Amazon’s global head of LGBTQIA+ affairs speaks to PinkNews about identity, authenticity and pioneering LGBTQ+ policies in New York.
“I am a queer person, and I’m a trans person,” says Ashe McGovern, head of global LGBTQIA+ strategy and programs at Amazon.
Growing up in a rural part of the United States, McGovern (he/they) said that he was the “only person I knew who identified as either of those things.”
He tells Pinknews: “I didn’t have a lot of possibility models, there were no humans that I could relate to who were just like me when I was growing up.”
It was that isolation that inspired McGovern to dedicate their career to building and maintaining communities and spaces where anyone can feel safe to be themselves “in any space, in any country, in any context.”
“I know how vital it is to shift policies and systems and cultural attitudes so that people can experience freedom and joy in their lives.”
McGovern says that achieving this is their goal and what drives them to undertake the work.
“I know how important those things are for all of us to feel as humans.”
‘We’re creating a new path and breaking ground’
With a background in law and public policy, McGovern has been advocating for LGBTQ+ justice in both the private and public sectors long before joining Amazon. He’s worked in academia, at think tanks, as a policy analyst for the Center for American Progress, and for the city of New York, where McGovern served as the first senior LGBTQ+ policy advisor for the mayor’s office.
He explains the role: “I launched the city’s first LGBTQ office, so I oversaw LGBTQ policies and programmes across the city of New York.
“It was beautiful, amazing, and incredible.”
Now at the retail giant Amazon, McGovern is the head of global LGBTQIA+ affairs – a role that involves shaping the company-wide strategy that supports employees, customers and communities across the world.
Since joining Amazon in May 2022, McGovern has a few initiatives that he’s particularly proud of – including the multiple global pride activations that took place “in every single region of the world.”
“We’re actively supporting our employees. We’re supporting our communities through different organisations, and we have a lot of charitable partnerships.”
He also praises a business accelerator programme involving LGBTQ+ business owners.
“We’re also actively trying to recruit and get LGBTQ business owners and creators who are trying to sell on our platform, and get them the resources they need to really grow their business.”
McGovern acknowledges some of the challenges that come with the role, namely the size of Amazon’s workforce and the fact that it is a global company that encounters different laws, policies and practices depending on the country.
He also says that given only a handful of corporations are staffed with a global LGBTQ+ office, this is a “challenge/opportunity moment where we’re creating a new path and breaking ground.”
Ash McGovern spent time as a senior LGBTQ+ policy maker for the City of New York. (Ed Reed, NYC Mayoral Photo Office)
‘We want people to show up to work as exactly who they are’
McGovern also highlights how the world is in a “political, contextual social moment” and people are “feeling justifiably isolated and scared.”
“I think it’s impossible to think about how to support LGBTQ employees, customers or human beings right now without understanding the context of what’s been going on in the world, particularly in the last couple years.”
McGovern says that the work that he and the team at Amazon do is human-centred, that approach helps to understand what people are feeling and how they can be supported.
“As a queer and trans person, I know I need to feel seen and heard and understood and valued.” he admits.
McGovern continues: “Part of doing this work is making people feel less alone, and making them feel like their company cares about them.”
“In this case, they do and we do.”
McGovern believes that there is no other company in the world that has more potential to support LGBTQ+ employees and communities than Amazon. He notes that the firm is only one of few that has a global LGBTQ+ office – an incredibly rare yet unique opportunity to have a loud voice in advocating for inclusion.
“I think it says a lot about what Amazon cares about, and how we see our employees for exactly who they are,” he concludes.
“We want people to show up to work as exactly who they are, because then they can do whatever it is that brings them joy and creativity – and that ultimately supports all of us.”