Author’s Note: I originally drafted this on August 14, 2015.
PREAMBLE: I don’t know why but I still think it’s really weird to know someone who was or is a Mayor of a city. And I know two, including the current Mayor of Seattle, the quite amazing and highly performant Ed Murray. I’ll digress here for just a minute and reminisce about some very tough conversations I had about voting for Mayor Murray – at the time, I didn’t know much about the candidates but I did know that pretty much anyone who was gay was voting for him because he himself is gay. That didn’t feel like enough of a reason. I pushed for more details and they were delivered, and I gladly voted for Mayor Murray who I feel is doing an exceptional job in office. He and Michael also have exceptional taste in teriyaki establishments! :)
I met Neil Guiliano because of my involvement with AIDS/LifeCycle. This event means the world to me and my two year break from participating has reminded me just how much. The last time I participated I was honored to speak before the large audience and then welcome Neil on stage at Opening Ceremonies. I was so proud that day…of what we all achieved together and the indescribable connection felt when we connect in body, mind, and spirit to do good in the world.
Though social causes often bring people together, often from many different demographic categories, I think Neil’s leadership was very important in ensuring its almost tangible impact on the event. Neil is every bit the chief executive officer — wickedly smart, a listener and learner, prodigious at managing a large constituency, calm and balanced in appearance and demeanor even when things may in fact be tumultuous, capable of absorbing the drama of many but responding with reassuring balance.
You can be sure that on a ride of mostly gay men who are tired, using port-o-potties, sleeping in tents, and haven’t had any liquor (well, for the first three nights at least) for a week there is drama…you wouldn’t know it if you saw Neil.
None of this is what impresses me about Neil, though. These are table stakes for a hardass like me. More than all the skills listed above, Neil is authentic. He is my paradigm for this. It doesn’t mean he has deep connection with everyone nor that he’s flawless — it doesn’t mean that he’s impossibly polished or unnaturally gregarious. It doesn’t mean he’s not a gay man with all that entails. What it does mean is that each and every time you interact with Neil you feel like you get him…not a show, not a persona, not a “I switched on this side because of the situation.” He understands his strengths, his weaknesses, how to tap in to the strength of others symbiotically, and he doesn’t spend too much time obsessing over micro-perfecting himself. He is honest. He is humble. He answers my emails. Neil gives back what he gets in every way possible.
Neil is also *gasp* somewhat older than me and in him I see and understand more about just how easy it was to grow up in my era as a gay man. Neil is a non-assuming educator and his lessons fly often below the radar of perception. His words carry a gravity to them that says “it’s time to pay attention” and his uplifting spirit softens that message with a touch of levity that is often needed when dealing with something like HIV/AIDS.
From Neil I feel I learned to take life and our impact on others very seriously; I also learned to stop taking certain things so seriously and to push myself to look at it with a better and more holistic perspective.
Thank you, Neil Guiliano, for all you’ve done and all that you’ll do in your next post.