LGBT-U Apprentice Q&A: Hannah Willard from Orlando, FL

By Adam Polaski • December 28, 2015 • 12:49 pm

In 2015, Freedom for All Americans launched an exciting new program designed to strengthen the movement to win nondiscrimination 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 advocacy campaigns – from fundraising to field to communications to strategy.

Applications for the second cohort of LGBT University are open January 11 through February 7, 2016. Learn more here. 


Hannah Willard, currently based in Orlando, Florida, was one of the apprentices in the inaugural LGBT University class. Hannah works at Equality Florida, where she serves as the Policy and Outreach Coordinator. We checked in with Hannah about her work with Equality Florida, her time with LGBT-U, and how her personal experiences have inspired her own commitment for nondiscrimination. 

Tell us a little bit about your work with Equality Florida!

As the Policy and Outreach Coordinator at Equality Florida, my job is sort of half public policy and half field organizing. I’m a lobbyist, I contribute to legislative research and strategy, and I coordinate our field outreach to key constituency groups like faith leaders. Moving into January, as the legislative session begins at the beginning of the month, the work will be very, very focused on passing the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, our statewide nondiscrimination bill.


I’ve really loved the work organizing in faith communities. I grew up in a home where faith was the center of our family – and my relationship with faith has evolved a lot over the years. A lot of that evolution has come from working with faith leaders who are affirming and seeing that this is about compassion and treating others the way you’d like to be treated. It hasn’t always been easy, but this part of the work has been really beautiful and meaningful for me personally.

What most attracted you about the LGBT University apprenticeship?

What drew me to apply was all of the professional development inherent in the program. I feel like I’m still fairly new to the movement – so what I really wanted to gain was some of the technical skills and learn best practices from the best in the business. I wanted to gain broader professional development and leadership training – but also those hands-on, technical skills.


How has your experience been so far with LGBT University?

The first cohort was sixteen of us, and our first convening was in Phoenix in September. It really exceeded my expectations. One of the best parts was the relationships that developed between all of the apprentices. I’ve attended a lot of trainings, and I’ve never built such strong relationships so quickly.

I was also struck by the caliber of the trainers. I joked later that I was just new enough to the movement to be kind of star struck by how incredible the trainers were – all of the apprentices got to learn from people who have really set the tone for a lot of the LGBT movement, and that was impressive.

We packed a lot into five days. This definitely wasn’t a vacation – we had long days and were learning and studying the entire time. I walked away with a lot of the backbone of organizing – the field techniques, information about data and polling and modeling. I feel like I walked away with a skeleton of a successful nondiscrimination campaign, and then a lot of the gaps have been filled in with our monthly webinars.


Why is it important to you personally to work on winning LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws in Florida and nationwide?

As a queer woman, I kept up with the LGBTQ movement here in America, but my background is in international non-profit work and global women’s issues. So when I began working for Equality Florida, it was the first time that I really had a personal connection to the work I was doing. I think I had underestimated the power of doing work in which you have a personal stake. This work is about me and my relationships and my future family and about my friends and the community that I call home. I have found a really profound sense of fulfillment in contributing to a community that I call home. It just feels that much more personal – and I feel that much more invested in the outcomes.

We also just spent so much time, human capital, and political capital in winning the freedom to marry – and now we need to keep going. We’ve come so far, and we have barely scratched the surface of what it means to achieve full equality for LGBTQ people. Marriage is not on everyone’s To Do list, but earning a living and having a home and feeling safe in your own community is something to which everyone can relate. We need to regroup, come together as a movement, and look ahead to how we can create the magical tipping point we created for marriage.


What would you say to prospective applicants to the second LGBT University cohort?

I really liked that the skills I’ve already learned have been immediately relevant to the work I’m doing with Equality Florida – but these skills are also so transferrable to different industries, different jobs, and different communities. The trainings are really about making us better people, better organizers, and better leaders…and I think anyone can benefit from that kind of training.

Apply to LGBT University’s second cohort now through February 7, 2016. Just click here.

Click here to learn more about LGBT University.

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