Melissa Harris, Deputy Vice President, Strategic Partnerships

Melissa Harris is an experienced strategist and relationship builder who enjoys expanding capacity for advocacy, and increasing sustainable support for the causes that shift our culture — and ultimately change our world. As a native Californian who graduated from the University of Arkansas, Melissa serves as GLAAD’s Deputy Vice President, Strategic Partnerships. Leveraging her background in holistic corporate relations and non-profit leadership, she believes in the power of partnership to exponentially advance and accelerate LGBTQ acceptance. 

Drawing upon her experience in strategic relationship management, Melissa was called upon to design and launch The Juilliard School’s inaugural Global Advisory Council — in order to scale their international vision around EDIB in the arts. By connecting leaders from the United Nations, Sesame Workshop, the financial sector, the world’s most recognized fashion houses, along with notable performers, Melissa thoughtfully curated and implemented the rollout of a best-in-class, influential, and impactful, patron group. To date, the Council continues to expand its roster of ambassadors, while providing substantial fiscal support for tomorrow’s emerging artists. During her tenure at The School, Melissa also enjoyed the opportunity to serve as a mentor for Sphinx LEAD participants — an inspiring cohort of BIPOC + LGBTQ CEO’s and change makers who are at the helm of symphonies, operas, and conservatories around the country.

Prior to her time at Juilliard, she worked with the Office of Foundation and Corporate Engagement at the University of California to optimize partnership strategy with global conglomerates such as Merck, Unilever, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, and Larry Ellison’s visionary startups. With ambitious goals inline with a multi-billion dollar campaign, the team surpassed revenue expectations and fueled transformational medical, technological and agricultural academic research, to include support of Aggie Square — a groundbreaking innovation hub bringing together university, industry, and community. While at the University, Melissa was selected by the Vice Chancellor and her colleagues as Chairperson of the DEI Sub-Committee, maintaining responsibility for programming related to training, internal culture, and transformative justice education across the full spectrum of diversity. 

In her early career, Melissa invested over 10 years in the non-profit sector, building a comprehensive framework that made it possible to launch intergovernmental partnerships and industry collaborations (with municipal and state leadership, Feeding America, Microsoft, and Belk Department Stores, among others) which were capable of driving systemic change. This structure supported her NGO’s buildout of a computer learning center, life skills programming, food and clothing banks, teen activity center, and mental health safety nets for families who were under-resourced in the Ozark region of the United States. Through a focus on large events which increased public awareness, sustainable public-private partnerships, and identification of market trends and synergies, Melissa’s work garnered regional and national coverage. 

As a longtime ally to the Latinx community, in 2011, Melissa was appointed to the Board of Directors for one of the nation’s largest Hispanic leadership conferences and PAC’s; a collective widely recognized by The New York Times, NBC, Telemundo, Univision, and CNN as the most influential Hispanic/Latinx faith-based organization in the country. Her work on the board led to collaborations with Obama administration officials, and Bernice King — with an eye toward strengthening government, corporate, and faith-based partnerships around immigration policy and pathway-to-citizenship legislation for DREAMers. Throughout her career, she has been honored to serve as a keynote speaker for justice, compassion, and inclusion from Washington, D.C. to Canada and Europe, and has tirelessly worked alongside change-makers to create spiritual safe spaces in the South for LGBTQ people. Melissa also recently served as a speaker for the Arkansas chapter of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Poor People’s Campaign”, as part of a growing movement which brings to light the injustices faced by those who live at the intersection of poverty and marginalized identities.

Twice-nominated for the CNN Heroes Award, Melissa was also recognized at the Missouri Governor’s Mansion for her work in advocacy, volunteerism, and organizing for individuals impacted by socioeconomic disparities in the United States. Melissa and her wife Deanna recently relocated to New York City with their spoiled rescue pups, and enjoy producing their podcast and taking in Broadway musicals in their spare time.