First Person | Local

Pride in leadership: Pursuing a world inclusive and just for all

Graham Hoffman

As I have recently assumed the mantle of the president and CEO of both the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, I am humbled by the responsibility that I now bear as the leader of these agencies and this remarkable community. Authenticity is central to my role as a leader — the imperative to celebrate, embrace, and share myself with those I am so privileged to serve.

It is with this recognition, therefore, that I step forward, amidst a month of great reflection and progress in our country’s pursuit of civil rights for all Americans, to proudly share publicly that I am gay.

Being a gay man is fundamental to who I am, but it does not suffice to define me. It is one of many aspects of my integrated, complex person. I am a thoughtful, charismatic, outspoken human being — multifaceted and imperfect — a work in progress, like everyone else.

As with many leaders, my sexuality does not seemingly pertain to my responsibilities to this community; it does not inimitably influence my vision; it does not profoundly define my leadership; and it does not overtly propel my drive to add value throughout my work. And yet, it has undoubtedly meaningfully contributed to my understanding of “otherness” within familiar Jewish contexts; considerably underscored my passion for broad community engagement and pluralism; and emphatically fine-tuned my sensitivity for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Although I have increasingly become a public figure as my career has advanced, I am by nature a private person. I often describe myself as a “secret introvert.” I have cultivated the skills necessary to exhibit extroversion in my professional life, yet I am very happy in my own time to enjoy small, quiet gatherings with close friends and family. Similarly, my sexuality has been a personal matter — shared openly with family and friends — yet not a particularly relevant part of my public service, especially as I have been single.

Today, however, I am remarkably compelled — this moment is different and I feel it is my responsibility to share my truth publicly in order to enable, empower, and embolden coming generations of leaders to bravely and authentically step forward in their own journeys.

This June has been not only a celebration of LGBTQ+ pride month, but also a month of growth in America’s promise of civil rights. The Supreme Court’s decision to include LGBTQ+ Americans in the protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is indeed a step toward justice for all Americans. And I hope we can all embrace the critical role we can play in championing justice for any who have been historically or systemically excluded from the protections of our justice and social systems — especially LGBTQ+ Americans, Black Americans, and Americans of color, and among them, Jews of color.

Many who have come before me have worked to champion a world in which community rabbis, teachers, friends, and families will love, embrace, and uplift emerging generations for every aspect of who they are, and identities that in generations past served as obstacles are no longer taken into account when considering what defines our community.

I have immense gratitude for the opportunity to act as a role model in this community — as another example that gay Jews, leaders, and professionals deserve nothing less than the acceptance, support, and investment that our straight counterparts have long enjoyed. And while we have come a long way from the homogeneity of heterosexual volunteer and professional role models who inspired me as a youth, we are a far cry from the kind of proportionate representation that frees all people to authentically embrace their full multi-dimensional identities within and beyond public service and community endeavors. Our community will continue to actively champion women, LGBTQ+, and constituents of color, as we increasingly advance safety, respect, equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice through growing representation across all aspects of our leadership, activism, and engagement work.

My hope is that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth — and anyone else who feels disenfranchised or “othered,” whether it be because of their disability, their ethnicity, their socioeconomic status, or anything else — may soon come to understand a promise our community hereby pledges: that we see you, we embrace you, and will henceforth walk alongside you on the path toward realizing an equitable place within our ever-broadening tent for each of you exactly as you are. I am what a leader looks like. And so are you.

The Jewish people have a storied history of speaking up for the voiceless and fighting for the rights of those who struggle to defend themselves — particularly in the pursuit of civil rights in the United States of America. Our values teach us we are all created B’tselem Elohim, in the image of G-d, and contain a spark of the Divine. Judaism, at its core, recognizes the equality and worthiness of all identities. The Divine spark does not distinguish nor diminish based on sexuality, race, class, or anything else.

The aspiration of inclusive leadership has long been sought, yet there is so much more to be done. As the newly appointed joint president and CEO of the Federation and Foundation, it is incumbent upon me to highlight a victory in this movement, which has been made possible by the many extraordinary leaders and advocates who have come before me. While it may not be within my capacity — or the capacity of any individual leader — to single-handedly complete the task of true justice and equity for all, neither can we desist from working tirelessly to bring it closer with each passing day.

In our Southern Arizona community, and in communities around the country and the world, I am proud to be an example that a place has been made for leadership of all kinds. To all those still struggling to be seen, accepted, and embraced, I invite you to call upon me as an ally — and I am committed to continuing to create a world where celebrating such victories will one day seem an inconceivable relic of an earlier and far less righteous age.

Graham Hoffman is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. and Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.