Speaker teaches workforce about leadership and being “the first”

By Ken MacNevin DLA Disposition Services

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Being first comes with challenges that Defense Logistics Agency employees in the Cereal City learned about during a June 11 Pride Month program sponsored by the Office Equal Opportunity and Diversity.”

Guest speaker Annise Parker learned her lessons in being “the first” in 2010 as the new mayor of Houston, Texas, where she was said to be the first to lead and be open about being part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer community of a major American city.

Her remarks focused on what was described as her leadership journey, and followed opening remarks from DLA Disposition Services Director Mike Cannon. He said that for years, gay and lesbian service members had to hide who they were, but today “we take pride in how they’re free to serve their country openly.”

He called on the audience to remember a line from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream speech” and noted that King had said that he hoped his children would be judged by “the content of their character.”

Cannon urged the audience to apply those words broadly in judgments about people. “Not by if someone wears a silk tie or steel toe boots to work, not by the color of their skin, their beliefs and not by whom they love, but by the content of their character,” he said.

Parker began the story of her journey by telling the audience about growing up in Houston, coming out as a lesbian, and her work in the business world, which in Houston often meant working in some aspect of the petroleum industry.  She became the information technology director for one company before “IT director” was a job title and went on to spend 18 years with the Mosbacher Energy Company.

She also spent 18 years as an elected official in Houston.  Her first step came in 1997 when she won an at-large election to the city council. After six years as a council member she was elected to be city controller. Six years later she announced she was running for mayor and was elected, going on to serve for six years.

She has been involved in LBGTQ activities since the 1970s and filled many leadership positions with advocacy organizations.  She told the audience that in business and as a community activist she had come to see the exercise of leadership as being like physical exercise.

“Leadership is a muscle,” she said. “It is a metaphorical muscle, but it is a muscle. And you exercise leadership in the same way you exercise your muscles.”

At the point that an exercise routine becomes easy, she said, you must step up things. “You take a step and you get to the edge of your comfort zone and then you stop there until that becomes comfortable again. And you keep doing that and you never know where you’re going to end up.”

Today Parker is president of the Victory Fund and Victory Institute, an organization she describes as a nonpartisan group that works to help LBGTQ candidates for public office at any level.  She still resides in Houston, but Battle Creek Mayor Mark Behnke made it clear she can come back to Battle Creek, Michigan.  Behnke even gave her a key to let herself in.

For Behnke, the presentation was also a first. Despite his many visits to DLA events he said had never given a key to the city to any of the previous speakers.  Behnke also saluted DLA’s EEO efforts and formally proclaimed June as Pride Month in the city.