LGBT-U Apprentice Q&A: Lola Olateju in Chicago, Illinois

By Adam Polaski • February 1, 2016 • 3:58 pm

Last year, Freedom for All Americans launched a new program designed to strengthen the movement to win non-discrimination protections for all LGBT Americans: LGBT University, an ambitious training and development program for the next wave of campaign leaders. The first cohort, comprised of 16 apprentices from all across the country, is nearly halfway through the year-long training, which convened for the first time last fall in Phoenix, Arizona for training sessions and informational overviews about every facet of running public education and political campaigns – from fundraising to field to communications to strategy.

Applications for the second cohort of LGBT University are now open until February 7, 2016. Learn more here. 

One of the LGBT-U apprentices in the first cohort was Lola Olateju, who works in marketing and communications strategy and is based in Chicago, although she is originally from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. We spoke with Lola about what drew her to LGBT University, how her experiences led her to seek additional training, and what she’s learning from the non-discrimination-focused training modules.

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What about the LGBT University program encouraged you to apply?

Well, I didn’t really have any political background – so what I knew about politics was sort of wrapped up in episodes of The West Wing. I mean, I participated in my civic responsibilities and firmly believed in all of them – it’s been a priority of mine for many years. But I didn’t have any formal understanding. I believe in using whatever platform you have available to you for sharing your political beliefs – and often I would engage in these conversations and I’d struggle with expressing more than my emotional reaction. So when I read about LGBT University and saw all of the trainers and all of the skills-focused informational sessions that made up the program, I felt that maybe it would help me move past the emotional aspects and help me develop some more substantive understanding of these issues I care about.

Why do you support LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections nationwide?

I guess for me, I don’t understand why people don’t believe in non-discrimination.

Our country has been such a melting pot, with everyone’s different ideals and experiences welcome. That’s what America is really all about, right? I struggle with answering this question because non-discrimination – treating other people the way you’d like to be treated – and protecting all people equally just seems like a no-brainer.

Non-discrimination – treating other people the way you’d like to be treated – and protecting all people equally just seems like a no-brainer. -Lola Olateju

I come from a very religious background, and from a very conservative household. But my understanding of faith was that we should love all people and that each person should have the equal right to feel safe and happy.

When everyone believes in that and is committed to that, our country works better. When everyone’s job is safe, people work harder, and they bring more value to whatever they’re involved in.

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How has your LGBT University experience been so far?

Hands down, LGBT-U is an amazing program. The first time my cohort met was at an informal gathering in Phoenix, and I was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of brand new people. I’ll have to say, the rapport and trust was built pretty immediately. Creating a really safe space for us to have honest, transparent conversations was important because some of us, like me, were coming to the table with more limited experiences about non-discrimination work.

During that week I saw how important it is to really have your message honed and get your facts down, with no questions asked. You can’t trip up on questions when you’re engaging with people who may not be allies – that’s when the conversation really goes nowhere.

Throughout LGBT-U, we just interacted with so many smart people who came and talked to us about the campaigns that they work on.

You’ve spoken about how your own identity as a black woman influenced your perspective and experience with LGBT University. How so?

I had no idea of the depth of history behind the gay and transgender movement – as a black woman, it was interesting to see the relationships between different communities and how they can work together to achieve change. The program really affirmed the importance of inclusivity and affirming all people. I personally appreciated learning about the many women of color who have led the conversation for LGBT rights, whether they are queer or allies.

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At the close of the program, I also just had a deep existential moment when we were all expressing what we learned and took away from the program. I’ve lived so much in the “other”-ness, being hyper aware of who I am as a person of color in many contexts, and being surrounded by a lot of LGBT individuals, I felt a level of empathy for these people who are viewed, similarly, as different from others. It crystallized for me the idea that we share many of the same struggles, and there are so many shared experiences when it comes to discrimination.

Now that I’ve gone through this experience, I’m really hoping I will get a chance to work on a campaign soon. I’m really excited to take that leap, and I feel confident and ready to do so.

Click here to learn more about LGBT University – and apply for the second cohort here before February 7.


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