“Out of Ohio” is our interview series featuring notable LGBTQ+ individuals born and raised in Ohio who are now out in the wider world using their voice and talents to make a difference.
In 2019, World Pride in New York City had an estimated 5 million attendees from all across the globe.
Standing at the helm of that largest LGBTQ+ event in history? Well, that would be a guy from Findlay, Ohio.
For over a decade, Chris Frederick served as Executive Director of NYC Pride, including the 2019 extravaganza commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Now he has taken on a new role: the Managing Director of Global Events at Out Leadership, a world-wide LGBTQ+ business network working with CEOs and multinational companies to drive equality forward.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Frederick about Pride, leadership, and how someone goes from Findlay (population: 40,000-ish) to NYC (population: 8.4 million-ish) overseeing the biggest celebration the LGBTQ+ community has ever seen.
When little Chris Frederick was running around Findlay, Ohio, was he saying, “I want to one day help organize the largest LGBTQ+ event in history!”?
<laughs> Yes and no. Growing up in Findlay meant growing up in a quintessential midwestern, perfect Americana kind of town. While it was sometimes a bit too conservative for my liking, it had a good school system, a great sense of community, a great downtown, and was a great place to grow up.
But I definitely had a desire to live in a bigger city. I would sit on my computer on AOL dial-up, listen to jazz music, and knew that I wanted something bigger in my life.
I did the whole “graduate from college and a week later and get a U-Haul and move to New York with no job and no plans” story. And it all worked out.
Is there an Ohio-ness that you brought with you to New York City and to organizing Pride?
Absolutely. I try to be as honest and forthcoming with people but come with a level of respect and energy that makes people feel welcome. It’s that’s whole Midwestern value of treating everyone with kindness and respect and I think that carries through in the work I do today.
I always held dear the community that I made growing up as an LGBTQ person in Ohio and transferred it into my life in New York. I grew up going to Columbus pretty much every weekend to get my LGBTQ fix. And that’s really where I found my community. I think that allowed me to understand what I wanted when I moved to NYC.
How do you go about describing what Pride means to you?
Pride had always been that entity that made me feel as though I was a part of something. In some ways, looking back at the lack of representation in Findlay, Ohio for LGBTQ people only caused me to be more motivated to make that change by producing Pride.
I came to NYC when I was 17 with my mom. I had just come out to her two or three months prior, and we were on a college tour to visit various colleges, ending in New York City. Then we just so happened to stumble onto Pride. We literally just walked into the Pride March. It was this pivotal moment where I realized I was part of something much larger than anything I had ever anticipated.
Being from a small town in Ohio, you don’t realize there are others who are like you. You don’t realize that there’s a larger community out there for you. Pride really exposed that to me. Pride allowed me to realize that I needed that because it felt like I was lacking that in Findlay.
I’m sure you have a wealth of Pride stories after 10 years as Executive Director. Tell us one of those stories where you look back and say, “This tremendous amount work was 100% worth it.”
World Pride was definitely the pinnacle by far. That whole experience was exhausting but incredibly rewarding. There aren’t that many jobs where you are planning for literally a decade for this one thing. To think about all of the hours and the conversations and the work and see it all come together into this extended moment over the course of the last two weeks of June was…I can’t even really put it into words. It’s something that was incredibly amazing.
It was also very sad at the same time because I knew going into it that I would never be able to have that moment ever again. I would never be able to influence the amount of people’s lives that I was able to do in that single moment. That was hard for me. For being someone who constantly wants to level-up, go higher, do better, and affect more lives, knowing that you would never be able do it like that ever again was sad to me.
There were very like cliché things that happened at Pride over the years that were pretty memorable. There was one time I was able to get Cher to perform at Pride. I was backstage with her whole crew. She was about to go onstage. There was this moment where I was behind her and she was getting on stage and it was an out-of-body experience with me thinking, “I can’t believe this kid from Findlay, Ohio was able to pull off this moment.” I’ve always been driven by creating moments for people that are ingrained in their minds for the rest of their lives. That was one of those moments.
Let’s talk about Out Leadership. How are we doing with identifying and supporting LGBTQ+ leadership?
I think it’s been a great change of pace for sure. It’s definitely different work than what Pride was in many ways. But it’s changing lives not only in New York but lives around the world: creating events and experience in Asia and Australia and Europe. Next year we’re looking to expanding into South America.
I was really drawn to the idea of taking to work the experience that I built over the years with Pride and expanding that on a global scale. We have been doing some amazing work given the circumstances. We were planning on doing 40-50 events, and as a result of the pandemic, we went virtual and have done over 100. We are not slowing down our pace and, if anything, are scaling up because there is that seamless ability to create endless types of conversations and narratives around certain issues. We’re able to speak to different parts of the world more frequently.
Is there something that an LGBTQ+ leader can do that our counterparts maybe can’t?
LGBTQ people specifically have a special place in their ability to show empathy. It’s not that non-LGBTQ people can’t show empathy. But LGBTQ+ individuals have this intersectional lens that not many other people can identify with. We know what it’s like to be discriminated against, from an LGBTQ angle but also in an intersection angle: female, people of color, trans, etc.
That allows us to have a bit more compassion around issues, topics, and conversations that can influence the lives of many. Empathy is our secret power that many people often don’t realize.