NTY's Pride Month Interviews - Meet Derek Marshall
Our Pride interview series has begun!
For the entire month of June, we’re excited to highlight several thought-provokers in an interview series, led by our very own Graham Smith - co-founder of NTY CBD Skincare and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community himself!
This week, and specifically on this day (June 7th is California's 2022 primary election!) we chat with Derek Marshall - a local, openly gay local politician currently campaigning for Congress in California’s 23rd District. Check out the video below to learn more about Derek and his journey as he and Graham share their personal and professional journeys as member of the LGBTQ+ community, gay rights and how we can better to our part to support equality.
For more on Derek, visit www.DerekMarshallCA.com and be sure to keep an eye on our blogs page or follow us on Instagram @NTY.co as we highlight more inspiring individuals like Derek for the remainder of June!
Looking for a specific section before diving in? We got you…
0:00 Series Intro
0:16 Episode Intro
0:56 Meet Derek
2:01 Interest in Politics
4:25 Healthcare & What Needs to Change
5:50 Gay Rights & Current Affairs
8:05 Marriage equality
9:10 Handling View/Value Differences
17:29 Being Gay
19:25 Being a Gay Man in Politics
22:01 Advice to your younger self
25:03 The Campaign Trail & How to Support
Full Interview Transcript:
Graham: Everyone. I'm Graham co-founder of NTY and professional Mountain Gay. Today. I'm here with my friend, Derek Marshall. Derrick's running for Congress in our district in California. Believe it or not. I live in Lake Arrowhead, which is a red congressional district, and he's doing everything he can to try to flip this county.
The thing that's gotten me so excited is that the election cycle is, it sounds like there's a really, really good chance that we can flip this county blue. So, we want to do everything we can to help out Derek and make this happen. So, Derek, thanks for being here and thanks for taking the time to talk to us today, it's great to have you here.
Derek: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me here today. To be here in the beautiful mountainous part of our district.
Graham: Okay.So first of all, tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Like what, what brought you here today?
Derek: So, my background, I originally was born on the East Coast. I then went to school in DC and did my bachelor's and master's degree there in international relations. I then lived in Europe for a little bit. I started a big international research initiative, in my early twenties, that then pivoted into me working for kayak.com in my mid-twenties before coming back home here to the states and I've been splitting my time here with the high desert, with Joshua Tree since 2009. Basically ever since I got back to the states, I've been a political organizer. I'd been working on lots of different campaigns. I've been doing, organizing all over California helping to fight and you know, flip red districts like ours, blue and I’m really excited about the work that we're doing with this particular cycle.
What kicked off your interest in politics?
Graham: I think we're going to be able to flip it! All right. So what got you interested in politics? Was there a particular moment that kicked off your interest and got you involved?
Derek: Pretty much my whole life I've had an interest in politics, all things, politics. You know, from a very young age, my parents actually ran a weekly soup-to-go program in the city and a lot of weekends, me and my brother and my sister would go in with my parents, help to feed the homeless and you know, there's just been an elevated consciousness around politics in my family for a long time. I then went to American University in DC. Obviously a lot of kids there studying politics. I studied international relations which is which is all politics. And so I think pretty much my whole life I've been interested in politics.
Was there a defining moment that made you want to run?
Graham: And was there a defining moment that made you actually want to run? I guess it's one thing to be interested in politics and work on campaigns, but then to actually run your own campaign, that feels like a big switch. What prompted that to happen?
Derek: Absolutely. I mean, you know, I never really seriously, seriously considered running for office. I think if you study politics and you're interested in it, you know, at some point you think, “Oh, maybe I'll do it” but honestly, it wasn't until I moved back to the states and I was organizing and, you know, I was an organizer in Bernie's campaign and it really wasn't until my experience coming back here, struggling, living paycheck-to-paycheck, that I really decided, okay, I need to put my, you know, throw my hat in the race. My cousin, despite the fact when we were living in Germany, he had a tragic accident where he broke his neck and came very close to being paralyzed and in Germany despite the fact that he didn't have insurance, when the accident happened, he went to the hospital, had top surgery, everything, it came to 40 bucks.
