LGBTQ&A: Juan Franco Murillo

We talk to the emerging community leader about his journey from front-line staffer to running a Gayborhood nonprofit.

juan franco murillo

Juan Franco Murillo

Juan Franco Murillo is the newly appointed executive director of DVLF. We talk to the emerging community leader on what he’s learned on his journey from front-line staffer to running a Gayborhood nonprofit.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Latinx, 29, gay and am originally from Barranquilla, Colombia. My family emigrated when I was three years old and I was raised by parents that spent many years fighting for immigrant rights. Throughout my career, I have focused on securing opportunities to serve and make a positive impact in the lives of marginalized community members. Prior to coming to DVLF, I worked with Temple University and Mazzoni Center to provide sexual health services to the local LGBTQ community while also supporting my peers’ efforts to plan events. My other experiences include my years of involvement with the Philly Falcons Soccer Club, where I remain a board member, as well as my involvement with other LGBTQ nonprofits.

You’ve worn many hats within Philly’s LGBTQ nonprofit scene. What is something unexpected you have learned?
We have more work to do to ensure the safety, the rights and the uplifting of voices of our black and brown LGBTQ community members, and in particular, our black and brown trans brothers and sisters. However, what I truly find truly remarkable is the resilience and the dedication to make this progress happen from many of the black and brown individuals that are employed or volunteer with Philly LGBTQ nonprofits alongside other amazing individuals that are putting their bodies on the line who are not immersed in the Philly LGBTQ nonprofit scene.

You’re the new executive director for DVLF. What challenges and goals have you faced so far as one of the few nonprofit leaders of color in the Gayborhood?
Since I started in this role two months ago, I have not experienced any significant challenge. To be honest, my experience has been quite the opposite. Within my first two months, I’m truly humbled by the strong encouragement from people throughout the community. Also, it’s great to see the DVLF board making great efforts to bring on new members to have it reflect the diversity of our community. We have brought on more people of color and younger professionals. I also know that the board is looking for more women and trans individuals to join, so please contact us if you’re interested, or know someone that may be interested.

Another thing that I’m very excited about is the board’s support for adjusting our annual grant cycle that supports emerging needs identified through local LGBTQ nonprofits. This grant cycle will be led by a small grants committee made up of community members, board members, and myself in an administrative support role. The board members and I will play an important role in identifying the qualified grants, seeking clarification from potential grantees if necessary, and then helping the grants committee fully understand the grants submitted and their significance so that they may provide a well-informed selection. I’m very excited about this because, to me, this aligns with a statement I heard at a professional development conference that I just attended in Detroit: “Relinquish power. Inclusion is a good practice but empowerment – moving out of the way and letting community lead – is a much more transformative method to making a positive impact in the lives of our most marginalized community members.”

You recently participated in the Gay Games in Paris this summer. What was it like participating in an international Olympics-style sporting competition among other LGBTQ athletes?
Words alone will never suffice for what it was truly like to not just participate, but be co-captain of what was probably the most diverse team — in age, skill level and racial and ethnic background — I’ve ever played on. From the moment when I walked into a stadium to walk across the field with my team while thousands and thousands of people cheered you on from their seats, to the intensity of playing against teams from Brazil, Prague, Dublin and France, and other parts of the world, and of course, the best part of it all, to the camaraderie and immense amount of love that you share celebrating everyone’s wins, loses, tears, and laughter. Experiencing all of this with the purpose of showing the world we will exist and we will be proud is more than I can describe in words. We came in fourth place in our division with 14 teams.

What is one sincere piece of advice you would you give to local LGBTQ nonprofit leaders who are still struggling to serve diverse communities?
I think that if you are going to serve diverse communities, you first need to make sure that the way your organization operates is in line with the values of the diverse professionals on your team and their diverse clients.

For example, “professionalism” in the workplace is traditionally thought of as something that is intuitive and concrete. However, those in leadership roles need to understand how input from marginalized groups is crucial to defining such terms, developing related policies, and fostering a strong and vibrant space to work and serve clients. The voices of gender-nonconforming individuals, those from minority religious groups, and black and brown LGBTQ voices should be included in defining what professionalism means for that organization and the people it serves.

Put another way, managers who have benefited from lifelong access to more resources, better education, and other opportunities have a responsibility to intentionally seek out and understand the perspectives, opinions, and experiences of front-line employees, volunteers, and clients who have been marginalized and continue to experience barriers to those same resources, education and other opportunities that I too have had access to. Let’s be intentional about making more safe spaces for nonprofit teams and the people they very dedicatedly serve. Otherwise, we could unintentionally perpetuate cycles of oppression, particularly against black and brown trans voices.