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NCUA Chairman Todd M. Harper’s Remarks at the CU Pride Leadership Conference

June 2022
NCUA Chairman Todd M. Harper’s Remarks at the CU Pride Leadership Conference
Todd M. Harper

NCUA Chairman Todd M. Harper

As Prepared for Delivery on June 3, 2022

Hello, everyone! And thank you, Brandi, for your kind introduction. Congratulations, as well, to all the conference organizers. I am pleased to join you again today, and I am heartened by the strides CU Pride has made since its launch two years ago.

In 2021, I understand you doubled your membership and tripled the number of education events. Such progress is a testament to your commitment to creating an inclusive and active network for the LGBTQ+ community within the broader credit union system. And, thanks to that commitment, CU Pride has reached over 1,350 members and counting with participation from credit unions in Canada and Europe.

As a gay man, I have often described my coming out experience as one of constant growth. I think of it as a journey, an evolution, and a story that is always unfolding. No matter how many people you tell that you are gay and no matter how many times that you say it, there is always someone new to come out to. I know many others in the LGBTQ+ community have had those same experiences and share that opinion. But what makes this story so satisfying for me may not be what you would expect. It is the moments of doubt, fear, shame, and even anger that taught me the lessons I value most.

Coming of age in the 1980s when the HIV/AIDS crisis gripped our nation, I could see that homophobia was reaching a fever pitch, including in my home state. So much so that, while in college, I never dared to go to a gay bar—even though the school was in a very liberal town, because I was afraid of being seen there, what people might think, and what it would mean for my career.

Keep in mind that when I started my career in the federal government more than 30 years ago, people could be fired simply for being gay. The Lavender Scare — which ultimately cost several thousand gays and lesbians their federal jobs — was still a real threat. And those who were openly gay in the workplace might not get a security clearance, a career-limiting decision. And like many, for most of my youth, I pushed back against the idea of being gay because it was not the norm, and that meant having to swim furiously against the current. But there was a bright side to this story.

Over time, I discovered that growing up gay and being in the closet allowed me to read people better and catch subtle signals, maybe because that was a survival instinct. Being able to read people well improved my emotional intelligence and allowed me to grow into a better leader. And being gay allowed me to put myself in the shoes of those who come from other marginalized groups and that led me to become more inclusive and collaborative in my leadership approach. It also lit a fire within me to push for equity and equality for all.

But we cannot speak of growth without giving credit to the environmental factors that make it possible. These people include the friends, colleagues, and bosses who helped keep our feet on the path to self-discovery, watershed events that awakened us to our true selves, and the support of peer networks that show us we belong. These factors provide the fertile soil in which vulnerability can blossom into success and happiness.

In my case, I got very lucky early in my career when I worked with openly gay professionals on Capitol Hill. I am especially indebted to Chuck Brimmer, who helped me to understand that by being my authentic self, I could be successful, healthy, and happy. And it was only a matter of time before I met my long-time partner, Tom Beers. In fact, next week, we will observe the thirtieth anniversary of the night we met and became a couple.

Just as relationships, people, and ideas grow, organizations are also capable of growth and learning. Earlier this week, the NCUA raised — for the first time ever — the Pride flag at our central office in Alexandria, Virginia, to recognize the start of Pride Month. I cannot overstate the significance of this event and what it means to me personally. And, like many of you, I wonder why it took so long. It has been more than a half-century since the Stonewall riots.

While it is long overdue, it is especially significant that the driving force behind this milestone were the NCUA’s employees, specifically our LGBTQ+ employee resource group, otherwise known as PRIDE, which stands for People Recognizing Individual Differences Equally. It took the NCUA’s network of professionals dedicated to LGBTQ+ career development, advocacy, and outreach to make this dream a reality. They saw the need to raise the Pride flag, and they asked us to do so. And I couldn’t be prouder of their efforts.

But, if you think about it, it is the very same power of collective strength and a unified voice that has not only made CU Pride a rapidly growing organization, but also this Leadership Conference a “can’t-miss” event.

Flying the Pride flag at NCUA’s central office underscores the importance of representation, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. It is part of our broader effort to enrich the agency with a variety of perspectives and experiences. By inviting more voices to the conversation, we create a workplace that welcomes and values everyone’s contributions no matter who they love, and where all our team members feel they can belong and bring their authentic selves to work. We need to do more of that, and you are already accomplishing the goal of creating more inclusive and welcoming credit union system.

Let me tell you how. Earlier this year, while at the Credit Union National Association’s Government Affairs Conference, someone stopped me and asked whether I was the NCUA Chairman. Not knowing what would happen, I responded that I was. But what got said next made my day. That person spoke about watching me at a previous CU Pride event and how inspiring it was to have someone leading the agency who was a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

I know that feeling well. After all, I worked as a long-time senior staffer on the House Financial Services Committee which was led for several of those years by the iconic gay lawmaker, former Congressman Barney Frank. I once thanked him for demonstrating for me how to live life authentically, successfully, and openly.

Now, the world had come full circle. Somebody was thanking me for the same reason. Representation in the workplace really matters, especially in leadership roles And, one day, more than one of you participating in this virtual conference will likely have a similar experience, perhaps as the head of a credit union, perhaps as a leader of a state league, or perhaps even as the second openly LGBTQ+ member of the NCUA Board.

CU Pride has been integral to giving LGBTQ+ credit union professionals, members, and allies that sense of belonging, as well as the confidence that, collectively, we can make the credit union movement better and more inclusive. Please keep moving forward with your positive momentum. Please keep hosting educational and networking events. Please keep striving to make the credit union movement a welcoming place for all. And please keep identifying the ways that credit unions can better serve the financial needs of the LGBTQ+ community. I am eager to see what you can continue to accomplish by working together and how you can make the world a better place.

In closing, please be safe, be well, and be kind. And take pride in your community and your work! Thank you again for inviting me and enjoy the rest of the conference.

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