A couple of years later, he had another health-scare here in the U.S. and when he went to the doctor, they wouldn't even do an MRI unless he put down a credit card and he has good insurance too. So, yeah, I think that it's, it's my lived-in, real experiences here in this country, having lived paycheck to paycheck, that really, you know, basically brought me to want to run for office and throw my hat in the race.
Healthcare & What Needs to Change
Graham: Healthcare is one of the easiest examples to talk about just because it's so much easier almost anywhere in Europe compared to here. We were having dinner with one of our new sets of neighbors, just down the road a couple of weeks ago and they were saying “I'm afraid to go to the doctor here” and the number of people you meet who havethe same kind of story is just too many to count. It does indicate that something is just so broken here. So, apart from healthcare, what other aspects of your European experience, do you want to bring to U.S. politics?
Derek: Yeah, so I think definitely all things, environmental green, new deal, trains, right? I mean, the whole time that I lived in Europe, I didn't have a car. Didn't need a car. You can get everywhere by train. You can be in the tiniest little village and you can find your way there by train somehow. And, uh, you know, and, and I think that we definitely need that here in our country. I just think about traveling up here up the hill, traveling from the high desert down to LA, we just need better train connections.
Graham: I mean a train in the mountains might be a little bit tough, but if you could make that happen, I'm all for it! Maybe like a cable car to the bottom of the hill.
Derek: Like zip line. We can just do some zip lining.
How Current Affairs Impact a Campaign
Graham: Yeah. Yeah. Perfect. Okay. So, onto something that I think both of us, well, I know both of us personally relates to. I've never felt as a gay man that my rights have been under as much pressure as they are.Whether it's Roe V Wade about to be overturned, leading on to marriage equality being eroded, I've never felt like I've had to stand up for and fight for my rights as a gay man, as much as today. How is all that factoring into your campaign, your policies, and how you're thinking about things?
Derek: That's a great question. I mean, it's really firing me up. I have this ability to be able to channel anger to be able to channel hopelessness, to be able to channel, you know, when shit gets real, being able to channel that into organizing and I've been doing it for such a long time that everything that we're hearing right now with Roe v Wade, just the fact that the Republican party is trying to use our sexuality as a wedge issue again, it's like “what is this? 1990”? I mean, basically what I'm doing is I'm channeling it into working as hard as I possibly can.
Graham: It almost sounds negative, but sometimes anger can be a good thing if you can channel it and make something good out of it.
Derek: Yes. What I like to always say is that the antidote to apathy is just getting involved in organizing. And the good news is, is that you have a congressional candidate that you get to vote for who really, this is my wheelhouse and I love organizing. I love helping people. I love showing people how they can get involved. It's what I do and it's something that just brings me great joy. So, I'm really happy to, if anyone is asking themselves “Hey, what can I do or how can I get involved?” I am very happy to put people to work either on the campaign or to connect them to other organizations. There are so many great organizations like Planned Parenthood that are out there doing the work, and I'm really happy to connect people.
Graham: Awesome. So, let's assume for a second that the, I don't remember the name of the court case, but let's assume in six months the Supreme court decides that marriage equality is no longer a thing nationally. I'm not worried necessarily as a Californian, and I feel like here we'll probably always be okay, but if that happens, what's the next step for the rest of the country?
Derek: Yeah. So, I think again, what's really, really important, and I think that our district is a great example of this, is that there is no area in this country that doesn't have people like you and I. There is no town in this country that doesn't have people like you and I, so I think it's really important to remember that there are no flyover states, it's not the flyover states, there are Progressive's, there are queer LGBTQ+ folks everywhere. So, we just have to remember that what we need to do is get them activated and we need to basically help to make them feel connected to a broader movement, and I think that’s really important work.
