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My story begins in a small north Florida community known for large pine trees, hot summers and churches on every corner. It would be the latter that most shaped my life. At a very young age, I had a love for gospel music. Songs like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,“ “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” were staples of my playlist. And, later in life, those songs helped get me through some of the toughest times.
I pursued a career in music, serving in various leadership positions in places of worship and even achieved my first national tour in 2002. I thought I had made it. But as I began my fourth recording, something weighed heavily on me. Was I living my best life? Was I happy?
I never allowed myself to focus on my sexuality; that wasn’t an option with my conservative religious values. Although I knew something was missing, I buried that feeling and perhaps ignored it for the better part of my career. While in Jacksonville, FL, I had heard about an LGBTQ+ music artist that was doing a concert locally. “Could this be real? Is this even possible?” I wondered. I had so many questions; I attended the concert and ended up forging a lasting friendship that continues to this day. I left that night realizing: I am perfectly made and loved by our Creator just the way I am. This was a turning point in my life.
I began a new chapter with a high for life. I was basically shouting from the rooftops in my rainbow boa, “Hello world, it’s me, Joel Ogburn!” But this would be short lived. The community I thought supported me the most left me behind. My days of touring around the country telling folks how much Jesus loved them was over. The church, as I knew it, shut me down. Its message of inclusion that “All are welcome” was only true if you looked and believed like they did.
After many years of reconciling my faith with my sexuality, it would became easier to be my true self. And my music career had a newfound purpose: Be all I can, with all I can, to whomever I can.
Finding My Voice Again
In June 2016, while on staff at Joy Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Orlando, my personal and professional life were forever changed. On June 12th, at the Pulse Night Club shooting, our country’s second largest mass shooting, 49 of our beloved LGBTQ+ community were killed. My work at Joy MCC was located less than two miles from the nightclub and served as a safe place of worship for the LGBTQ+ community for over 40 years.
As the day unfolded, I did what I knew the best: shared compassion and the message that love wins. Most importantly, I stood up for my community. Joy MCC quickly jumped into action and organized the first community event for that Sunday evening. As we began to see hundreds of people gather outside our church, including news media from all over the world and families seeking answers, we knew this would set the stage to get out our message.
I was asked to open the event with a song. I recalled the song that had comforted so many just one year prior when an armed white man shot and killed nine members of the Mother Emmanuel Church while attending bible study in Charleston, SC. My heart raced as I sang, “When trials come on every hand, I feel, I feel I must go on.” No matter how much hate this shooter had in his heart, we knew that love wins — and we knew we needed to take this message and move on to create the change we want to see.
Bringing That Message of Love to Tech
This message would translate in many ways. As an advocate, I would use my voice to help corporations — large and small — start conversations about to become more inclusive and creating safe workspaces for all people, no matter their gender identity or sexuality. This begins with taking steps to include those most vulnerable at the table when making decisions, listening and taking action — even when it’s uncomfortable.
My career took a different direction when I made my way into the tech world. To my surprise, I found a team that allowed me to be all of who I am — rainbow boa and all.
Genesys has given me a platform to use my professional voice to serve as an ambassador of the world’s leading cloud contact center software through our world-class partner program — all while creating space at the table for those who advocate for equity and inclusion for all people. I was recently overjoyed when Genesys named its first Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Eric Thomas. In just the coming days after Eric’s appointment, his team quickly built upon our mission of One Genesys, rolling out several new affinity groups, including GPlus.
GPlus is our first corporate-sponsored platform to provide a safe space for both those identifying as LGBTQ+ and our allies. The platform will focus on education, development and empowerment of those that seek its benefits while promoting inclusion of all people — no matter of gender identity or sexuality.
While I may not be touring the world singing, I continue to use my voice to share the good news that “Love wins.” Always.
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