Only hours after the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling banning workplace discrimination towards gay and transgender employees, longtime LGBTQ+ advocates Janelle Monáe and Megan Rapinoe stressed that the fight for equality goes on for marginalized communities nationwide, including the Black community and the current struggle for racial equality and justice.
Both Rapinoe, a World Cup and Olympic champion, and Monáe, a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, actress, and producer, are vocal LGBTQ+ activists. Rapinoe launched a gender-neutral clothing company and was one of the first white athletes to take a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick against police brutality. Monáe has fought against gender norms and was described by Michelle Obama as standing "in the fullness of their power" like no one else.
The following are excerpts from a Leading Through Change conversation with Monáe and Rapione wherein they discuss equality, inclusiveness, and finding the ally within each of us. The excerpts have been lightly edited for content and clarity.
Janelle Monáe (JM): Part of me is really excited that they made the right decision, but it’s also upsetting that there even had to be a ruling around human life, health and wellbeing, and security. We're talking about human beings, not inanimate objects. We're talking about being able to live in peace in love and freedom, and not worrying about being discriminated against because of who you are. We need to abolish the system that even led us to have this moment.
Megan Rapinoe (MR): We're the person in the workplace who could be fired just because they're gay or lesbian or trans or whatever. We’re human beings, we're in your workplace or your family. I feel like it's a good step forward, but you're not getting a ton of congratulations from here for just simply doing the right thing. It is a big day and a big win and we'll continue to make progress, but I want everyone to know that LGBTQ+ is not some abstract idea. I’m you. Whatever you would want for yourself — that's what I want for myself as well.
JM: Tweeting and talking and hashtagging — that's not enough for me. This is a moment for white people to stand up and show up for the Black community. This is a moment to think about why we are in this situation. Why are we marching for Black lives? Why are we treating Black lives again like objects? This is a moment to talk to families about racial profiling, about the system of white supremacy that their ancestors started, about the systemic racism that has played a part in how we're here right now talking about the value of Black lives. We need to have those conversations about who started this oppression and how can you end it.
MR: What was disheartening back in 2016 when Colin (Kaepernick) kneeled and I kneeled alongside him was how many people actually just didn't believe the collective voice of Black people. Today, I'm much more encouraged because people are listening and hearing what Black people are saying.
I feel like this IS a white problem. You can't expect the oppressed to be the ones dismantling the whole system of oppression. Understand that you may not have created the system — but you DO benefit from it — so now it’s your responsibility to dismantle it and to root out racism. Believe in Black people, listen to Black people, and work to see your own whiteness — and the privilege in that — to dismantle systemic racism.
JM: Transgender activists Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are heroes and perfect examples of intersectionality. We would not have Pride if they did not stand up to the police, if they didn’t riot, if they didn’t speak out. Just imagine growing up in that time — fighting against discrimination for being trans, and for being Black and brown — it makes you want to fight because you don't want any of that to be in vain. They planted the seed and it's up to us to water it. This is a perfect time to continue to speak Marsha and Sylvia's name and to honor them not only through our words but also through our service.
MR: To honor what had happened before, and to realize how much better I have it than Marsha and Sylvia and others during that era — I don't want that to be in vain. It would be a slap in their face to not continue to celebrate and make it better for the people that come after you. We've been given this torch and this runway, and now it's our responsibility to continue to clear the path forward. It's a celebration, but it's also a right we deserve and we're going to continue to fight for it.
JM: Walking in your power is an active choice, and you have to make that choice every single day. If I'm with someone who can make decisions to better the communities of marginalized folks, I'm going to ask and I'm going to advocate on behalf of my people. Artists and others with platforms understand privilege. When you get the platform that we have, you want to amplify their voices in a deeper way. It's going to take real checking of privilege, real checking of how can I be a better ally, and showing up for folks who may not have the same freedom as I do.
MR: I feel very lucky to be in the privileged position that I am. I AM white — that comes with privilege. I'm an athlete in a culture that glorifies sports — that's a privilege. But what's the point of having success, if you're the only one that has it when you see inequities like racism and gay people who don’t have other rights? I didn't get to where I was last summer without the prior work of Colin (Kaepernick), Black Lives Matter, and Tarana Burke. I give them all the credit because it's not mine to take. I have the microphone right now and try to use it responsibly, always speaking on behalf of the people.
JM: If you are uncomfortable with having conversations around race, then you are on the right track. Be uncomfortable. Have conversations around the table with your families on why we're even arguing over Black Lives Matter. Talk about your ancestors, talk about slavery, mass incarceration, systemic racism, and oppression. Talk about how COVID-19 disproportionately kills Black people. Find the Black community leaders that you're going to listen to and follow, and whose voices you pledge to amplify.
MR: Uncomfortable is what we need to be right now. Some people probably feel overwhelmed like we have this whole system based on racism. But it’s individual's actions that contribute to the system — it’s not just these laws that can be changed. Insert antiracism education into your daily practice. As you start to become more educated, start to implement that into your daily life. If you see something, say something. It’s your everyday actions that can do the work of antiracism and make you part of the solution and not the problem.
JM: I am angry, but I'm coming with love because I realize that it's going to take citizenship over capitalism — putting the health and the well being of the community over capitalism, money, or politics. What I'm asking is to have better listeners who are more privileged, who are action-oriented, and are really willing and ready to show for us.
Watch the full interview with Megan Rapinoe and Janelle Monáe:
This conversation is part of our Leading Through Change series, providing thought leadership, tips, and resources to help business leaders manage through crisis. Prior video interviews include:
Taking action against Racial Injustice with Mellody Hobson, Soledad O’Brien and LL Cool J
Outmaneuvering uncertainty with Accenture CEO Julie Sweet and Alicia Keys
Responding and recovering from crises with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson and Jewel
Staying Positive in the New Normal with Naomi Simson and Rivers Cuomo
Discussing Covid-19 and Race in America, with Van Jones, Dr. Camara Jones, Ellen McGirt and Jennifer Hudson
Connecting with your fans from home with Lars Ulrich of Metallica
Planning ahead amidst uncertainty, with BT Chief Executive Philip Jansen and Chrissie Hynde
Uniting to feed hope to the world, with Jose Andres and Dave Matthews
Serving customers from home and the heart, with the founders of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee and Lionel Ritchie
Giving people a chance to lead with Soledad O’Brien and Sheryl Crow