Josh Rivers, Founder of Series Q, a networking initiative created to support LGBTQ entrepreneurs shares his view on the importance of vocal advocacy to create queer spaces and discusses his new podcast series, Busy Being Black which explores “how we thrive at the intersection of our identities.”
“The proof that one truly believes is in action.” – Bayard Rustin
YOUTH and ROLEMODELS
How was your youth, did you have a role model growing up?
“How was your youth?” is such an enormous question. I did not have a role model growing up. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve allowed myself to look up to someone else and say, “Wow.” And he’s now my mentor.
Do you remember your first kiss, how was it?
Electric. We were 14. We used to sneak notes to each other at school and make out in the bathroom between classes. It makes me smile thinking about it.
Was there a formative experience that influenced you to come out?
Without spilling all the tea on my mum, her own journey has inspired mine. Namely, her endless pursuit to understand herself. She’s a big inspiration for me.
What advice would you give to your adolescent self?
I’d tell my teenage self four things:
1. The world won’t always make you feel at home or wanted, but you are loved, you are worthy and you will do great things in the world;
2. You are not the sum of your bad experiences;
3. Your parents did the best they could and you will forgive them; and
4. You will not find the validation you’re looking for in other people.
What queer literature do you consider as a must read?
Bayard Rustin’s letters are quite remarkable and really show the inner turmoil of a gay black man during the Civil Rights Movement. He made such immense personal sacrifices to serve the greater good. Throughout his letters you see him struggling to accept his sexuality, or rather, struggling to accept that he will have to deny the parts of himself that could derail the Civil Rights Movement. He couldn’t be openly gay and be a leader in the movement. The letters are heartbreaking and empowering in equal measure.
And then any-and-everything by James Baldwin. Giovanni’s Room is my favourite book (tied with 100 Years of Solitude) and “My Dungeon Shook”, a letter to his nephew, makes me cry every time I read it.
There’s also queer-adjacent literature I think is important to read. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is transcendent.
“The transgender community. They are under immense pressure. They keep getting knocked down and keep getting back up. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: if you are not fighting alongside our trans siblings, you are not doing enough.”
ACTIVISM and ENTREPRENEURSHIP
You’re the co-founder of Series Q, an organisation dedicated to empowering LGBTQ entrepreneurs. Why is an organisation like this important and how can we support it?
At its core, Series Q demonstrates that success and authenticity aren’t mutually exclusive, and was borne of research by the Human Rights Campaign that says 62% of graduates go back into the closet when they enter the corporate workforce. Now, if that happens at a corporate level, where there are myriad support and affinity groups for LGBTQ people, then what’s happening on an entrepreneurial level? How are queer entrepreneurs building the networks and finding the mentors they need to succeed? Series Q aims to answer those questions and, in many ways, to be a beacon of hope for queer entrepreneurs.
We’ve all heard the tired old trope of the young white man who lives in his parents’ garage and POOF! — he’s built a billion dollar business. We’re interested in hearing and learning from the queer entrepreneurs who have been building their businesses, learning the hard way and navigating a world that often acts like we don’t belong here. Those are the truly inspiring stories.
We’re always looking for venues in which to host our events and videographers and photographers to help us document them.
This year there’s been a sort of reclamation of black creativeness. Can you discuss the importance of this and the challenges faced by black creatives?
I’m not sure it’s a reclamation of, as much as an unearthing of — or awakening to — the vast and vivid creativity of queer people of colour, and just how deeply our lived experiences inspire our work and, by proxy, the work of others. It’s become increasingly clear that if we’re to be seen and heard, we will have to be the patrons of our own collective excellence. I’m reading The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, which has made me wonder: How much longer do we rely on the goodwill of people outside our community? It feels more important than ever that we come together and be the most vocal advocates of our own community and continue to create spaces that allow us to demonstrate our collective brilliance (versus relying on the patronage of those outside our community and experience). First, though, we have to realise just how brilliant we are. Only then can we create the spaces, systems and structures to support and amplify that brilliance.
You’re unapologetically vocal on social media regarding the value of diversity and the power struggle of minorities. What drives you to advocate for equality amid the backlash and discouragement you’re confronted with?
Well, recent events have made me reconsider how I use my voice on social media and what — if any — place I have on various platforms. And this is not negative or nihilistic, but rather an exercise in evaluating my own behaviours amid the torrent of hate and vitriol that platforms like Twitter encourage. How often have I dragged someone for their ill-considered statements? How often have I wedged myself into a conversation into which I hadn’t been invited? Social media can certainly be harnessed for the collective good (a la #metoo), but I’m not currently convinced that our mental and emotional health is served by it. If we look at the attacks against our community, they are almost always targeted at our mental and emotional wellbeing.
I made a quiet commitment to myself (and to the universe, I suppose) in 2016 that I would pivot my life to serve solely the interests of the queer community, and everything I’ve done since then has done just that. How I move forward, and in which forums I use my voice, remains to be seen. In any case, it’s important for me to use my voice because I have one. Many in our community don’t have the luxury of not fighting for their lives every single day; I don’t see why I should get to fall outside of that daily fight for equality and justice just because of the accidental circumstances that now equal an immense privilege. The fight is ours. Every single person who has a voice (which, at the very least, means “access to the internet”) should be using it to stand up and be heard.
In the current political climate, what do you think queer publications and writers can do, that they might not be hitting the mark on?
I would look to: Wear Your Voice, Into, Food4Thot, Hello Mr., Teen Vogue and Them. Queer publications and writers are doing it and they’re doing it well. Each platform is doing remarkable work in representation and giving black and brown voices the space and support they need to tell their stories.
Who inspires you?
The transgender community. They are under immense pressure. They keep getting knocked down and keep getting back up. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: if you are not fighting alongside our trans siblings, you are not doing enough.
“Electric. We were 14. We used to sneak notes to each other at school and make out in the bathroom between classes.”
What have you learnt about yourself this year?
I’ve learned that I am valuable, that my life has meaning and that my voice matters.
Are there any writers or creatives that make you excited for the future?
“I’m rooting for everybody black.”
Goals for 2018?
I’m going to refocus my energies on the queer community of colour.
Do you have any future projects that you’re currently working on?
I’ve launched Busy Being Black, which is a podcast exploring how we live in the fullness of our queer Black lives, and in it, I centre conversations with those who have learned (or are learning) to thrive at the intersection of their identities. My vision for Busy Being Black is participatory, an exchange of knowledge and learning, a place where we bring ourselves, in our truest form, in order to inspire, motivate and educate our community. We are the answers, the change, and the transformation we seek. I believe that so deeply.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
“The proof that one truly believes is in action.” – Bayard Rustin