by Isaac Norris | photos courtesy Terry Vo
Terry Vo’s Nashville story begins in an unexpected way – working for the Japanese government, the first foreign government to hold a consulate in Tennessee.
Terry spent a lot of time in college studying abroad in Europe and Asia, and in her junior year, she was able to study abroad in Japan. After graduating from the University of Arkansas, Terry was lucky enough to go back and work in Japan for the Japanese government.
One of her most memorable accomplishments while in Japan was climbing Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan standing at 12,389 ft. One evening, she and five friends decided to do just that. Their climb started about 10 p.m. with the plan to reach the summit for sunrise. They had their walking sticks, snacks and were dressed properly.
After a brief beginning squad of six, they slowly began to separate. Of the six, only three made it to the summit. During one of her many stops, she miraculously found one friend, Eunice. During parts of the ascent, she had to climb on all fours and be careful not to fall asleep while walking. After several hours, they made it to the summit. Once they were at the top, it was cloudy. She was hungry, wet, and her glasses were fogged up. She had written postcards ahead of time so that she could have them posted from the top of Mount Fuji for the win.
They began their descent and her friend told her to go on ahead. She made it to the bottom first and realized that her phone was dead. She didn’t have a charger on her but when she put her hands in her pocket, she found 1200 yen worth of coins. She said, “I never have coins in my jacket! I went into the souvenir shop and the portable charger was exactly 1200 yen!” Once her phone was charged, she began receiving a number of texts and voicemails. One of her friends had called the Tokyo police and filed a missing persons report because he couldn’t find any of them.
She waited for her friend Eunice and when she made it down, the sun was setting. By then, they had missed the last bus to the train. They had no other option but to hitchhike for a chance to catch the train back to the city. A kind woman gave them a ride to the station. They ran down the stairs and made the last train back. “I’ll never forget the train masters asking us if we were getting on because they were about to close the doors. It’s one of my most memorable accomplishments because it was one of the most di cult things I have ever done in my life. This experience allowed me to learn so much about myself and remind me now that when I face struggles that if I can climb Mount Fuji and survive, I can overcome my current obstacle,” said Terry.
“When things didn’t go according to plan, I couldn’t run away from my problems but had to face them head-on. I’m not an athletic person and I was able to mentally focus and reach the summit. We often have prejudices, perceptions, and preconceived notions that prevent us from living life fully for ourselves or from seeing others for their whole selves. I constantly challenge myself to do things outside of my comfort zone so I can continue learning and growing. As the saying goes, a wise man climbs Mount Fuji once. A fool climbs it twice.”
Experiences Providing Perspective
After a few years, it was time to move back to the U.S., specifically Nashville. While working in the cultural affairs division for the Japanese Consulate in Nashville, an opportunity presented itself to further Terry’s understanding of communal and civic involvement. This time, it was in Australia, where she was able to earn a master’s in Governance and Public Policy.
In 2015, Terry moved back to Nashville as a consultant for a few major companies within the city, one of them being Comcast. That relationship eventually became permanent, as Terry is now a member of the External Affairs team at the company.
With so much travel under her belt, Terry gained perspectives from various people across the world. A friend’s coming out served as a shift in her thinking on what it means to be an ally.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow. It’s really important to be a voice for your friends, or to let them know they can be themselves with you.’ We’re living in a time when people are able to be open, but there’s still challenges LGBT+ people face.
“If my friend had never come out to me, I would never have understood that part of his story, much less known about it,” said Terry.
That small, quiet moment, as most of them are, was so much bigger than Terry thought at first. It opened Terry’s mind to consider how companies and places of work affect the daily lives of the people they employ. It empowered her to seek out ways to create spaces within companies where people can feel accepted.
A Champion for Inclusion
This desire to create welcoming spaces led Terry to serve as the chair of the development committee in the Nashville LGBT Chamber. Though her term ended at the beginning of the year, she still creates inclusion at each juncture.
“I loved my time with the LGBT Chamber, mainly for two reasons: it allowed me to leverage my resources at Comcast locally, giving a face to the company here in town for specific events, as well as bringing in new faces, perspectives, and grant money in the form of scholarships to business owners and entrepreneurs.
“I have been able to share so much more, not only about LGBT+ issues, but also about allyship—I get to show people that within companies in Nashville there are ways to either join communities where people are welcomed, or I get to help create them,” said Terry.
For a Better Future
As for the future, Terry plans to continue to be a champion of LGBT+ owned and operated businesses in Nashville. She also has her eyes on LGBT+ youth and mentorship. Empowering youth, LGBT+ or not, is what Terry says is most important right now.
“Letting youth know that they are important is key for me. I serve on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and there is a huge push to partner with the LGBT+ community wherein we’ve worked with youth to help them find resources and mentorship from people actively living their lives as examples every day.
“When you have people who are open-minded, you can change. Just because, as a company or organization, you’ve been known to act in a certain way or be limited in certain ways, doesn’t mean you have to be that always, and that’s exciting for me to pursue,” explained Terry.
Regarding empowerment of youth, Terry sees herself being part of organizations that are paving a way for internships, safe spaces, and sharing her own experiences so that they can have the confidence to know that they too, can accomplish things beyond their wildest dreams.
Her work with the LGBT Chamber of Commerce Foundation has given her the opportunity to continue working with youth by assisting with internships for those who are seeking ways to understand advocacy regarding LGBT issues as well as working with nonprofits such as LaunchPad and the Oasis Center. She is also able to work with universities, such as Middle Tennessee State University, to connect youth with LGBTQIA professionals so they can ask questions that matter to them such as LGBT rights, identity questions, and career professions.
She is part of API (Asian & Pacific Islander) Middle Tennessee where their mission is to work towards racial justice by building API community, lifting API voices, and unpacking API identities. Terry said, “I want to have a safe space for API youth to come and know that they can be their whole selves, connect with mentors, and ask questions that matter to them and their future. I want our youth to be equipped with the tools they need to navigate the real world. There wasn’t a place like that when I was younger and I want better for our future, our youth.
“Don’t we, at the end of the day, want the youth to live better lives than those who came before? It’s about empowerment and seeing an adult live their life and run a business and be an active member of culture and society. It’s important for kids to see that.”