How you can shape a legacy for future generations
It took TD Bank's John Patton seven years after he initially came out to friends to finally tell his mother in 1996.
"Mothers always know," said John, who is TD Bank's U.S. Diversity & Inclusion Lead. "She was very accepting, but it was never discussed with the rest of our family, it never came up."
Looking back, it feels like this Pride Month is a century away from those days where LGBTQ2+ issues were often shied away from in general conversations. Today, with the recent tragic deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and subsequent worldwide protests, the topic of anti-Black racism is now also at the forefront after years of avoidance for many people.
As a Black man, John knows how deep racism extends its ugly claws, even among communities that would seemingly not be as susceptible to discrimination, based on their own experiences. However, the first time John was called the "n-word," was in a LGBTQ2+ social setting when he was in his mid-20s. It still has an impact after all these years.
"Just because someone is gay, doesn't mean they don't have that entitlement about race instilled in them," he explained. "It's the same entitlement and access they had before they realized or discovered they were gay. Gay society is a subculture of the larger society and the same issues of racism exist."
Learning about the world and himself
John grew up in Indianapolis in a primarily Black neighborhood where he didn't see the depth of racism in society. He was teased as a youngster for "acting like a girl" at times but didn't quite understand what that meant in terms of his own identity. He learned quickly how to hide his differences by the time he reached high school.
The neighborhood he grew up in wasn't one of privilege, and it wasn't uncommon to have hardships like not having enough food so you eat at your grandmother's, or having to catch a ride home after basketball practice because mom had to work her second job. But he attended a Catholic Elementary and Junior High School where everyone wore uniforms so the differences in economic status weren't obvious.
"I vaguely remembered a sixth-grade teacher saying you will have to work twice as hard to get half as far, but I didn't really understand the implications of that at the time," he said.
But when he attended Purdue University, reality sunk in. He realized the disparity of economic classes when he met others who came from wealthier households.
Yet he succeeded, both academically and personally. He found a group of friends he fit in with and became a parent when his daughter was born during those years.
However, through the help of friends, he soon realized he was gay. Though this was a major realization, he found acceptance and support from those same friends who helped him realize his truth.
He became more aware of racism as the HIV/AIDs epidemic devastated his two communities: LGBTQ2+ and as a Black man.
"The help to treat HIV/AIDS was not getting to the Black community, the disparity in healthcare access, prevention and treatment, are the same reasons we're seeing Black communities today being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19," he said.
The only thing worse is when it happens to your family member
After college, John continued to thrive professionally, as he rose the corporate ladder.
But once again, his life and whole world was completely changed following his sister's death, and John did what any loving brother would do and became a father to his niece and two nephews.
While John was able to step up and support his new family, the hardest part was not being able to shield them from the world. He would have to endure the fear and pain so many Black parents live with today.
In an incident he'll never forget, one of his children had an encounter during a traffic stop that escalated to traumatic heights. When John arrived at the scene, he saw his child face-down on the pavement. When John verified his identity, the situation de-escalated. But it has been seared in his memory forever.
"He was so traumatized, he was only 16, " John said. "I was so infuriated, sad and angry. I'll never forget it. It was horrible seeing him there. I wish I could take away that pain."
The right side of history
There have been many cases in recent years where Blacks have been killed, but not a widespread, united response until this spring when George Floyd's death shocked the nation. The world watched in horror as we saw his life end on video.
"It feels different this time, it's a perfect storm with a pandemic and the death of George Floyd," John said. "The pandemic put a lot of us on the same playing field, and everybody is now feeling a similar sense of powerlessness."
But John remains hopeful. He feels privileged to work towards Diversity & Inclusion to help more move forward and support the changes so desperately needed for society to be a truly equal and inclusive place for all.
And he sees a unique opportunity for all of us to be a part of it, as well.
"We all have the opportunity to make a legacy for your family with your choice. Here it is: be active or stay silent, and be on the wrong side of history," he said. "This is the time to learn things, to turn a corner or pivot. This is it. Do it now."
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