Making Connections at CGI U 2016

By Gidon Feen

It was with great excitement that I boarded my plane at Reagan National. I was ready to head to Berkeley for the Clinton Global Initiative and even with TSA Pre-Check, I still wasn’t getting off the ground fast enough. I was coming to the conference with an ambitious commitment, but one that I felt confident would be well received. I hoped to establish a faith-based leaders initiative in African countries to combat homophobia. In many countries, such as Uganda, Nigeria, or Cameroon, high levels of homophobia exist, often with the support of the religious leaders. By creating such an initiative, a dialogue, and bringing on religious leaders in the fight against homophobia, I believe that these countries can see a paradigm shift in their hatred towards LGBTQ people.

CGIU did not disappoint. From the opening session to the closing plenary, I was constantly amazed. President Clinton was illuminating, as was Chelsea, but so were there broad array of speakers they convened for the weekend. One of my favorite was Maysoon Zayid, a comedian and an advocate for those who are disabled. Her comments were both funny and profound; her message resonating strongly with many in the room. I was most struck, however, by the message that President Clinton kept returning to: it is ok to fail. I found it particularly important to hear as a student at GW, where so often I see my peers in a never ending cycle of internships, non-profits, and successes. It was heartening for me to hear from a president that failure is fine, and even helpful!

I was able to make important connections for my commitment at CGIU, in particular with my mentor, Ryan Olson. The two of us had many mutual connections in the LGBTQ international affairs community of DC, and he has said he will help me find the right people to see if they can help with my idea. This would not have been possible without the support of The George Washington University, and I am extremely grateful to them for assisting with funding to get me to the conference.

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