This Pride Month, we’re celebrating our staff and volunteers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Each and every day they work to carry out our humanitarian mission in communities across the country. This week, we’d like to highlight Leah Foxhill who helps manage and engage blood services volunteers in Minnesota and serves as the Co-Chair of the American Red Cross Pride Team Resource Group. Here is a conversation we had with her around Pride Month and the importance of diversity and representation.
Why is Pride Month important to you?
Visibility and representation matter. For one month, our nation shows its support for our community and we are given platforms to express ourselves publicly in a way that we might not otherwise be empowered to do. It also serves as a flagship to remind folks that our community exists, as it always has, and serves as a time to reflect on where we are. For far too long, we had to operate in the shadows, in closets, and in secret. The struggle for acceptance and recognition has been a long and arduous one, with lives lost and families torn apart. From that, we have built a community based on love and understanding, and are able to offer that to other marginalized groups. Pride Month means we evaluate where we have come from, and the sacrifices others have made to get us to where we are. It gives hope to the next generation that they are not alone, and that they have a home with us. We also get to revel in the diversity and beauty of our community. Every kind of awesome human imaginable is represented under our rainbow umbrella! Strangers embrace one another, and we lift each other up as we keep marching towards full equality for everyone.
What drew you to the Red Cross?
I came to the Red Cross because of the wide breadth of the services we offer, and the longstanding history of serving those that need it the most. The Red Cross is strongly formed on the shoulders of neutrality and impartiality, and that really connected with me. Then I read a bunch of biographies of Clara Barton herself, and she just blew me away! What an inspiring person and a lofty mission to have. How can you not want to be a part of that?
What is one of your favorite Red Cross Moments?
One of my favorite Red Cross moments happened at a volunteer appreciation event. I was wearing my rainbow diversity pin and an older volunteer I had not met came up to me and struck up a conversation. She noticed my pin and was overwhelmed that the Red Cross would have such a branded, visible rainbow available to show support and inclusion. We ended up talking about all kinds of experiences she has had, from living as an atheist and how she was drawn to us for our neutrality, to her increasingly vocal support of the queer community. I gave her the pin off my sweater and she beamed with gratitude, and immediately put it on. She walked all through the event showing it off, and later came up to see how she could better spread our message of inclusivity and gave me a big hug. Something as small as a pin can have a large impact, and helping just one person feel inspired can change the entire culture.
What is the Red Cross Pride Resource Group and how does it help Red Cross staff and volunteers?
We are the national group for the LGBTQ+ community (and allies) within the Red Cross—volunteers, employees, and partners. We are exactly what the name suggests—a resource. We are proud to represent our community within this organization, and work closely as an advisory body, support network, and educational resource to our membership and to the organization as a whole. We have established a vibrant and diverse membership, which better enables us to work from within to develop trainings and offer new insights to the Red Cross. We always have room to expand and encourage everyone who feels a connection to this community to join!
What does it mean for you to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and work at the Red Cross?
Being a part of both the queer and Red Cross community means so much to me. The Red Cross has always been seen as a leader, both nationally and internationally, in its policies and work serving marginalized communities. Showing that the Red Cross is an organization that embraces diversity, and fosters acceptance and support for the queer community, has a broad and lasting impact not just internally but will ripple out to the country as a whole. In times where many in my community are feeling like they are not supported, or are struggling to exist authentically within the laws and culture of this country, the Red Cross is a visible beacon of hope. Based on the sheer size and impact of the Red Cross, it serves as a voice of reason and calm that reaches every corner of America.
What does giving back mean to you?
Giving back means using my time, talent, and resources to help others. I am lucky in that I have some of all of the above to offer, and was fortunate enough to benefit from others offering me the same as I was growing up. It’s the “pay it forward” mentality—if you are able, do. Being able to provide support or insight to others so that their lives can improve is one of the greatest privileges we have. Simply existing authentically and visibly can have an impact, and I try to live my life that way every day. Giving back can mean different things at any point in time—a financial donation, organizing events, or just sitting to talk with someone who needs to feel heard. I want my son to see firsthand what empathy and service is so that he can take that knowledge and spread it to the next generation. He is a lucky little guy, as all of his parents and grandparents are kind and generous people who lead by example.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 20-year-old self?
There is a lot of heartbreak in the world, but also more love and beauty than you ever could imagine. Don’t hold yourself back from any new experiences, even if you think you’ll fail. Use those lessons to grow and bring others up along with you. Also, your parents are cool and were right about basically everything ? Use that, remember that, emulate that as you navigate parenthood.
What would you tell someone who is interested in working or volunteering with the Red Cross?
DO IT! There is so much opportunity that no matter what your interests or talents are, you have a home here.