🏳️🌈 Pride Month: Fireside Chat with Elisa Durrette
Join Jacob Zollinger and Eric Allen on CFTV talking about all things Pride 2021! They will be joined by special guest Elisa Durrette, Head of Legal, Commercial Transactions, and member of Proudflare.
Hello everyone and welcome to our next talk in our series for 🏳️🌈 Pride Month this month.
We have one of very exciting guests with us today is Elisa Durrette, who is our head of legal commercial transactions team.
So another one of our awesome leaders here.
As a reminder, I'm Jacob. I'm on Cloudflare committee and based out of the San Francisco office and I work on our security team and really happy to have this chat here today.
So as you may have caught last week, we interviewed Jen Taylor and we're continuing the speaker series.
And one of the questions we started off with last time with Jen was, what does 🏳️🌈 Pride mean to you and how do you celebrate 🏳️🌈 Pride?
So would you be able to talk to us about how you're planning to celebrate 🏳️🌈 Pride this year, Elisa?
Sure. This is actually really an interesting year for, I guess, me and my wife personally, because for many years my wife worked for, you know, gay organizations for like, you know, San Francisco LGBT Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights.
And so because of that, 🏳️🌈 Pride season has always been like this month that's just full of nonstop events and parties and, you know, just all sorts of activities celebrating, you know, being gay and, you know, having the freedoms that we have.
What's been interesting, I think, with COVID is, you know, having some time to kind of step back from that and be a little bit more reflective.
And so a lot of how I'm spending this 🏳️🌈 Pride is really reconnecting with old friends, reconnecting with my family of choice, you know, celebrating the ties that I've been able to make here in the San Francisco community.
So a much quieter 🏳️🌈 Pride, but I think a much more intimate and meaningful one for me.
Absolutely. I think community is a big part of being a part of the queer community at large and, you know, helping celebrate identities and all that.
And I found that this 🏳️🌈 Pride for me has also been really about reconnecting.
Like I gave my friend a hug the other day that I hadn't seen in a couple of months.
It was life changing. So just the small things, really being able to reconnect.
Something else that we really try and do here at Proud Flare and is another one of our themes for 🏳️🌈 Pride celebration here at Proud Flare this month, it's all about celebrating and then uplifting others in our community.
As the acronym for the LGBTQIA plus community continues to grow and we continue to seek more representation for all members, like what are some of the voices you think we really need to be amplifying right now and how should we be amplifying those voices?
That's actually really an interesting question because I think, you know, I think that there has been a lot of focus on uplifting the voices of Black and Indigenous queer people, especially trans women, and I think that needs to continue.
But I also think that we need to be expanding that circle as well.
We need to be hearing from our AAPI brothers and sisters.
We need to be hearing from our Latinx brothers and sisters. I think one of the things that happens a lot of times when we start thinking about who to uplift and which voices to hear, it's like in the U.S., we really get caught up with just kind of Black-white race relations.
And we live in a much more dynamic and complicated society than that.
And so we really, I think, have to work at making sure that we're not just talking about things in terms of Black and white, but also including other ethnicities as well.
Yeah, I really like how you're thinking about it, even from like a global perspective and not so much of a U .S.-centric focus, because you're right.
The discourse really does seem to be around like Black-white relations and there's so much more in this country and then the rest of the world, of course, too.
So I think that that's really beautiful.
What are some of the ways that you think, like, let's say someone is wanting to be an ally or another member of our community, how can we uplift some of those voices right now?
That's actually really an interesting question, because I think the question you're asking me is kind of like, what does it mean to be an ally?
What is allyship? And I just, full disclosure, I really struggle with that term.
I struggle with the idea of allyship because oftentimes what I find that means is it creates this dynamic where some other person who assumes themselves to have more agency, more resources or whatever, is going to help someone that they perceive to be lesser than or less fortunate than they are.
And while that may actually factually be the case on the ground, it's not always the case.
And it's not about it.
I think the thing that really throws it off for me is that in a balanced society, if we're thinking about what allyship means, it wouldn't be about one person or group of people saving another or coming to the aid or rescue of another.
It is those people working on themselves, right? Those folks thinking about how they perceive themselves, what they may be doing that is impeding other people's freedom.
And also, and the reason I put it that way is because I think as LGBTQIA++ people, right, we need to be thinking about how do we liberate ourselves?
What tools do we have?
What happens if no one is coming to save us or help us? Then what?
Maybe the power that we're seeking isn't outside of ourselves. Maybe it's inside of ourselves.
And so if you're coming from that perspective, allyship is way less important.
That's my thoughts on that. I'll leave it there before I get myself in trouble.
Yeah, no, that's a really interesting perspective to have, though, and not honestly one that I think I've considered before that, you know, even the term allyship can cause, you know, feelings of someone else being like less than you because you're trying to help them.