Handling Difference of Views and Values
Graham: Yeah. I feel like particularly when there are issues in your local community, it really brings all of that to the forefront. Anyone who has like watched me on Instagram or TikTok over the last couple of months has probably seen me complain about this local bakery that's opened up in the village just down the road. They're a super conservative, religious bakery. On their website they advertise conversion therapy. I mean, it’s just all bad and it all looks crazy. The thing that I kind of struggled to figure out is what to do, how do you connect with someone who is so, so far on a different page or different wavelength? I feel like there's sometimes not much of a logical argument I can have with that kind of person. What do you do to address this kind of stuff?
Derek: That's a really great question. It's a hard question, and I think also, it really depends upon an individual-to-individual answer.
The first thing I will say is that, you know, really look after your own mental health, right? Like, look after your own. There's no reason for us to be setting up or putting ourselves into positions that could potentially traumatize us. So, if you're a seasoned organizer, who's had tens of thousands of conversations with people that think you shouldn't exist, or think that being gay….. that's one thing, right? I can go in and I can have a conversation with pretty much everyone at this point. Again, probably some exceptions and not get triggered, but I'm able to go and have really different, difficult conversations.
What I would say is that first of all, look after yourself, right? But if you do feel like you are in a space where you can go and be present, I think just go and share personal stuff. Try to go into a space and, you know, don't come out swinging the bat like “I'm gay, I'm here. I'm queer. You're wrong”...People will shut down. I think the best thing that you can do is go in and be present as a human. And what happens? There are so many stories of this happening that in the sharing of personal story, in the humanization of each other, and becoming human with one another, there's a powerful thing that happens. What I have seen is that folks that get to know me personally, after a while it starts to fundamentally change their entire worldview.
Graham: Yeah. I think that's really good advice. For me, my first reaction with all this stuff is always to say, “Okay, it's going to be gay pride in Lake Arrowhead in a month! I'm going to be outside that bakery in a Speedo waving my Pride flag!” and I think you're right. That's it’s just going to make that person shut down and you've got to start somewhere and meet that person where they are right now. I guess I feel like sometimes there are just some people where I'm never going to be able to do that and maybe with some people, the right answer is don't even try.
Derek: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there are definitely some people you're not going to be able to reach and that's okay. There's probably some organizers on their side that will look at your eye and be like, “we're not gonna be able to reach that!”
Rainbow-washing and McPride
Graham: I'm fine with that. That's okay. That's okay. So, we've been talking a little bit about gay rights and everything going on right now. Pride month is coming up and I know it's a different month everywhere, but June generally. One of my biggest issues with it is I feel like corporations in Pride month tend to put a rainbow sticker on everything. They change their logo around, and then they call, they call their work done. I feel pretty strongly about it particularly this year, just because of everything that's going on. So for you, what does, what does pride mean to you personally?
Derek: I completely agree with you. And first of all, it's like let's name that, “McPride” is a thing. There's a piece of me, the gay boy inside of me, the teenager that wasn't able to come out until I was in my late twenties, uh, because I was afraid and nervous appreciates the visibility of your pride, so, you know, I'll say that I do think visibility is important but we should never, and this is the organizer in me, we should never mistake visibility for organizing. We should never mistake going to a demonstration or a protest for organizing. We should never mistake being on social media, being on Twitter, putting up a sign, flying a Pride flag for organizing. Organizing means that you have to get out there, you gotta get a list of people, you gotta call them, you gotta ask them to volunteer. You gotta get them to go out and knock on doors and you have to have conversations. That's what organizing means and I think sometimes with McPride, people will go out, they’ll be in a parade, they'll be at a demonstration and they'll think to themselves “Okay, my work is done”. This is how we're in the situation that we're in right now, where Roe V. Wade is on the verge of being overturned because our side has stopped organizing. So, me as an organizer candidate, as an “organizing evangelist” (laughs), I'm always going to be “Okay, we've got to…..” The problem and the issue that I have with a lot of the current, manifestation of pride today is that we've kind of gone away from organizing. The good news is I think that everyone gets that now. I think it's a huge wake-up call and I think it's really important that we understand that this fight is intersectional. It's really important, particularly as gay white men where a lot of times we get criticized for not holding up our end of the bargain with regards to intersectionality, that we have that intersectional lens. It's worth, worth mentioning if marriage equality gets overturned we're going to see a huge amount of organizing. I think we're already seeing a huge amount of organizing.
