I never really meant to be a leader. As a child, I followed in my big sister’s footsteps. As I grew into teenager, I found myself surrounded by amazing leaders, both women and men, who were great examples of who/what I wanted to be. However, when I came out during my senior year of high school, I suddenly ran out of mentors, or anyone really, to look to for guidance on what to do or how to process my feelings. It wasn’t the 1950’s anymore and, yeah sure, Ellen had just come out on TV, but life as a gay teenager in 1999 wasn’t a walk in the park by any means. There wasn’t a LGBT resource center in my town, and there certainly wasn’t a GSA (gay straight alliance) at my school. Because I was so incredibly sheltered from any type of alternative lifestyles, I wouldn’t have even known where to look if there were. There was just me, or so it felt like, and becoming the leader and mentor of my own life was my only chance for survival.

Flash forward to 2008. My band, an all-lesbian rock group, was turned down to play at Homo-A-Gogo, a San Francisco-based queer music and art festival, where the likes of Beth Ditto and Team Dresch were performing. It was a big blow to not be accepted. The experience really reiterated to me the feeling that anything worthwhile or exciting in the LGBTQ community was happening far away and that places and events like Long Beach Pride or the West Hollywood scene just wasn’t where I felt like I belonged. Instead of packing my bags and heading North, I decided to put on a concert of my own and invite all the other bands in town that felt marginalized and without a queer-friendly space to call their own. This show was basically Homo-A-Gogo lite, in both homage and defiance. A version of my own that I knew would be small, but would hopefully be a way for me to meet like minded musicians, artists and community activists.

With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, the concert was a huge success. Cut&Paste Rock&Roll (AKA CPRR) showcased 7 queer bands/musicians and over 300 people were in attendance for it, proving to me that there were in fact other people like me and a community ready and waiting. Instead of keeping any of the money that we raised that night, my wife and I decided to donate it to the Long Beach Center’s Youth program to support young people in the arts. It wasn’t something we had planned, rather something that just felt right. That night, I went from rock promoter to community organizer. Again, I never thought of myself as a leader, but I definitely started to understand that being a doer often lands you in the leadership category.

Necessity is in fact the mother of invention. After the success of that concert, my wife and I created the non-profit group The AMP Organization, to promote creativity, community and queer culture in Long Beach.  We put on events; concerts, films, art shows and each year give money we’ve raised back to the youth of our community in hopes that they can find inspiration from the support of their community. For me, the biggest reward in all of this is inspiring others to stand up and take action. If there is something missing, create it. If there are wrongs, right them. By far the biggest lesson I’ve learned in leadership through these years is passing the torch and inspiring others in the work you do, the words you speak and the life you live. We only get to do this once. Creating a generation of inspired leaders to follow us is the only way any of it will continue.