Let’s Talk: Tom Leonardis and Phillip Picardi

 In: Articles

In honor of SAGE’s 40th anniversary, we paired LGBTQ+ trailblazers and influencers of varied generations to reflect on our collective past and discuss our future. These interviews reflect life experiences that span several decades and geographical divides. All illustrate burning passions for a better tomorrow. 

TOM LEONARDIS is the President of Whoop, Inc. and Executive Producer at One Hoe Productions. Tom also served as chair of the 2017 SAGE Table/NYC Steering Committee.

PHILLIP PICARDI is the Digital Editorial Director of teenVOGUE and Allure.

What are the challenges the LGBTQ+ community faces as we age?

Tom: For me SAGE is like a big mama, with these gigantic arms extended to hold us all. We’re all on the conveyor belt of age and I think when we’re young, we don’t get that. As I age up in the gay community, I always feel like I’m in the world where ageism is rampant. In the entertainment world there is ageism, and in the LGBTQ+ community there is ageism, and I think when you have a SAGE, it bridges the gap to have us all unite. That’s why I’m such a fan of SAGE because these are the conversations that need to be had. Sometimes I think that I’m looking at someone younger and having negative thoughts, and I think “Come on Tom, why is that? Are you jealous? Is it because you’re losing that?” That’s why these conversations need to happen.

Phillip: That’s a great point. There’s a lot of talk about taking care of LGBTQ+ homeless youth as central to the mission for the media brands that I work with, but then I think about what happens when people are displaced from their families or loved ones and they have nowhere to turn and nowhere to go… And then the older folks—our elders—who’s taking care of them? Who is offering them help, resources, connections, and interaction? As a community, we are only as good as our most vulnerable, and I think we often leave our elders out of that conversation. Age is an important intersection when we talk about diversity and representation. It’s so important to keep SAGE in mind because those interests are the most important. And the stories and the lessons we can learn from our elders are among our most valuable. So taking care of them is just as vital as securing the next generation. Our missions have to be two-fold in that respect.

Tom: You’re lucky because you get to see a generation in front of you, right? Most of the people in front of me have died because of AIDS. When I look at the generation that has gone, there are not a lot of people left to look up to. I think there is a sadness to the people my age. I look at you guys, and I think that you’re lucky because you can see how the people in front of you are aging, whereas we didn’t get that. We lost a whole generation—gone!

Phillip: Right! Therefore, you guys had to pave your own road and be your own example. You were able to lay a template for a generation of kids who needed you to do that. Because if it wasn’t for you, there would be hundreds of thousands of kids who would have to do that work themselves. Every queer generation that comes out, we’re paving a road to make it easier for them to exist. I think we can all take some satisfaction in knowing the world we live in may not be perfect, but it’s getting a little better as the years go on. There is going to be immense power in being queer for kids moving forward.

Read more from SAGE’s 40th: Jennifer C. Gregg, Ruth Berman, and Connie Kurtz and A Latin American Perspective, ESMULES Executive Director Andrea Ayala