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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

Al Ramsay Is Taking Things One Step At A Time

While IN columnist Al Ramsay was helping others, he was working through years of internal conflict…
Walking the walk always starts with the first step. Al Ramsay, TD’s National Manager, LGBTQ2+ Business Development came out at work first, then at home. Now he and his team of regional managers and senior financial advisors across Canada are responsible for the growth of TD’s LGBTQ2+ customers, and in his 13 years with the bank he has helped it become a leader in the community. He was recently awarded the 2018 TRSM Trailblazer Achievement Alumi Award from the Ted Rogers School of Management for his work – the first black person to win this award.
Ramsay’s journey to this moment took a lot of self-reflection and he can pinpoint two life changing moments. The first was leaving Jamaica and the second was meeting his fairy godfather, Jim Bratton, the former executive director of Casey House.
Coming out wasn’t easy. Before he joined TD, he was working as an intern at another financial institution where he was bullied for being gay. “One of my senior colleagues next door to me overheard a conversation and figured out I was gay and I was still closeted at home and trying to find my way. It was very difficult. I was literally terrified in that environment because it wasn’t inclusive.”
He was the regional manager of community relations in that position and used it to carve out an LGBT program under the guise of supporting HIV/AIDS and that introduced him to the community where he found some people he trusted.
“Jim Bratton was the executive director of Casey House at the time and he introduced me to Scott Mullin, who was then the VP of community relations and corporate citizenship,” he says. “He took me under his wings and brought me into TD Bank.”
Ramsay left Jamaica when he was 18 years old and still closeted to join his parents in Canada. He hadn’t seen her in five years because she had left him with family so she could work in Canada to create a better life for her children when they joined her.
“I left Jamaica and it was a huge point for me coming to Canada. Meeting Jim and being able to confide in him was huge because I was still closeted at home.”
It was on a patio on Church Street where Ramsay met Mullin and broke down. “Scott said, ‘Let’s talk more. You have great skill sets and I’d hate for you not to be yourself in a work environment’ and he hired me.”
When Ramsay began at TD, the CEO wanted to refresh the bank’s diversity initiatives including LGBTQ2+ people, which led to the launch of the first LGBTQ2+ Employee Resource Group (ERG) in Toronto in 2005.
While this was going on, he was coming out to his family. The West Indies does not have a good reputation for the treatment of its LGBT citizens. While Trinidad and Tobago recently decriminalized consensual same-sex relationships, those relationships are still illegal in nine Caribbean countries, including Jamaica.
He knew that coming out to his parents wasn’t going to be an issue, it was his own personal journey to acceptance. “My home was a very inclusive environment,” says Ramsay. “We never talked about it and I could understand where my safe zones were.”
Growing up in Jamaica, Ramsay says, he was literally bred to one day join the church. “My grandmother was a pastor, I was an altar boy. I did everything a good Anglican kid was supposed to do, so you could imagine the conflict internally. I was ashamed of myself, I couldn’t acknowledge I was gay, I couldn’t say it out loud.”
It turns out that his sister knew and the rest of the family suspected. “They would say, ‘Al is a politician. He has every stripe and every colour as his friend.’” It took him a long time to work through his internal conflict and come out but when he did, his parents and sister accepted him immediately. He does have a strained relationship with his brother but it’s more ‘acceptance but don’t talk to me about it.’ “I know I have his love and support as long as I don’t talk about it, which is kind of weird. So I’m in the process of breaking it down and having an honest dialogue with him.”
In his role at TD, he ensure that the LGBTQ2+ community has access to the full spectrum of financial services. “At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel like that they belong and treated with respect. Unfortunately we do need these silos to address certain things but eventually we want to be integrated.” Part of the strategy for Ramsey’s team is to create that welcoming environment for everyone. On the business is to provide the best advice and customer experience for everyone. “That should be table stakes,” he says. Other goals is to look for things that make sense for the LGBTQ2+ community. That includes ensuring marketing materials, policies, and all products and services are inclusive to the community.
It’s a 365-day job, a phase we coin at TD #ForeverProud not just the week before and after Pride and that comes with a lot of responsibility, not just as a gay man but as a person of colour in a predominantly white industry. “We have to be role models. It’s a lot of pressure but I gladly accept that because excellence is non-negotiable for us. We have to work in the system as much as we can and have to help create culture that we want to see.”
* You can read Al Ramsay’s Money$tyle column here.

Renee Sylvestre-Williams is an enthusiastic consumer and writer of words. When she’s not covering finance and small business, she’s having conversations about comics and politics, mostly on Twitter. Her work has been published in the Globe and Mail, Canadian Living and TVO.

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