And I think there's a lot of work to be done, like with everyone to find out best how we can unlearn biases and unlearn problematic behaviors and really find ways that we can provide meaningful help to others and also continue to help ourselves.
I think that especially this year alone, I've really had to dig deep through the pandemic, learning how I can provide comfort to myself, making sure I'm still getting, finding community and making sure that I'm still able to live a happy life here, for sure.
So that's a really interesting take. I like that a lot. So kind of building off of COVID, you know, as some people may or may not know, this is not the first pandemic that our community has had to go through.
And in fact, we are still, we're actively living through two right now because the HIV and AIDS pandemic has not ended.
And the LGBTQIA plus community has been disproportionately affected and has really left a lot of, you know, lasting implications.
We lost an entire generation of queer people.
How do you think that this new pandemic will help shape our community or will shape our community?
It's been, I mean, it's interesting that you kind of raised the parallels there because one of the, one of the folks that I lost during this whole COVID crisis, the first person actually that I lost due to COVID, was an older gay man in his 60s who, you know, lived in San Francisco, lived through the AIDS, HIV crisis.
And, you know, was an HIV, HIV positive person himself.
He ended up succumbing to COVID. And before anyone even knew really what was going on in terms of like, you know, we hadn't shut down yet.
It was only like later that we realized that that was what happened.
What I think is, is interesting about this time and how it connects to our community is that we have models of care.
We understand how to create families of choice, communities of care.
We put together the resources that we need that are outside of the system.
We still, we still have muscle memory around how to do that because we have so many, in particular, a lot of lesbians who remember what it was like to take care of their, you know, gay male friends who were, you know, passing away in the 90s.
We have that understanding.
Additionally, though, we also understand how to create joy and meaning out of that tragedy.
And so I think one of the things that we were probably going to see coming out of this and one of the things that we can offer is LGBTQ people is, you know, our art, our work, like all of the things that we do to process this grief.
We're going to really mark this time period. And we saw that with the HIV crisis.
I think we're going to see that again with, with COVID. Yeah, something that's really sticking with me about, you know, how you responded to that is really how the queer community at large is used to working outside of the system and how we still find stability and like the resilience of our community because we have been outside of the system for the majority of the queer liberation movement.
So I think that that's been really important here, especially when we saw local municipalities not necessarily responding to community and us having to really rely on ourselves, rely on our neighbors, rely on our chosen family or biological families for support.
I think that's a really key indicator. It makes me really proud of all of my queer ancestors before me.
It's wonderful. Definitely. Yeah.
So one thing you, we've talked a lot about, you know, queer history and how, you know, the predecessors lived and how they've been impacted.
What are some of the important firsts that you have lived through as being a queer person, and what other like, so like what barriers have been broken down and that kind of thing I just want your perspective is, as we've said that we lost a whole generation of queer people, and not, you know, I think it's really important to learn from those that are, you know, that came before us and have lived different experiences than I've lived.
Yeah. Wow. A lot of firsts. I mean, so, you know, I, I guess I was in high school in the 90s.
And at that time. There was a this magazine called was originally called Deneuve after Catherine Deneuve and then she like sued, and then it became curve magazine it was this lesbian magazine, but that magazine really was the first magazine to kind of portray, like, what being a lesbian could look like and I remember finding that magazine in my bookstore and seeing like, oh, not, you know, not all lesbians wear plaid or like lumberjack t shirts and it you know this, it could look all different sorts of ways they're not all black and brown.
And so I say that to say that kind of was the beginning of this moment of seeing people who, even if they didn't look exactly like me that I could identify with in the media so I could, I started, you know, seeing this magazine curve, and then, you know, Ellen comes out on her television program, and then there were all of these, especially like I think of like Marlon Riggs and the work that he was doing with Tongues and Tied and like, so I feel like it was a very very fruitful moment for just visibility of gay people in popular culture.
And going from being completely invisible to seeing to having role models was that was a huge first for me and then obviously I mean I lived through all the other big first you know so it's like there's gay marriage I actually was one of those people that got married.
When it was briefly legal in. In California in 2008. And then that got reversed and then it got legalized nationally and so I've lived through a lot of the first.
Yeah, that's something I'm kind of curious about is, did you have two weddings then because this is something I don't think people realize is that people got married several times because it was legal and it wasn't.
We, we did not get married twice so what happened was we actually were living in Texas at the time, my partner Ruth and I were living in in Texas at the time, we decided to come to San Francisco and get married we decided to elope.
And then we were going to have like a multi city party celebrating our nuptials.
And we had as a bridezilla as a bridezilla.
So, it's like in on the inside, there's like an inner gay man who likes to plan parties.
