By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
Our Managing Editor and Associate Director of Education, David “Dirk” Smith, caught up with Bursting Through’s Steve Petersen to learn more about the amazing work they are doing in building and representing allyship among and for the LGBTQ+ community.
Dirk Smith (DS): Well, enough about me, this interview is about you! We are excited to chat with you and learn more about Bursting Through! How are you doing?
Steve Petersen (SP): I’m well! Busy here, which is good for us at Bursting Through. October, in addition to beingLGBTQ+ history month is also pride in Las Vegas. The City of Henderson is doing an Equality Day as well, so there’s a lot of things going on in October. Part of Bursting Through is that we publish quarterly an online magazine called Bursting Through Connections and our recent issue just hit the newsstands (as of the date of the original interview in early October).
DS: That’s awesome and it’s exciting when there’s so much going on to help you achieve your goals. Tell me about the current issue of Bursting Through Connections, what’s in the new issue?
SP: There are so many great things! Bursting Through Connections is a magazine for allies and the queer community. We created a platform for the population who identify as allies plus those of us who identify as queer. Firstly, there are always great stories and in this issue of Bursting Through Connections, there are some powerful stories. All of them, every issue of Bursting Through Connections ends up having a theme. However, that is not intentional when I start out on each issue. I simply start meeting people who I want to interview, or I find they have a cool story. Sometimes they approach me, and they want to share something. It’s amazing how, when I start putting it together, it has a kind of a stream that runs through it. In this case, it was all about personal transformation and journeys.
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DS: Wow, it sounds like there are a lot of amazing stories and things to share!
SP: The stories are really fascinating and again, the theme in this issue unintentionally became, about personal journeys. There is a great story about a trans woman who ran for lieutenant governor in Nevada, and she’s amazing. She talks about her journey from participating in motocross to running for lieutenant governor, and that’s quite fascinating. Another story that was powerful is I met a woman who runs a hospice. She approached me and asked, “how do I let the queer community know that our hospice is a place of love and acceptance for them?” We had a beautiful conversation about that, doing research about the hospice and what they do, I learned so much. We also learned about the amount of people in the queer community, particularly gay men with HIV, that her hospice has cared for through the year. Yet, it’s a story I don’t think people know about. So those are fantastic stories to share and spread the word about.
DS: It’s great that you’ve created this platform to share these stories. A lot of these stories go by and only people within that person’s small network would ever hear it. So, it’s important that you are elevating that and putting those stories out there for more people to learn from. I think it’s really a powerful thing.
SP: Thank you! We believe that stories are the most powerful change agent in the world. When I looked at what I needed to do and the purpose driven work that I was wanting to do when I started Bursting Through, I started by identifying that there is this whitespace here. To use a business term, there’s this whitespace in that there was nobody, including our straight allies in any meaningful way, telling these stories. That’s not to criticize any organizations that do other amazing work. What bursting through does is different than what everybody else does. This isn’t just a company, this is a social justice, storytelling movement that focuses on the quest for a relationship. So, stories being the most powerful change agent in the world. When we read someone’s story, we get to know them, and we experience empathy and compassion for their journey. Bursting Through stands for that moment where empathy and compassion connect, and love comes “bursting through”.
When I talk to people and I have audiences, it’s interesting to see some moments where a lot of people are really connecting and when we’re with allies. Talking about love and acceptance., I get lots of “thank you, for your love and acceptance.” But, for example, if you have a gay brother and you invite him and his husband at Thanksgiving every year, and you think that you’re doing some great activism, I’m going to kindly ask you to rethink that because that’s just being a human being. That’s not being an activist. While love and acceptance is important, we’ve been doing love and acceptance since the beginning of time. Bursting Through is raising the bar to giving you ways to be an ally every single day.
I had an interview with a lovely woman who said, “when my child came out to me as queer, love never changed. What did change is that every parent, instinctively when they have a child has a dream for them and that dream changed.” She wasn’t saying no, but she needed a time to process this information and readjust. She never rejected or said no love, never change. But she was also allowed time to process information. I loved having that conversation with her and for the queer community. I often reflect on that as a gay man and after that interview, I called my mom, and I was like “I probably just dumped a lot of information and thought everyone should react a certain way. I didn’t give people space because I didn’t know any better, but we are better now.”
DS: It’s good that you practice self-reflection and looking back on those moments to rethink your response. That’s how you learn and how you get better.
SP: I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, i’ll republish again this month because it ties into National Coming Out Day. There’s a story that talks about, when I personally, and men of my generation, when we came out in the late 80s, and early 90s. This was during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a common phrase you’d hear when coming out and the thing that people who loved you said, “I love you anyway”. I often talk about how any love should never be qualified that way and that needs to stop. That word made such an impact on me and some of the men that I’ve dated or been in serious relationships with. We’ve carried that with us for decades. Now, this isn’t to beat up on anybody who came with good intentions, but to say nothing has changed for me, we know better now to not stick that extra word on it. So let’s just love with a hard stop. I love you.
DS: That’s a good way to put it. It almost sounds like you’re just putting pity on them and patronizing them.
