By Greg Hernandez
It was June 2020 and Gerald Garth was asked to do a video interview with the Los Angeles Times about his role as one of the main organizers of the All Black Lives Matter march that was only days away.
For the interview setting, the reporter chose the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Bayard Rustin Plaza, named for the openly gay civil rights activist who was the organizing genius behind the 1963 March on Washington and a top advisor to Martin Luther King.
“It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” Garth tells LGBT News Now.
In early January, he found himself back at the Center but this time to begin his job as the newly-hired director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
“When I saw the Center’s commitment to really lifting, expanding, and growing its work in addressing racism and equality and equity, I saw an opportunity for me to bring my skills and strengths to a place that has been just a pillar in LGBTQ+ health and wellness,” he says. “I’ve always celebrated the Center and the great work that it has done. It has been a beacon and uplifted so many people and communities.”
Garth has already began working with Center leadership and with a staff DEI committee to create a racial equity plan for the Center. The goal of the plan is to establish actionable and measurable initiatives in every Center department to further the effort of dismantling systemic racism.
“If we liken ourselves to an orchestra, there is value coming from every section but it has to be moving and playing together for it to be at its best,” he explains. “One of my goals is to really help break a number of the silos that we have historically seen in the Center and tie that work together.”
Safe Spaces to Speak Out
The Center has nearly 800 employees spread out over 10 locations including the main Anita May Rosenstein Campus which serves as the administrative headquarters.
Because of the nationwide flare-up in COVID-19 cases due to the highly-contagious Omicron variant, Garth has spent his first several weeks meeting his colleagues via Zoom.
“This role is not to serve as the magician but as the conductor,” Garth told a Center’s middle management group during a virtual meeting last week. “My role is to make sure we know what we are doing as a collective, that we have what we need, and that we’re aligned in a way that serves us.”
Garth shares that he learned in previous jobs as Chief Operations Officer of the AMAAD Institute (Arming Minorities Against Addiction and Disease) and Manager of Prevention and Care for the Black AIDS Institute that employees need to feel safe and confident when it comes to speaking about DEI issues in the workplace.
“Creating spaces for folks to ask questions, to tell the truth about where they stand, what they think, and to be open to understanding new experiences is really, really key,” he explains. “Creating these spaces and opportunities for trust creates a safe space and thus creates a brave space.”
Being able to come together and speak to concerns and share thoughts and experiences is the first step, but he Garth points out that the responses are also key.
“Looking at this very strategically but also through a human-centered approach, really sets up folks for success,” he says.
“Often people don’t see where their value speaks to the whole picture and they feel either ignored or disengaged. I am really big on bringing your whole self to the work. Looking for opportunities for folks to celebrate themselves as whole people really adds so much value to this work as well.”
Wealth of Experience
Garth comes to the Center with a wealth of experience and a proven track record working with LGBTQ+ communities of color. In addition to his years with AMAAD and the Black AIDS Institute, he has given presentations across the county addressing the unique needs, experiences, and responses to inequities and disparities among women, LGBTQ+ communities, youth, people of color, and other impacted communities.
He has also done diversity, equity, and inclusion work with a number of agencies, including AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Caravan Health, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, and the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health.
“My work really began in the space of HIV work and LGBTQ+ activism and equality and I got a chance to serve in that space through a lens of policy and advocacy, mobilization, training and capacity building,” he explains. “Over the course of these last 10 years, I’ve really been able to grow and strengthen a great cadre of skills and passions that I bring to the work. I feel like my time in those spaces has really prepared me for this next chapter with the Center.”
A March to Remember
The All Black Lives Matter march in Hollywood on June 14, 2020 was a massive street demonstration for racial justice that came less than a month after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
It was Garth’s unexpected leadership in that All Black Lives Matter protest march in Los Angeles more than a year-and-a-half ago that raised his profile to a new level.
“There was an opportunity for us to amplify and elevate the Black LGBTQ+ experience and also invite our friends and allies to show up alongside with us,” he reflects. “In less than a week, we saw an upswell where we thought we might see 500 people, maybe 1,000. The day of the march we actually saw nearly 40,000 marchers. To this day it just moves me in a way that I have no words for. It’s just a reminder that we are stronger together.”