Absolutely. But so we, you know, we, we print up these wedding announcements saying you know that the great state of California, the people of California have allowed us to wed and we're so thankful blah blah blah and so we're waiting on these things, these announcements to be printed we're going to send them out to all of our friends, and literally two days before we get them.
Prop eight happens, and weddings overturn. We still ended up having a celebration where we invited all of our family and friends for like this multi day thing.
I think it was still, it was actually, it was right after that happened, because ultimately, you know, we felt like whatever this weird we have still made a commitment to each other it doesn't matter if the government's not recognizing it so we only had one wedding, but that was the backstory.
Oh my goodness, I love the idea of a multi day party that's incredible.
Honestly, giving me inspiration for my own wedding one day.
It was, it was, it was going to be like, I can't think of.
I'm probably not going to get the name of the movie right but we had been looking at my sister Rachel's wedding that movie.
And we're, you know, like TV and the radios there and stuff and we're like, what if we had like this amazing like dinner party that's just like a ongoing feast and we just do it in three, you know, three cities will do like in New York, we'll do it in Austin and we'll do it in San Francisco and we'll just, just be completely the sumptuous and not, you know, not make it the formal kind of wedding that you would normally have and so that that seemed a little bit easier to plan a little, it was a little less crazy for my wife.
I still got my table scapes so I was happy. So, never forget the table scapes the most important part of any celebration.
No, that's wonderful. So we've talked a little bit about pride and what it means to be queer now I'm really curious because I think you have a really interesting career, and I would love for you to just do a quick explanation I've heard, I have not heard directly from you but I've heard from several people you, you've done a lot of different things in your life and I'm really curious how did you get to where you are now.
Yeah, I would say so.
Yeah, I've had a career. I my elevator pitches that I am a black queer creative entrepreneur, who would be probably some combination of Bill Gates and Mickalene Thomas by now were it not for my blackness and my probably overselling things a bit.
But in truth, I had always been interested in entrepreneurship.
I was a kid who always was trying to figure out a way to, to have my own business at various times like when I, when I graduated from college I graduated during the first.com boom.
And out of that experience met folks at my first company that I worked on several startups with, I had my own startups I had startups in the music space I had startups in the, in the kind of online recommendation space.
For a variety of reasons, Yelp. That didn't work out and they were a little bit more well funded than I was but I had some really cool adventures so like, you know, the music startup like I got to work with Russell Simmons I got to work with Snoop Dogg I got to work with, like, a lot of really interesting characters.
And I learned a lot. But the other thing I learned was that you know entrepreneurship is really hard especially when you're not well funded.
And so I had to kind of make a strategic decision about whether or not I wanted to continue to try being an entrepreneur without much access to capital, or if I wanted to go and do a professional degree, and it just so happened that my wife at the time, she's my same wife now but at that time, my wife was like, you know, have you thought about law.
And I was like yeah I'm not interested in law, and she's like no no no she's like I think you make a really good lawyer and I was like well I don't want to go to court like I have no interest in going to court like I think that stuff's boring.
And she's like no you could be like a transactions attorney and then I started thinking about it and I was like well you know, I think the people who made the most money off of my entrepreneurial ventures were the lawyers they always came out ahead.
So I'm like this seems like maybe a path I should, I should consider.
And so I ended up going to law school like, I guess maybe 10 years after I 12 years after I graduated from college, went to go work for a couple of well known firms in the area, did a lot of really interesting deals I worked on, you know, the deal selling Cirque du Soleil to this private equity firm.
I worked on a lot of really, I sold, this is actually a really funny thing I worked on a deal where we sold Jimmy Buffett's rights to all of the Margaritaville.
Tacky but true.
So, you know, I had a really kind of interesting run there. What ended up happening was then kind of Cloudflare came along this opportunity to come in house and to be actually to be able to kind of marry some of that more entrepreneurial side with the legal side because you don't, there's not much use for business acumen per se on the, in the firm, but within an in house setting.
It makes a lot of sense and so in 2017.
Here comes Cloudflare, and I've been a Cloudflare ever since it's been, it's been wonderful.
Yeah. I mean, the stories of your career, like, were that I was told, grossly, were undersold.
You just described that so interesting you really I would just say I would not recommend that career path to anyone because it's very convoluted and if I could have just figured out what I needed to do from the beginning, it may I'm, you know, I might have actually been the Bill Gates that I was telling you about.
So, absolutely. I mean I still think there's time I like sounds like you have probably a ton of ideas still this is just your, your daytime job and probably work on other stuff at night so that's wonderful.
Well, something you mentioned too is part of being an entrepreneur and stuff that your queerness and your blackness, maybe have prevented you from getting their identity, like, and how your identity impacts all parts of your life.