So again, the “organizing evangelist” comes out and I say there's specific things that, that we're going to have to do, that we're going to have to do if and when that were to happen, that we would just need to immediately. Jump into and dive into. I mean, the good news for us to add a little bit of hope to the conversation is that the Republicans and the right-wing populist are starting to play with fire here, because at some point you've managed to marginalize women, the LGBT community, communities of color, interracial marriage…. At some point, you’re literally going to have 80% of the country that's fighting like hell against you and you know, you're going to lose power for, I don't know, for a hundred years. I don't see how the political right comes back from this once we get organizing.
Graham: So by the way, it doesn't sound like it but I am an eternal optimist and I am very convinced that the world is going to be able to figure this out in some way or another. It's just probably going to take longer than we all want.
Derek: Absolutely. The fight against right-wing populism and fascism has been going on, you know, we may have had different words for it or different forums for it, but it's been going on forever and ever. I was having a conversation with a friend the other night, and I said “Do you realize that a lot of our biggest allies right now, and a lot of really healthy democracies as recently as like 50 years ago were dictatorships? I really don't think that the U.S. is going to go down that path but I'm going to do everything in my power to prevent a right-wing populist takeover, a dictatorship, to happen in the country. If it does happen though, there's going to be plenty of us that are going to stay here and fight.
What’s your favorite part about being gay?
Graham: Okay. So, we've been talking about some hardcore gay rights issues, now onto the more fun stuff! Just generally speaking, what's your favorite part about being gay?
Derek: I think it's the, it's the freedom of expectation. I think that we as gay men and as queer people, there's a lot of normative, heteronormative, society expectations that sort of goes away and we're allowed to, not all expectations, but I think that there's definitely, there's an allowance to play a little bit.
Graham: One hundred percent. I think coming out, and going through that whole experience can be one of the hardest things you do as an individual. Having been on the other side of that for quite some time now, I could never imagine going back - I’m so much happier as a gay man than I think I ever would be as a straight one. It's so much better!
Derek: Yes, yes, yes. Hands down. I mean, it's really awesome and it's funny because I sometimes have nightmares about the straight version of myself, like, you know, back when I had like all these expectations, expectations for myself like, Ineeded to make this much money, I need to achieve this and yeah, once I came out, I really got to have a tabula rasa. It's like, you know, blank canvas. I get to build my own identity, build my own life, from there and that was really, really special. It took a while to get there, but once I got there I was able to build my life and I look at the past 10, 11 years that I've been out and it's really awesome.
Being a Gay Man in Politics
Graham: It's the best. I think it's absolutely the best. What's it like to be out in politics? Because I haven't been in politics, but my last job before I started up NTY was in finance and for years and years and years, I wasn't out at work. I was out to my family, to my friends, but at work, I didn't fully hide it, but I didn't publish it either because there is definitely “alpha white male”, straight kind of energy across the whole place and I was just a little bit scared but at some point I said “Okay, screw it. I've had enough of this. I'm going to be who I'm going to be”. I imagine politics can be kind of the same? So, what's your experience been like as an openly gay man in politics, running for office?
Derek: It hasn't really affected me that much. I feel like the society and the country is starting to turn the corner in terms of, you know, I think of the Overton Window, right? In terms of what is, what's the bell curve, of what is acceptable. I feel like the bell curve for being gay, at least for “G” you know, we can talk about the other letters in LGBTQ where we need to fight and where the fight in the battle is not done and if gay marriage and different rights come under attack, I think that there's going to be a revisit of this statement that I'm gonna make. But I would say that the majority of Americans are fine with gay marriage. The majority of Americans are okay at least with the “LGB” part of the alphabet and so for me, I have benefited from that again. It's really, really important to say that we're not out of the water yet. There's still the rest of the “TIA” part of the family that we need to continue to fight for and I feel that intersectional battle. I'm also a progressive organizer, so I'm fighting for working-class and that intersects with trans women of color and everything. For me, it's like the fight has never, you know, never stopped.
