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  • Liz Cruz

The Background of Queer Your Leadership Terms + Queer Ways of Knowing

A further look into the foundation of my coaching practice

I am deeply passionate about both radical inclusion, and sharing my coaching practice with folks who might be excluded from access in other leadership development spaces.

In writing these blogs over the past few months as a way to educate and connect with more folks like you, I find myself using the same terms over and over. I’m talking about phrases like “queer leader,” “cisheteropatriarchal white supremacy,” “dominant culture leadership norms” and more.

We get into topics that involve these terms a lot. That’s why I thought it could be helpful to have a deeper discussion of what the terms mean to me, and how they apply to working with me as your coach.

So in this post, I’ll share some insight with you on the word “queer” and why I use it in my coaching practice. We’ll also talk about what cisheteropatriarchal white supremacy culture is and the impact it has on your leadership. Then I’ll show you how you can use your personal knowledge to guide the way you lead, and how we can work together in that area.

Language matters in leadership. Learn more about the language I use within my coaching practice and how it impacts the way you show up as a leader.

Reclaiming the word queer

For some of us, the word queer is the perfect way to describe our gender expression, our sexual orientation, or both. It doesn’t force us to fit into a label. It allows us to be our authentic selves, without the pressure of feeling like we have to conform to fit a stereotype.

Daytime photo of a person in a Pride parade holding a signage that reads "Life is short, be as queer as you want."

But others see the word queer as offensive. It might carry a negative connotation for them, depending on when they grew up, or if they’ve heard the term being used as a slur. [1] I know the word “queer” doesn’t work for all of us, and for reasons that I can empathize with. I want to let you know if that’s you, that you are also welcome in this space.

For me, the word queer is empowering. I’m inspired to reclaim it as my own. The term queer is beautiful to me because it creates space for me to continue to grow within the identities that matter the most to me (partner, coach, femme, sibling, auntie…).

In 2022, I surveyed a group of 34 queer leaders and asked them:

“What do you think makes being a queer leader unique?”

Here are some of the traits they shared that make them unique as queer leaders:

  • Empathy

  • Resilience

  • Compassion

  • Understanding

  • Vulnerability

What I hope for you as an LGBTQIA+ leader is that you can learn to see your queerness and other identities as your superpowers for the way you lead and show up in the world. [2]

And I want you to find that pride within yourself while you push back on the leadership norms that try to stop us from doing that.

Cisheteropatriarchal white supremacy culture– what is it?

Whew– what a mouthful that term can be. But it’s a phrase that’s critical for us as leaders to know and be aware of.

That’s because knowing it helps us break down the traditional leadership norms that come with it. It allows us to push back on what’s expected of us. And it encourages us to forge our own way in leadership. Those are all essential parts of queering leadership.

The narratives from cisheteropatriarchal white supremacy culture (or dominant culture, as I also call it) tell us that there’s one way to understand things. It says that things have to be:

  • Observable

  • Measurable

  • Justified with data

Dominant culture also tells us that those are the only way we can know things. [3,4]

Think of the stories you might be telling yourself about the way you lead.

Do you find yourself:

  • Thinking that you can’t bring your emotions into the way you lead?

  • Feeling like you don’t fit in within heteronormative spaces?

  • Stressing out about whether you’ll be taken seriously in your office?

You’re not alone. I asked other queer leaders what challenges they run into, and many of them expressed that they came up against situations like those, too.

One leader I surveyed shared how “leadership is often gendered,” and how they wanted to “be able to take risks” despite the systems of oppression that were telling them that they couldn’t.

It can be frustrating for us as queer leaders because we’re often still held to stereotypical gender norms. But we have a unique way of viewing the world around us. So next I’ll show you how to use your queerness as a strength to move forward with confidence– even if you’re a little scared to take that leap. [5]

A group of queer leaders, standing and smiling while looking directly at the camera.
It's best for queer leaders to push past leadership norms from the dominant culture.

What are queer ways of knowing?

You hold powerful magic as an LGBTQIA+ leader. And a big part of that magic is the inherent queer way of knowing that you have that comes from queer theory. [6]

Queer ways of knowing are all of the other beautiful, expansive ways that we know how to be with things. As a queer leader, you know how to explore. You have come to understand things on multiple levels through your experience of them.

Intuition is one example of a queer way of knowing. Non-binary thinking is another.

Here’s an example of my queer way of knowing from my own leadership.

One of the things that my femme identity has given me is the capacity to see myself and everyone around me as whole, brilliant, and beautiful. I see you as complete and worthy just as you are. And that’s the foundation of my leadership.

Those truths show up in the way I:

Queer thinking informs our leadership practices. I know that you can use your abilities to lead courageously and decide for yourself what it means for you to be a queer leader.


I didn’t become comfortable with leading simultaneously within and in resistance to dominant culture overnight. I recognize the stigma that comes with the term queer. But I know that my queerness gives me a way of knowing that I have come to be incredibly thankful for– it’s why I get to work with amazing leaders like you.

So I encourage you to reflect on the challenges that have come up for you as an LGBTQIA+ leader. And I invite you to also lean into what I know to be true: that you are already equipped to achieve your biggest leadership potential.

We can reclaim the word queer. We can be bold despite the messages from dominant culture that tell us we can’t. And we can trust in our queer ways of knowing what’s best for us and those around us.

Ready to go after those goals with someone who gets what it’s like to be a queer leader themself?

I’m here for you. It’s my goal to meet you where you’re at. I’d love to hear about what’s going on for you in your LGBTQIA+ leadership journey, and to explore how I can support you.

Links to References


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