SP: And that’s what that story is about. Recognizing that it came from a good place but speaking out that it may not have the intended effect. After I published that story, I had some people reach out to me and asked, “who are allies? I remember at that timeframe, that’s what we were told to say.” I’m not discounting that. Again, I am going strongly in the column of, “but we know better now.” Right? So, when our actions create emotional damage and we don’t know better, then when we learn from it, we can stop creating the damage.
DS: There is a similar evolution of the LGBTQ+ community as well. It went from the “gay community” to the “gay and lesbian community”, to the “LGBT community”, and so forth. It’s the exact same cycle, saying, “hey, this was acceptable back then but then we realized this was hurting some people in our community.” So now we’ve adapted, grown, and changed to make sure everybody is included. We’re don’t want to hurt anybody so we’re trying to be more inclusive and be more accepting of them in this regard.
SP: Bursting Through has given allies a place to go in that way by saying “hey, this is for you and about you too.” right. We’re doing something a little different that a lot of strong and important queer organizations don’t do. We recognize that things move very quickly in any given queer organization, there’s been a lot of changes and letters added to the alphabet, along with very deep conversations about gender fluidity. Those things are very real and very important. But it’s also not Allies need to know the basics and they can find out the information if they want to go deeper. What’s important is to equip our allies with some high level, easy things, to help them be better allies. In the last issue of Bursting Through Connections there was this powerful story that was called “About the T and I in the LGBTQI alphabet.” It was a trans woman talking about how gender identity such as transgender and intersex are very different than sexual orientation and sexual identity. We had a really great conversation to educate a lot of people, especially a lot of allies who don’t know there’s a difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. We need to make some of these things easier for allies to understand, because they want to but we don’t always consider that.
DS: That’s a very important point, right. We can get deep into the activism of it all and we can get so focused on what we’re trying to do that we forget that there’s people that don’t know the basics.
SP: Also give them credit in that allies don’t have to know everything about this to be an ally and be on our side. Nobody’s invited ignorance here but you also don’t have to have a master’s degree in gender studies to show up. That’s one of the things that has been so awesome and rewarding about our work with Bursting Through. One of the first thing I did after launch was, I wrote an opinion piece called “It’s Past Time for Straight Allies to Come Out.” It got picked up by a few newspapers and the feedback that I got from people reaching out, solidified that the work that Burst. I had all these awesome allies read the article and said, “the things that I learned about what goes on in the queer community and what you all struggle with is horrifying. I am an ally and you’re right; I don’t do anything. What do I do?”
I started out on a more of a journey to say it’s like, “okay, here’s where you’re gonna do, 10 easy steps to activism.” That eventually led to some internal dialogue with the Bursting Through team on our purpose and how we very intentionally set out to have a different conversation. It’s important to have this different conversation to establish our identity and mission as sustainable equality for the queer community. The key word being “sustainable.” I can understand a lot of people don’t realize how much we have gone backward either. That’s another thing for us, we can give allies data and statistics in a different way that’s not overwhelming to the meaning. For example, there are more anti-LGBTQ laws passed in 2021, than any year in the history of this country. People are shocked and they want to know what they can do. Sometimes knowing is a huge step and now that is stuck in your head, you’re going to share that with others. You’re going think about that when you get to vote this time. I have also been surprised how many queer people had no idea that that was the case. And 2022 has already broken that record. While I don’t expect every ally to subscribe to LGBTQ news or know every piece of queer culture that’s going on. When there is a platform, like Bursting Through that makes it easy for them to know what’s going, I hope that’ll at least help make a difference.
DS: How can people find and connect with Bursting Through?
SP: www.burstingthrough.gay is the website, it’s easy to find if you Google “Bursting Through”, it should come right up. The first thing is the website is membership driven, so be sure to hit join as it’s important to join the movement. There are all different ways that you can join, there’s both free and paid membership options. You can also download the current issue and the past issues of Bursting Through Connections. If you want one of these awesome T shirts, you can get it through us. We also created National Out Ally Day which is on November 13. We’ll be doing a live stream event for that, you can more information from the website and buy tickets to live stream the show. Better yet, if you’re in Vegas, you can come to it live. If you Google “National Out Ally Day”, there’ll be tons of information that comes out about the event. What I would really love people to do is join the movement, there’s power in numbers. Follow us on social media, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
DS: You mentioned planning some events for National Out Ally Day?
SP: The celebration will be here in Las Vegas live at a venue called “The Space” which is a cool space. The celebration will be in three acts to “celebrate, activate and empower” everyone who identifies as an ally. What I have learned through meeting so many people is that a lot of people in the queer community say “just because I’m queer doesn’t mean I’m not an ally. I’m an ally to.” The show will be in three acts with live entertainment, we’ve also organized a National Ally/Gay Empowerment Panel, chaired by subject matter experts including a politician, a faith leader, an educator, community health, expert. Towards the end, there’s going to be an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” type event, where you sit down and answer questions and discussion. Our goal is for people to leave incredibly empowered. We’re also going to honor people in three different categories, “Straight Ally of the Year”, “Queer Ally of the Year”, and “Business Ally of the Year”. The event will be having a lot of great discussions and conversations, a lot of good storytelling, a lot of live entertainment and music. We are debuting an original song that has been written for National Out Ally Day”, from this powerful rock folk indie artist as well.
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DS: Wonderful! We are excited to celebrate with you and looking forward to what comes next! Thank you so much!
Photo Credit: Steve Petersen/ Bursting Through