Graham: It's kind of like the fight for basic human rights, in whatever form those take.
Derek: Yes, and I think it's just important again, to name that we as white gay men, we really have to continue to stand up for the rest of the family and I think honestly with everything that's happening with Roe and with the younger generation kind of coming up, I think that we're going to be just fine.
What advice would you give your younger gay self?
Graham: Okay. Back to being gay for one more second. If you had one piece of advice to give to your younger gay self, what would that be?
Derek: Don't be afraid come out.
Graham: Yeah. I think mine would be the same. By the way, I've thought about that question a lot and it’s easy to say now, but it's difficult to receive as a younger person, you know?
Derek: Totally, and I went through the whole thing, like “Oh, am I bi” you know? I went through the whole classic coming out thing where, at least for, I would say our generation, you know, I'm almost 40 right now, I think that with each generation of gay men, there's been different experiences and different trajectories. I feel like for us that are, you know, that are, that are kind of Xennials, end of the X’ers, beginning of the millennials…. I mean, you know, Matthew Shepard and I are the same age, so when I was a sophomore or junior in high school, that was when he was left to die in Wyoming. so it's these things and these national stories that played, I think, with both of our psyche but certainly for this generation where things feel safer, it's just “come out”.
Graham: Yeah. I mean, part of me is jealous in some ways of the current, younger generation and I feel like that's probably been the case for every generation of gay person - that the following generation has it a little bit easier than they did before. I mean, on the one hand you can be jealous ,on the other hand I think we just have to be happy and excited about that because it just means the world is getting better for all of us.
Derek: Exactly. I have a nephew right now and it's so funny because when I say I'm fighting for things like canceling student loan debt or Medicare for all, there are so many people that will stand up and be like “Well, I paid my student loans..” and by the way, I paid my student loans too! I still want my nephew to go to college for free. To me, it's a disingenuous argument. I want the next generation to have it better than we did.
Graham: Same. There are so many ways that the current generation has it worse than either we did or the generation before us did, because I think it's a typical thing to hear someone say “I paid off my student loans”, but they’re also probably a single person working in the household, supporting a family, buying a house with two kids and two cars and all that just doesn't happen anymore.
Derek: Exactly. I had a friend that actually gave this analogy and he was talking about healthcare and comparing it and saying “Well, you know, there was a time when you could die from having strep.” Should we not be trying to come up with antibiotics that ends that? Are we going to complain like “Oh well, in my day we would die from strep throat.” It's like, no. We can do better.
How can we support you and your mission?
Graham: And we should, we should celebrate that. Really quick back on the campaign. What can we do either as a company or as individuals to help get involved and help you do your work and flip this county blue?
Derek: So as a company, I can not take any donations, right? We don't take any corporate donations. We can take individual donations. So, if folks want to get involved there's the three T's, right? It's time, treasure and talent. If folks are interested, they can go to our website which is DerekMarshallCA.com and they can sign up there to make a donation to volunteer.
Graham: Awesome. Look, everyone. Please do it, anything to support Derek. I mean, my one call out would be if you don't live in LA county, if you live in San Bernardino county, particularly if you're one of our friends who splits time between one and the other- if you have the option to register in San Bernardino, I feel like this county needs the vote a lot more than LA county does I certainly changed my voter registration and finally goy my sample ballot today! Actually, It's got your name on it. It's gotta be the coolest thing in the world to see your name on the ballot compared to doing organizing for somebody else.
Derek: Well, I don't know if I would say it's the coolest thing in the world. It's certainly interesting!
Graham: Anything else you want to leave us and our viewers with before we sign?
Derek: Just get out there and organize. That's really the thing. I know I sound like a broken record but I'm an organizer candidate, so that's what I'm gonna say, but just get out there. It's really important, particularly right now when things are dire, but I know that we can out-organize the other side.
Graham: Well, let's do it! Thanks, Derek so much - we're going to make this happen. I've got so much hope and confidence that come November you are going to be our Congressman-elect and I'm super excited about that, like I cannot wait. Thanks, Derek. Thanks, everyone. Take care!