ultimately, it’s a moment where whatever society or part of is taking a month to recognize the accomplishments of black folks. I think it is something that you should probably do each day.
You are the executive director of Stonewall Columbus. So why Stonewall?
Densil Porteous: It was the intersectional moment in my life as a Black man. I’m also gay or queer, and within the Black community, queer and gay identities haven’t always been uplifted or supported, and even today still are not such.
I can remember growing up in a Pentecostal Caribbean home told, “Don’t do gay things, don’t be gay, don’t do these things.” Sort of the identity that I thought was okay was admonished by my community, family, and church, which I struggled with.
As I got older, I realized that being gay is okay, being queer is okay, but I’m also still a Black man, a Black person. Those two things have to coexist in some way, shape, or form. So for me, the opportunity to step into queer leadership by sitting on several boards and organizations focused on uplifting LGBT and queer identities has been essential for me.
Being able to step into the role of Stonewall Columbus as executive director is a sort of a high point in my life, professional and personal.
I’m able to bring my Black and queer identity to my job, a task, a position, a role essential to the community’s success and Black members of the community.
How is Stonewall Columbus contributing to diversity in Columbus?
Densil Porteous: As an organization, Stonewall Columbus is an LGBT center and community organization with 40 years of history of working to uplift the LGBTQ community, mainly to ensure that members of that community who need support and encouragement and engagement are receiving that as much as possible.
We haven’t always centered the most in need of uplifting in that work, but that’s a societal thing. We know better, and so now we’re doing better, and I think, as an organization, we continue to want to find ways to ensure that those who are most in need of uplifting or desire of uplifting are receiving that.
One of the things that we’re trying to do is to:
- Economically positively impact our community.
- Think about how we can help families in our community create a family because that’s important.
- We’re looking to ensure individual identities are uplifted and finding, fostered, and supported.
What we’re thinking about is how do we educate our community? Those who are usually underemployed are underserved in that space, like Black trans members of our community.
How can we create a system of economic environment and engagement where they feel comfortable stepping in and learning something, stepping in and learning a new skillset, and learning just simple things that maybe others within our community have already been taught?
For instance, banking structures, loans, and others; maybe someone in our community has benefited from all these things but is denied to Black trans folks. And so, we want to create spaces that allow people to step into that. When we think about families within the queer community, families are so varied and indifferent.
I mean, families have always been very different, but what we’ve probably seen out in the world has always been a representation of six straight families, and we realize that kids need homes for their foster kids are out there. But some humans have a heart and love and desire and want to raise kids and have kids of their own.
I’m not Catholic, but when the Pope, you know, says it is selfish of someone to have animals and not have kids, you know it’s sort of like, well, hey, they’re gay folks over here who want to have them, but you’re all telling us that we can’t have them.
I think when we think about family creation, that’s something we really want to help, uplift, and highlight, that families come in all shapes and sizes, you know, and queer identities and gay folks have big hearts and want to give love and space to kids who need that.
How do you juggle between being a parent and work?
Densil Porteous: Yeah, you know, it’s funny because I would probably say that I’ve always been a dad. I mean in relation to my friends and my community and how I’ve always wrapped my arms around them or how they always come to seek advice from me, and how I encourage them, how I’m honest and direct with them and how what I do is always about them and for them because I love them and care for them.
I think the distinction between that and what I have now is that I have a little person who’s always there, which is a little bit different right, my friends and others I can say: go home, but my little person is here, and she is with us all the time.
I think I have been able to accomplish all of these things that I do because I do have a partner in the process. Not everyone has the opportunity or benefit from having a partner who can help them nurture and care for a young person and manage schedules, remind you to slow down, and remind you to speed up, which is helpful.
Would I still be able to do them if I didn’t have a partner? Sure, I’d figure it out. But do I think I’d be able to do as outstanding or good a job that I’m doing now? Definitely Not. So, I think of nothing more.
As we aspire to do good or great in our communities as black men, family men, and queer identity, I believe it’s a demonstration that partnership works. Working together makes a difference that you can accomplish more.
What is the one motivational quote that keeps you going in your life?
Densil Porteous: There’s not one. There are many, but I think the one that I always use, and it’s mine, is, “Don’t act stupid, just show up.”
I think for so many people, so many reasons, you know, you find excuses. I can’t, I can’t, but you really can; it’s just you don’t want to. Often, no matter what it is, we are right, but it’s just that we don’t want to or haven’t discovered the path to get to whatever it is.
I’m not ready for that test. Well, that was because you weren’t prepared for it or you can’t take the test because you didn’t study or you didn’t prepare.
There’s always a path beyond something. Oh, I didn’t get that job today. Okay, you didn’t get it today right, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it right. How do you seek it out somewhere else some other way?
When you have team members, you know who is calling in, and you know I’m tired. Well, you should have gone to sleep earlier the night before. So, don’t act stupid. Just show up and don’t give excuses.
We all have struggles, we all have hard days, and I’m not saying don’t take a moment to relax and recharge, but then get back up the next day and say I got to get back to work because there’s so many of us who aren’t afforded the opportunity to have a day off or to say that they can’t.
We must work through the hardships and the pain because someone else depends on us, which is not necessarily just for us. No matter how small it seems, whatever we are doing, like the guardsman’s job, is not about you. The garbage is about a larger community, like if you’re not picking up that trash, then our community is depreciating.
The person who works at the McDonald’s drive-through has an important job. If you’re not feeding someone, if you’re not giving someone nourishment, then they will get hungry.
I wrote a little piece of paper many moons ago that every new office I sit in, I put it up in my office. I wrote a blog and added it as an image in my blog post. But it is a personal motivation for me and hopefully for others.
Wow!! Thank you for your time, Densil.
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