Supporting the Needs of the Full-Time Worker

July 18, 2019

Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel’s career has traveled at warp speed since receiving his liberal arts degree from Grand View in 2008. Only in his mid-30s, this tireless, passionate advocate for social justice is on the cusp of national influence.

Hoffman-Zinnel’s educational aspirations always included advanced study. But first he needed to complete his undergraduate work. Armed with an AA degree from Iowa Central Community College, he moved to Des Moines for a full-time job and looked for a school that would accommodate his busy schedule. “I found Grand View at the perfect time in my life,” he says. “Its evening and weekend classes provided a quality education while helping me complete my degree as quickly as possible.”

His tendencies toward advocacy stem from two circumstances of his youth. Born with asthma, Hoffman-Zinnel struggled with chronic illness and had two-thirds of one lung removed when he was 14 years old. That sparked an interest in wellness and a possible career in medicine. But there was something else. Hoffman-Zinnel was a gay teenager growing up in rural northwest Iowa. Not ready to disclose his sexual orientation, he focused instead on excellence in school, 4-H and music. “I think I was overcompensating for those internal feelings that I really did not want to engage with,” he says.

When he finally came out shortly after arriving in Des Moines, everything started clicking. He forewent medical school in favor of working at several nonprofits that serve underrepresented groups. He completed a master’s degree in health services and a doctorate in educational leadership. In 2017 he was named executive director of One Iowa, an LGBTQ rights organization founded on the principle of marriage equality. When same-sex marriage was legalized in 2009, the organization shifted its focus to other LGBTQ issues such as healthcare and workplace inclusivity. Sadly, such activism is needed despite policies in place to prevent harassment and discrimination, Hoffman-Zinnel says. “It takes culture to catch up to policy sometimes.”

He believes that culture change can be accelerated if more LGBTQ individuals had a seat at the table. That thought bubble came to Hoffman-Zinnel when he was selected for the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute in 2017. “I looked around and saw people, a little older than me and straight. These people make decisions every day that impact all of us,” he says. “We need LGBTQ people serving on boards and commissions and running for office. They provide a visual representation of contributing members of our community.”

To turn vision into reality, Hoffman-Zinnel established the One Iowa LGBTQ Leadership Institute. The four-month program focuses on LGBTQ history and leadership based on the principles of authenticity and resiliency. Four members of the 2018 inaugural class are now serving on boards.

The broader community has taken notice of Hoffman-Zinnel’s efforts. He was named the 2018 Influencer of the Year at the Young Professionals Connection and received the Des Moines Register Young Professional of the Year Award. He was a member of the Business Record’s Forty Under 40 class of 2017.

Hoffman-Zinnel describes himself as a “thoughtful agitator,” a resilient leader who is fueled by adversity rather than defeated by it. “I am proud to use my voice and space of privilege and power to advocate for the LGBTQ community,” he says.