The Value of Being You – Tina White

Written through a collaborative effort by Tina White and Dannie Frey

I spent most of my life hiding behind an identity that wasn’t mine.  When you deny who you are, you cut yourself off from the world. You are not even connected to yourself.  You have no sense of possibility in life. Because of my past, I feel it acutely when I see others who are cut off from the possibility that lies within them. I see this opportunity denied constantly to women and to stigmatized minorities.

When I finally came out to myself and to the world, I understood for the first time, what it is like to deal with stigma.  It is soul-crushing. Nonetheless, I finally had a soul. I also kept my job, thanks largely to the efforts of all the activists and leaders who had agitated for my rights. I vowed to spend the rest of my life paying their kindness forward. I left my career and moved to the South with a vague notion that I would fight for social justice. 

When I moved to Asheville, the last thing I expected I would be doing was running a festival.  I imagined myself joining some group and agitating for social justice or consulting to businesses on equity and inclusion.

But what struck me when I moved here were all the divisions in our community.  Even within the LGBTQ community, we parse and segregate ourselves by race, religion, gender identity, orientation, class, age and geography. How can we achieve anything when we are so divided?  How can we call ourselves a community when we mummify ourselves in ever smaller cocoons?

Every day, our world seems to grow smaller and more divisive. All the technologies and institutions that promised to bring us together have instead left us divided and isolated.  Even our events segregate us. They have become mono-cultural love-ins. 

Few things are more urgent than that we learn as a society to share space together, whether it is cyberspace, a classroom, an office, or Pack Square Park.   So here I am, serving as Executive Director of Blue Ridge Pride.

During the past three years, we have evolved our annual event with a focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion.  We launched the annual Welcoming WNC Procession to bring together all who aspire to a vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  We have reserved more festival capacity each year to offer free booths to minority groups and entrepreneurs. We changed our annual pageant from Miss to Mx.  We have begun to reach across the aisle to other events and communities, to Shindig on the Green, LEAF, Hola Asheville, and Miss Gay Latina. 

We are proud of the fact that we bring such a variety of people and organizations together, if only for a day.   Over 200 businesses, social justice organizations, community services, churches, artists, healthcare providers, employers, entrepreneurs, and community groups convene, cheek by jowl. 

But equity demands more than shared event space.  This year, we launched the Blue Ridge Community Partner Fund to provide more resources to local groups and projects that serve the LGBTQ community.  We also launched the WNC LGBTQ Oral History Project. Believe that people are ultimately connected and humanized by storytelling.

We have an estimated 40,000 LGBTQ people living in Western North Carolina. Many live in fear and poverty, especially those who are marked by other marginalizing labels.  If you are LGBTQ and a woman, a racial, ethnic, or religious minority your life just got even harder. You are more likely to be poor, homeless, jobless, and without healthcare.”

 

Equity demands more than shared event space.

– Tina White

Her Role Models

Tina has found three women who have made a lasting impact in her life:

Mary, her wife – Mary, has probably had the most profound influence: Mary had none of the advantages I enjoyed while growing up.  And yet she fearlessly launched herself into life. She had no college degree, but rose to impressive technical and managerial roles.  She grew up in an isolated white community with no exposure to other races, religions or identities. And yet she has joyfully embraced all the new communities in her life.  She has taught me just how far the human spirit can reach if only it greets each day with gratitude and laughter.

Melba Beals – Melba Beals probably helped me more than anyone to understand what it feels like to live a lifetime beneath the weight of prejudice.  She is most often remembered as the little black girl who integrated Little Rock. But her memoirs and reflections touched me deeply. From her I learned that it is only when we share our vulnerability that others see our humanity.

Pippi Longstocking – On a lighter note, I was mesmerized as a child by Pippi Longstocking. She was an unconventional, unpredictable, and superhuman girl with a healthy distrust of pompous authority.  I never wanted her freckles, but I wanted her swagger.

You can definitely see where her admiration of Pippi Longstocking comes into play with the character traits she demonstrates every day. Tina brings her authentic self to every situation. “It doesn’t guarantee success; it doesn’t ensure that I will be right.  But to do anything else is to guarantee personal failure.” 

She tries, too, to ensure that others feel free to be authentic. She feels positively incandescent when someone thinks enough of her to share the person inside them.

Tina reminds herself  – constantly – “that any labels I use to describe someone define me and the society we live in.  They tell me nothing about the described person’s essential qualities. Calling someone “black” or a “woman” tells me nothing important about them.  It tells me what I tend to focus on and hints at how they have been treated by society. I think that this trait opens me up to possibility inside other people.”

Leadership Advice

Don’t ask permission from those who stand in front of you.  They’re not going to give it. But be sure to lend a hand to those who follow behind.

Looking ahead of 2020: We will be focusing on three major programs this year: growing our Blue Ridge Community Partner Fund, expanding our LGBTQ Oral History project, and launching a Virtual LGBTQ Center for western North Carolina.  We also plan to continue to connect beyond the LGBTQ community. Through these efforts, we hope to reach beyond Asheville to serve all of WNC.

At a personal level, I am stoked to be joining The Asheville View as a co-host and contributor.  Like me, the group takes a joyful approach to serious issues like equity, economic development, and inclusion.  They are a model of constructive intersectionality.

CONGRATULATIONS!

2019 WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP AWARD WINNER

Tina White is a 2019 Women’s Leadership Award Winner in the category of “Equity.” This article was written to tell her story and recognize Tina as an exceptional female leader in Western North Carolina. A video interview will also be released in the B&Co Blog.

Want to see Tina accept her award at the upcoming 2019 Economic Bruncheon? Tickets are available for a limited time at www.economicbruncheon.com