Photo by / Joachim Wendler

What Makes a Leader

As I began working on putting this issue together, I was tasked with finding and highlighting those who lead among Atlanta’s LGBTQ community. As I thought about who to feature, I realized that I was tasked with something far more difficult: to actually define what a leader is.


My first instinct when I thought “leader” was someone we know well, a household name with influence and power. Someone with many followers, perhaps, or maybe someone working with a large-scale entity. As I gathered those people in my mind, people whose names are, at this point, synonymous with LGBTQ Atlanta, something felt off to me. If a leader is strictly someone with a large following or impact, what does that make the little guy? Are the rest of us simply followers, waiting around for those with more power and recognition to make a difference?


No. True leadership isn’t about how many people you impact, or how known you are. True leadership is about integrity. It’s about bravery. It’s about knowing what’s right and acting accordingly. It’s about serving others — whether they be friends, family, your community, or the entire city — and especially those who are disproportionately forced into the “disempowered” side of our power structures.


While there are people in this issue you may know — like Taylor ALXNDR, Atlanta’s busiest drag queen (page 14), or city council member Matt Westmoreland (page 15) — there are others you may not, like Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, the nonbinary environmental activist who dedicated their life to peace and helping others before it was ended by police (pages 10 and 11).


Whether you know their names or not, one thing ties them all together: they’re all normal people, just like you and I, who work to create space for those who need it. They lead through dedication and commitment to what they believe in, and they believe in giving everyone a seat at the table.


In a world dominated by social media, social hierarchy feels ever-present around us. We are constantly reminded where we fall in that hierarchy when we see that digital number indicating how many people are interested in keeping up with us (or, to be more honest, the performance of our digital presence). This hierarchy can easily persist at the forefront of my mind, coloring every thought I have about myself and others — even when I delete or distance myself from social media — and the limit of my impact feels constricting. How can I lead and have an influence on others when I don’t have tens of thousands of followers, when I don’t have the resources to make a huge change?


The people highlighted in this issue remind us that we are all leaders — or we all have the capacity to be. Whether in your social circle, family, workplace, church, nonprofit, club, or community, you can lead the way. If you commit to a belief in acceptance, visibility, inclusion, equality, honesty, and love, and embody that belief in every aspect of your life, you are a leader, just like every person in these pages.


Do not allow perceptions of powerlessness — encouraged by a social ethos that equates worth with influence, power, and above all else wealth — to prevent you from leading. There is no impact too small; we all have the ability to live with honor and integrity and inspire more people to do the same. When we do, we can make a huge difference.