How to Make a Career Out of LGBTQ+ Advocacy
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- Many people who are passionate about LGBTQ+ causes can turn it into a career.
- Advocacy work can be done in many fields, including law, social work, and human resources.
- Certain majors and volunteer jobs can help you become an advocate.
- You can start small before deciding to make advocacy your full-time career.
For many people of all genders and orientations, LGBTQ+ rights is a cause they're passionate about and want to support as best they can. But did you know that this support can be the work they do for their careers too?
LGBTQ+ advocacy has been doing important work worldwide for many years. In fact, the oldest LGBTQ+ rights and issues publication in the United States, founded in 1967, is called The Advocate. But what exactly is advocacy work? And how can you make it into a career? Keep reading to learn more.
What Is Advocacy Work?
Advocacy work — on LGBTQ+ issues or any other issues — doesn't refer to a specific job so much as a concept. While you may not often meet a person with "advocate" listed as the title on their business card, there are many jobs and careers that involve advocacy work.
Advocacy work can be described by organizations such as Theirworld, an education advocacy group, as work that organizes evidence, attention, and action to create positive change. Advocacy work can be done on behalf of any struggling or historically excluded individual or group, including the LGBTQ+ community and racial and ethnic minorities.
West Virginia University's Center for Excellence in Disabilities describes three types of advocacy:
The Three Types of Advocacy
On behalf of yourself
To help one or two specific individuals
To change wider systems to benefit large groups of people
A career as an advocate generally focuses on systems advocacy, or in some circumstances, repeated instances of individual advocacy.
Allyship vs. Advocacy
You may have heard of being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community rather than an advocate, but the two are very different, although related concepts. Allyship and advocacy are expressed differently. While allyship can't translate into a career, careers in advocacy are not only possible but vitally important.
Allyship, or being an ally, is a form of support that's generally more passive. It denotes that you're on a group's side and will turn up for them, but it's not an active state. This is not meant to diminish allyship — Catalyst, a group that advocates for women in the workplace, notes that allyship is hard and important work. But allyship is inherently not a position where you're taking the lead in causing change.
Advocacy is an action — to advocate is to be actively organizing for positive change on someone's behalf. This is why a lawyer working for Amnesty International to free someone from jail is an advocate, while those who sign their petition in support of their cause are allies.
Matthew French, an advocacy professional and founder of Awesomely Authentic, says advocacy starts with a simple question: "Who is not here to voice their perspective?"
How to Become an Advocate
If you're passionate about LGBTQ+ causes, you can start by volunteering or getting involved some other way before becoming an advocate. You can do this through local nonprofits and charities or even a student advocacy group at your school.
French's advocacy journey began with finding his people within Old Dominion University's LGBTQ+ Community (ODU Out) before even considering a career in advocacy.
"Holding identities that have been historically marginalized (rural, queer, gay, first-generation college student) forced me to broaden my ideas of the world around me," French said. "Through my student organization work with ODU Out, Queer Theory coursework, and leadership development with Campus Pride, I was able to put structure around advocacy and DEI in my life, which then translated to my career."
Most advocacy workers have at least one postsecondary degree — sometimes, more than that for lawyers and social workers. Your career in advocacy may begin with education, whether that's a bachelor's degree in a relevant field or some form of postgraduate education.
French recommends communication, talent management, gender studies, sociology, and psychology as just some of the majors that can benefit a career in advocacy and Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI). Other options he recommends are English, human resources, and education.
The Job Hunt — Your First Job
Once you've gotten your degree, it's time to look for advocacy work. "Start finding your personal style through reading up on active listening, psychological safety, and conflict resolution," French said.
This may resemble a regular job hunt in many ways. Except, you'll need to scrutinize pay and benefits, and how great a role you can have as an advocate in the jobs you're applying for.
Expanding Your Circle
It's great to have a job in advocacy, but that's only the beginning. As you advance in your career, look out for networking opportunities and ways your work can make an even greater impact on behalf of those you serve.
