Meet the Leaders: In conversation with Neish McLean 15 Jun 2021

Neish McLean is a transmasculine Jamaican LGBTIQ activist and consultant with over 5 years of experience in strategy, governance, partnership development, fundraising and movement resourcing. Neish is the Co-Founder of TransWave Jamaica, Jamaica’s first and only organization solely dedicated to trans advocacy. Following working with Perrett Laver, Neish was appointed as the Chair of the Nominations and Governance Committee at the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and leads in overseeing the recruitment and evaluation of the Board of Trustees and its committees.

To mark Pride Month, our Head of Media and Communications, Amelia Smith, sat down with Neish to discuss his career so far, his role with IPPF and the future of diversity and inclusion.

Firstly, thank you for making the time to speak with me today. Could you please tell me about what initially attracted you to your role with the IPPF?

As a transmasculine individual, issues that impact LGBTIQ people are my lived reality and therefore they will always be of great personal importance. That is why even before I joined the IPPF I had been deeply involved in LGBTIQ activism for many years. Similarly, I have always strongly believed that organisations and spaces intended to provide services to marginalised communities should never exist without the involvement of individuals from those communities themselves.

When Perrett Laver approached me about a role with the IPPF I was immediately interested. I also thought that the role of Chair of the Nominations and Governance Committee was a great opportunity to utilise my experience in community outreach and governance.

Your experiences will certainly be really valuable for IPPF. In your new role, what will you be looking to achieve? 

The Nominations and Governance Committee, which I chair, is a new body that was only formed last year as part of wider reforms to the governance structure of IPPF. Whilst we are still developing how we should fulfil our mandate as a committee, we all really believe that the transition IPPF is undergoing represents a great opportunity to drive more active collaboration between the different bodies of the organisation. In particular, we want to help develop more connections between the individual member associations and also increase the contact these associations have with the board of trustees. Generally, we are all passionate about the causes and groups that the IPPF represents and want to ensure that the organisation’s long proud history continues.

In your career so far, what would you say you are most proud of?

Firstly, as the chair of the Nominations and Governance Committee I have been really proud of how we as a committee have been able to support the board of the IPPF over the past year. We have recruited several new members from very diverse backgrounds and geographies that offer a number of new skillsets and perspectives. I really believe that these new members will solidify the board and ensure it can provide the best guidance to the organisation.

Aside from my work with IPPF, I am probably most proud of my role in the founding and development of TransWave Jamaica. Unfortunately, in the Caribbean, trans people have had a particularly hard time navigating everyday public spaces and social support systems such as housing, healthcare, education and employment. TransWave’s role in trans advocacy and visibility has really provided a platform for trans people to carve out space for themselves and re-imagine Jamaica as a place to live and flourish. For me, I see TransWave as a crucial part of my legacy as a trans activist and that is something I will undoubtedly remain proud of for the rest of my life.

Do you think that enough is being done by organisations and corporations to support LGBTIQ communities globally?

Whilst we have made progress, we still are not doing enough to tackle this important issue. Pride Month is certainly an important moment for the LGBTIQ community, but we must go further and remember that LGBTIQ people do not only exist in the month of June!

Whilst this is important, Pride Month must not centre on corporations and their commitments to diversity. Instead, Pride Month is an opportunity for LGBTIQ people to celebrate each other, build connections within their community and show other LGBTIQ people that are perhaps not open in their identity that there is a vibrant community out there waiting for them. It is therefore very important that corporations do not use their platforms to manipulate pride for themselves but rather amplify the voices of LGBTIQ activists. Pride was born out of a protest and a need to claim our own pride, our own space and to reject capitalism.

What do you think corporations must do then to improve representation?

If we want to truly enable diversity, corporations can make a real difference by supporting and helping to sustain LGBTIQ organisations financially, for example, by paying an organisation’s rent or providing paid for positions. A lack of funding for LGBTIQ organisations is a real issue, which limits their scope of activity especially as LGBTIQ organisations across the globe are volunteer-led. It is therefore crucial that LGBTIQ organisations can hire and sustain their staff and I think corporations can play a big supportive role in this.

Aside from funding, what do you see as the biggest obstacles to improving LGBTIQ representation?

I think that too many people are comfortable in their privilege and power and therefore do not do enough to champion diversity and meaningful inclusion. LGBTIQ people cannot continue to do the labour of championing diversity and inclusion without the critical need for action and dismantling of systems of oppression that continue to impact vulnerable and marginalized communities. If corporations really want to invest in diversity and inclusion then they must invest in LGBTIQ people in all our diversity and actively consult and pay LGBTIQ people to shape policies

Are you hopeful that we can actually achieve a more equal and diverse world?

I am always hopeful - if I was not, I don’t think I could do the work that I do. There are movements around the world, such as climate justice and disability justice, who have experienced and understand oppression. Cross movement solidarity acknowledges the intersectionality of our movements and that we all need to be free in order for us to have a more equal and diverse world.  As these movements collaborate, I believe they will bring a more equal and diverse world, alongside the fantastic work that the LGBTIQ community are doing themselves. Of course there is a way to go, but when I look at how far we have come I am definitely optimistic for the future, and hope that organisations around the world understand the true, meaningful purpose of pride – in June and beyond.

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