More than 1,500 New Yorkers gathered today in Manhattan to mourn the death of a 32 year-old gay man, who was shot down on Friday just blocks away from the historic Stonewall Inn in an apparent act of anti-gay bias.
"He's Really Tough" - Reflecting on Rodger McFarlane
"He's really tough", I had been advised before I flew to Denver to meet him for the first time.
I was brand new on the job as president of GLAAD in late August of 2005, and scheduled meetings with the executive director's of our largest funders, to get to know them and share some thoughts, but mostly to listen to their thoughts about GLAAD, the LGBT movement and how we could strengthen our partnership during my tenure.
"C'mon in---what's a f*~*ing former mayor doing at GLAAD? So tell me where you want to take it." Seriously, that was how the meeting started. And anyone who knew Rodger McFarlane will not be surprised.
We spent the next two hours talking about the LGBT movement, what I thought about GLAAD's place within it at the time, and what I thought it should further become as an organization. I was not sure where he was coming from, I had just met the guy, but I had learned long ago that someone with a strong voice and opinions requires the same in return. So I did not hold back either.
And something clicked. We were, fortunately, on the same page, saw similar challenges, opportunities and needs within the movement, shared similar goals. He gave me the best primer on the LGBT movement and all the players that I ever received. Where we separated on tactical delivery, he was pretty clear: "You play nice, you have to, and I'll run interference and crack heads when necessary."
Rodger was the right guy in the right place, and at just the right time. He made a lasting difference in our movement for LGBT equality. His support of GLAAD reaching for the full potential of our mission, not just being a media watchdog, but also proactively assisting with communications, messaging and working to empower others in our movement across the country, enabled GLAAD to grow and strengthen as an organization.
Over the next few years with Rodger's leadership, The Gill Foundation's support grew and it became GLAAD's largest annual supporter. And the stronger partnership that grew from that first meeting, continues today.
The news of Rodger's death was a shock, a punch in the stomach. Even now, when I look at his picture, it's a difficult reality to acknowledge; that he decided to end his life and is gone. His was always a life of strong intent--his contributions really mattered to a great many people.
I spoke with him less than a month ago, he phoned while he was driving through Arizona. "I'm thinking of you as I drive through your f*``*ing state-and I love it" was his original voicemail message. When I returned the call, we talked of his journey since he left Gill, his transition and the opportunities that might be coming his way as he concluded his travels.
As was always the case, he gave me some great advice, this time on how to handle my own professional transition.
His personal support and friendship had great value to me, and I wish I had come to know him earlier in my life. The impact and influence he had on me far exceeds the very short amount of time I knew and worked with him.
Thank you Rodger. I'll miss you. Rest in peace.