As part of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, Maryse Pearce has been a lifelong advocate for marginalized groups. Today, she works as the Program Manager at Stonewall Community Foundation and is passionate about the work they do to serve the LGBTQ+ community — keeping her inspired and connected.
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Tell us about your role within Stonewall Community Foundation.
I think of the work that I do in some ways as being a matchmaker for LGBTQ+ organizations in New York City and across the country. I manage our grants, our scholarships, our leadership development and capacity building programs. Anything that our grantee partners need or that might help them do their work better, I try to get for them or connect them to. So, a lot of what I do is learning and understanding what queer organizations need, then trying to connect them with those resources, whether that's funding or donations or volunteers.That's why I often think of myself as a matchmaker. I see my job as constantly working to remove the barriers that keep people from getting what they need.
How long have you been doing this type of work?
Since I was in college. I was the co-president of my college’s Pride Alliance. We put on parties and educational events, talks and forums. After college, I continued doing that work professionally. I've worked for a few LGBTQ+ organizations in Boston, a national organization, and working at Stonewall was a really exciting opportunity to do the work in a different capacity—to do it by resourcing and funding organizations that are on the front line of the LGBTQ+ movement.
When you were young, did you know you wanted to give back to your community?
I was never young. I was born 47 years old, as anyone in my family will tell you. I've always been middle-aged! No, I think what I mean by that is that I've always been someone who in some ways was serious and really wanted to do well. As I got older that translated to wanting to do good in the world. I wanted to be a writer at one point. I wanted to be in Congress. I think I learned what Congress was when I was about 12 and I was like, 'That sounds like a job for me.' So I’ve always been someone who's wanted to make change on a large scale and to make change for people in communities that are marginalized.
“I’ve Always Wanted To Make Change On A Large Scale For People In Communities That Are Marginalized.”
Who instilled those ideals or values in you?
My mother was a public school teacher. My dad was an accountant for the MTA in New York City. But beyond their jobs as civil servants, they are people who are constantly giving back. My grandmother was the kind of person who you would always go to if you needed someone. I definitely got those values from them. But when I was growing up there weren't really role models. There weren't people that I could point to and say, 'That is who I am, or that is who I want to be.' I was lucky in that I had a few gay teachers who were mentors and guides to me. Now, it's so much easier. There's just so many more people who are out. It's amazing to see in a relatively short amount of time.
Why does seeing Black, queer women out in the world matter?
Representation is so important and matters so much—to see Black women, other people of color, other women of color in lots of different roles, in lots of different fields and expanding your imagination of what someone looks like and what they can do. Recognition is about visibility. It's about acknowledging the many ways there are to be Black, to be queer and recognizing the ways in which we show up in and for our communities. As a queer Black person, all I can do is to live as authentically as I can. To not be beholden or limited by other people's perceptions of what I should be, who I should be or what I should look like. I challenge those barriers by living my life.
What do you do to live authentically?
I am just living proof that a woman can have hair that is a men's cut or wear a shirt that is for men. We don't have to be locked into binaries. Because my personal style is a manifestation of who I am on the inside, it is constantly creating representation, challenging preconceptions, boundaries and binaries. My dream would be for clothing to be labeled by how it fits, not the body that it's going on. Sometimes men want a more fitted shirt, or sometimes women want a shirt that isn't super clingy. Everyone can wear dresses. Anyone can wear skirts. So much of style and culture—whether that's music, language, fashion—comes from queer people, particularly queer people of color. It would be great for us to see ourselves represented more and not feel like we still have to struggle or cobble together things.
“I Am Just Living Proof That We Don't Have To Be Locked Into Binaries.”
What do you want your style to say about you?
That I'm approachable, that I'm someone who doesn't take myself too seriously, or most things, too seriously. That I'm someone who's down to earth and just real.My fiancé's name is Zohar. My favorite thing about Zohar is her sense of humor. Also, just the way her brain works; she is just so silly and so creative. She's the kind of person who will turn anything into a song. I often say that being with her is like being on my own personal kids TV show, because she'll be like, 'And now it's the doing the dishes song!” Her style is playful. She also appreciates bright colors and crisp button-downs, and there are definitely things that have migrated from her wardrobe to mine and vice versa, so I think we're constantly influencing each other's style.
Beyond style, what can we do to dismantle the binary?
I think we should trust that people know themselves. We've all had experiences in some ways of being told either you can't do something because of your gender or you have to do something because of your gender. I think almost everyone has come up against those boundaries. Trusting people, especially trans and non-binary and gender-nonconforming people that they know who they are, to know what they need and then giving them access to the things that everyone needs and deserves like safety, dignity, respect, healthcare. People generally know what they need and the real challenge is having access to it, whether that's having access to better schools or having access to media representation that reflects their authentic experience or having access to healthcare.
Is there any advice on staying true to yourself that you’d like to share?
I would just remind other queer and trans people that we are magical. So much of what we do is stepping into the unknown and taking risks—to not lose sight of that and not lose sight of our magic. If there is not already a path or a road, you can make one by walking. You are not always going to see yourself reflected. You are not always going to know that something is possible. And that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try.
Recognize is about celebrating inspiring community members, contributors and influencers making a difference with their distinct perspectives, style and commitment to finding purpose in their passions. Through Recognize, we will amplify Black stories, employ diverse talent, and invest in opportunities — throughout the year and beyond. This is not a campaign. This is a celebration of Black excellence.