So you not only are black, you are queer, you're a woman, and you're in tech, but and you're like in your lawyer like you have all these different identities and I think how we show up in like different personal reactions I know sometimes I put my different identities first.
How do you, how have your different identities informed your experience in the workplace.
That's actually a really interesting question.
I mean, so I think, I mean, I think I always show up as black, I mean as long as long as there's some picture of me or I'm, you know, there it's like there's no getting around the blackness that's the first thing I think that people see and react to.
Because of the position that I have in the company, like my actual role and title.
A lot of times I'm showing up with more power than other people in conversation so even like when I'm dealing with a counterparty.
I may have more power than the other person on the other side of the table and so that's one thing.
What, what I think is interesting and what I kind of use to my advantage is as a queer person.
I get a queer woman specifically. There are conversations that I get to be a part of that I'm pretty sure I would not get to be a part of if I were straight.
One, because I think, because I don't have the same, I guess, the same socialization about what my relationship should be to men.
I don't have the same sorts of hang ups with challenging male colleagues, or, you know, being being aggressive, because I'm not, I'm not following any mode I'm not my femininity is not on the line.
Additionally, because many of my male colleagues or counterparts aren't necessarily seeing me as an object of desire because I'm a queer woman I'm not a straight woman so we're not, there's never going to be anything romantic.
It removes a layer of complexity between my communications with them so when we're talking about, you know, if we're talking about socks.
It's about socks, it's not about anything else right because that layer that extra layer of potential meaning is, is just obliterated So I actually think that's been really helpful for me and has allowed me to, to advance in ways I think that, that maybe some of my straight colleagues don't get to take advantage of, there's actually just as a random data point there's actually data about like, in terms of who gets paid the most in the workplace if you look like, I mean other than white men, it is lesbians.
Lesbians with white lesbians in, in particular, do second after that and very close like they do really really well.
So query, what that's about. That's, that's really interesting I had no idea that stat that's really interesting how we can use our current history advantage in a lot of ways when it is typically been reinforced through society through culture to not be an advantage to be a detriment to us so that's, that's really interesting How have teachers or sponsors or advocates help like guide your career in this way.
Yeah, um, well I will always say like, first and foremost, my biggest advocates were the teachers and school administrators that I had all throughout, you know, middle school, junior high and, and high school.
They made sure that I had opportunities that got me in, in the right rooms that got me scholarships that got me to the right school that right schools.
I owe them everything.
In terms of professionally. I have had. I have had a number of advocates and it's interesting the men who have, I think supported me most they've all been not even the men, the people, so the people have who have supported me most and who have really advocated for me and who've also been mentors have all been white men, they've all been straight, they've all been sis.
One thing that I when I think I'm like what are these men have in common as well like what is it about them and why did they want to help me.
They were all persons of faith, which is not something that you would think would go with, you know, supporting a black, a black queer woman.
But I, I bring that up to say that it is always felt to me like they had a sense of duty to help others and to do good in the world for just in general.
And because I cross paths with them, like I also became their, their charge.
And so that's one of the things that's always kind of been that stood out to me is like when I think back of the people who have been who have been the biggest kind of advocates for me.
These were all straight men with really strong faith traditions that have come to my aid.
Again, so interesting like a lot of the things in your life have been so contradictory towards the like more mainstream queer experience where typically religion has been used to condemn the LGBT community and others at large but it's really a unique experience that you've had that you've been able to benefit from that.
Yeah, let me, let me be clear, I wouldn't say that like not in most of the cases of the men that I'm thinking about.
I think that they would. It's not I'm not saying that they think that being gay is okay.
Sure. But they, but they understood that my gayness need not stand in the way of them having a relationship with me, them caring about me, them, you know, making sure that I received the same opportunities that other people on their teams were receiving because ultimately they believed in, in fairness and goodness and so you know that definitely like I don't want to portray as that like oh no they're totally like, yeah, yeah, sure.
And I say that too I mean I grew up. I grew up Pentecostal so I mean everything if you know anything about that church everything is a sin so I'm very well aware of how that can play out in one's life.
Yes, absolutely. It is shocking to me that we've almost gone through this like whole half hour already it's like I could talk to you like for so much longer, but I do have one final question for you and if there are.
Let's say that you're speaking to any like black queer women that are out in the audience right now that are listening like do you have any advice for them on you know how to go about making your career strong or about anything else.
Yeah, I think my advice to them would be that you already have the power that you are looking for.
It is within you, it is not outside of you.
Being okay involves looking inside, and I think that's that's the work. Yeah. Well, that was really beautiful.
Thank you so much Lisa for joining us today. Oh, you're welcome.
This is great. Yeah, I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule and any viewers be sure to tune in next week we're going to have another one of our fire side chat series with Nick route or head of infrastructure so thank you so much.
Have a good rest of your day. Cool. Thank you. Take care.