In honor of Pride Month, we’re highlighting LGBTQ leaders in the nonprofit world. Today, we talk to our own Barbra Kavanaugh.
Barbra Kavanaugh, a senior consultant with Brighter Strategies, describes her career as a “series of happy accidents.” Barbra majored in communications in college and planned to be a journalist. Although she had some jobs in the field, she quickly found that opportunities for men and women were unequal. Recently divorced, Barbra felt that a graduate degree would give her better opportunities.
Barbra went to law school, in part because no thesis was required. She was interested in bioethics and a friend introduced her to a lawyer she believed was working on similar issues for an informational interview. It turns out that the lawyer actually worked in a legal-aid practice, specializing in disability rights. Partway through the conversation he offered Barbra a job that she didn’t even know she was interviewing for.
Barbra says that people often believe activists are born informed and involved but she wasn’t. At the time she was interviewing, she didn’t even know legal services for the poor existed. Since that first job, Barbra’s work has always been about service.
It was during this same time that Barbra, at the time a single mother, met her now-wife. She describes the meeting as “love at first sight.” The two have been together for over 35 years.
In the late 1990s, Barbra was recruited to run for Buffalo City Council by Victory Fund, a PAC dedicated to increasing the number of openly gay people in public office. At first, Barbra didn’t want to run. She believed politics was “for sharks.” A trainer with Victory Fund told her that she was right, that the waters were “full of sharks. But, if you don’t jump in, that’s all there will ever be.”
As someone who worked in poverty law and policy, the ability to hold public office and influence policy in this way was appealing to Barbra, and so she ran and won. Barbra was Buffalo’s first openly-gay city council member.
Barbra’s Current Work
Barbra followed her wife to DC in 2008 and today, Barbra is a senior consultant with Brighter Strategies. Her focus is primarily on board development and management and she also serves as an Interim ED for non-profits in transition. Barbra loves interim work because she loves to create and build sustainable structures, policies and practices to strengthen non-profit organizations. She feels that her “thick skin” allows her to take on some of the more difficult tasks that come when an organization is undergoing change.
Barbra came out in her 30s and jokes that in the 1990s everyone “had my name in their Rolodex under L for Lesbian Mother.” As a lawyer with a steady job, a homeowner, and the biological mother of both her children, with no custody issues, Barbra recognized that she had much less to lose than others by being out. So, although she has considered herself primarily a racial and economic justice activist, she has also been involved in advocacy for LGBTQ rights, she felt it was her responsibility to be out and public. As she says, she didn’t even know being gay was an option when she was a teenager, so visibility is important.
Barbra believes her life experiences, as both a former single mother on welfare, and a gay woman give her an additional lens and a layer of empathy through which she views her current work.
At Brighter Strategies, we’ve seen Barbra’s empathy, problem-solving, and determination first-hand and are proud to have her on our team. You can read more about the work Barbra does for us here.