Stacey Stevenson, the recently hired executive director of Family Equality, is serious about the work ahead. “This isn’t about a job for me; this is about survival,” she told me in an interview. “Through all of the adversity I have faced over the years, I feel I have been preparing for this role my entire life.”
Stevenson comes to Family Equality, the national organization for LGBTQ+ families, after more than 20 years in the corporate world, most recently as senior managing director for talent at financial giant Charles Schwab. She has also been an executive at technology and defense corporations in a variety of operations and supply chain roles. “I’ve kind of done it all,” she said. One constant, though, she said, is that “I feel very strongly about leading people and ensuring that I’m showing up as a leader and being as egoless as possible.”
She also has the lived experience of being a Black lesbian mom residing in Texas, who encountered many obstacles on the way to forming a family, from eight fruitless years of fertility treatments, to an adoption agency that went bankrupt, to another that refused to work with same-sex couples. “I don’t want anyone to have to go through that,” she said. Eventually, though, she and her wife adopted twin boys, who are now “rambunctious” six-year-olds.
Forming her family was not the only challenge Stevenson has faced, though. She grew up in a small Texas town, was outed as a teenager, and endured bullying and physical abuse until she dropped out of school. She eventually obtained a GED and at age 21 moved to Dallas with $70 in her pocket, where she got a degree, met her wife, and started her career.
At Schwab, Stevenson was also the local and national co-chair for the company’s Pride employee resource group and established partnerships with multiple LGBTQ+ nonprofits. She also came to know Family Equality by sharing her family story for the organization’s 2020 “Out in Texas” video series. When the executive director position opened, she said, “I was ready to make a move out of corporate America to do more non-profit work and to make more change in the world.”
I think the biggest challenge is ensuring that we can form our families without denial of services.
She takes the helm at Family Equality at a pivotal time. “I feel like we’ve come out of trauma after the last four years before this new administration,” she explained. With a new Congress and administration, however, “There’s a kind of awakening happening,” she feels.
Difficulties remain, though. “I think the biggest challenge is ensuring that we can form our families without denial of services,” she said. She noted one case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Fulton v. Philadelphia, which could let adoption and foster care agencies around the country use their religious beliefs as a reason to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others. “This case is really important for LGBTQ+ families as well as youth-in-care, and we hope the Court does the right thing and does not carve out an exception to generally applicable law for these taxpayer-funded agencies,” she explained.
Family Equality does more than just legal and political advocacy work, however, but also provides tools and connections for LGBTQ families and LGBTQ prospective parents. “Family Equality has specifically created this space for LGBTQ families,” she explained. “I’m hearing that more people want to have families but they’re a little afraid, [asking] ‘How do I parent in this heteronormative world?’” She asserted, “We provide that resource.”
She cited a 2019 Family Equality study that found as many as 3.8 million LGBTQ millennials were considering starting or expanding their families. “I want to attract more of those millennials to Family Equality,” she said.
That means being there for any LGBTQ people who have or want families. “In our policy work and everything that we do, we’re being very conscious of all LGBTQ families regardless of race or socioeconomic status,” she said. She wants to be even more intentional in their policy and program work “about touching Brown and Black families who would normally not know that Family Equality existed.” She added, “Black lives do matter at Family Equality, but we are in the process of continuing to evolve and build racial and social justice into our daily work.”
Nine days into her tenure, when we spoke, she doesn’t yet know exactly what that work will encompass, but she’s starting with a listening tour. “I want to hear from everyone,” she said, including not only employees and the board, but also volunteers, partners, donors, and others. “I want to use that to shape our strategy because sometimes that’s where some of the best ideas come from.” Overall, though, she said, “We feel really good about the future.”
Now that I have a family, I can’t imagine any LGBTQ person who wants to form a family not having a family.
Her own advice for LGBTQ people who want to start a family? “If that’s what your heart desires then you should do it,” she counseled, but cautioned, “We have to understand that there are additional complexities related to LGBTQ people being parents because of the world we live in.”
At the same time, she added, “Now that I have a family, I can’t imagine any LGBTQ person who wants to form a family not having a family.” To help that happen, she said, “I’m ready to hit the ground running.”
Visit familyequality.org for more on the organization and about their virtual gala, “LookingOUT: Together for LGBTQ+ Families” on April 22, as well as their annual Family Week in Provincetown, which will likely have both virtual and in-person components this summer.
Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.