"Take the opportunity to implement an idea, event, or educational objective around DEI in your current role, student organization, or office," French said. "This could be setting up trainings for your team, making communication more inclusive, or joining an inclusion committee."
Even once you're well-established as an advocate, the work is never done. Reach out to others through your job or your personal and professional networks to see if they're interested in becoming advocates or more-informed allies. Advocacy is a career path where others are always welcome.
Common Advocacy Careers
Advocacy careers can take many forms, with different experience and education levels required for each of them. Here are a few common advocacy careers and how they can help you fight on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community:
- Lobbyist: Lobbyists organize in firms to petition, or lobby, the government to enact change on behalf of their cause. As an LGBTQ+ rights and issues lobbyist, you would encourage the government to prioritize the LGBTQ+ community's needs and concerns.
- Lawyer: Many lawyers act on behalf of clients and issues they are passionate about. In fact, in some languages, the word "lawyer" literally means "advocate." Human rights lawyers and employment lawyers work on behalf of LGBTQ+ clients on cases that set a broader and vital precedent.
- Social Worker: Social workers work directly with LGBTQ+ clients in need. Managing individual cases of people in vulnerable situations is a fantastic way to work in advocacy and know you're making an impact on people's lives for the better.
- Event Organizer: Advocacy organizations often throw large events to raise money, raise awareness, or get out the vote during an election. Whether it's a black-tie dinner with VIPs or a day-long March on Washington, LGBTQ+ event organizers know how to bring people together.
- Nonprofit Staff: Advocacy organizations are often registered nonprofits (501(c)(3)s). They often need multiple levels of staff to keep them running. Whether in accounting, administration, or communication, working in nonprofits can help you build a career in LGBTQ+ advocacy.
- DEI Director: Diversity, equality, and inclusion is becoming a more important concept in the corporate world. If you're passionate about LGBTQ+ communities in the workforce, consider a career as a DEI officer or director. Your job can help make the working world a more inclusive place for the LGBTQ+ community and other historically excluded groups.
- Campaign Staffer: It's no secret that politicians are powerful people, and having someone in the government on your side can be a huge boost to any cause. Working as a campaign staffer for a candidate who supports LGBTQ+ issues can help prioritize them in government. In addition, working as a campaign staffer for a candidate may lead to a role in their office if they win.
- Fundraiser: There's always a need for more money in LGBTQ+ advocacy, and that's why fundraisers are important. If you're a great communicator with a head for numbers, writing and launching campaigns and raising money for LGBTQ+ causes can be a great career to take advantage of your talents.
LGBTQ+ Advocacy Organizations
There are a variety of LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations active in the United States and worldwide. Here are a few examples of prominent LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in the U.S.
The HRC was founded in the fight for marriage equality but has since branched out to include LGBTQ+ activism and research.
LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately likely to live with mental health conditions, often resulting from discrimination. The Trevor Project focuses on LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention and offers a free emergency hotline.
Founded by DEI expert and advocate Matthew French, Awesomely Authentic seeks to improve the workplace for all people. Their work focuses on inclusion and fostering a sense of belongingness in a professional setting.
GLAD is a legal foundation founded in 1978 that's dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination. Their lawyers work on a nonprofit basis on behalf of clients who have been discriminated against based on orientation, HIV status, gender identity, and presentation.
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With Advice From:
Matthew French (They/He) is the 90s nostalgic brain behind Awesomely Authentic, a motivational speaking organization that focuses on training people's hearts and minds. Awesomely Authentic's goal is to have every "professional space"/job/company, etc. be representative of the folx who work there, allowing everyone to have the opportunity to show up as authentically as they want!
Matthew currently works and resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he works his 9-5 remotely as the equity, diversity, and inclusion specialist for TextNow, a small and mighty tech company democratizing phone service.
Prior to TextNow, Matthew worked eight years in higher education committed to career services and DEI work. Matthew has a master of arts degree in lifespan and digital communication and a bachelor of science in communications from Old Dominion University, where he still adjuncts on media and communication. His work has been highlighted in national career development associations, CNN Business, LGBTQ+ nonprofits, and more.