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Back to School for SpeakOUT

It’s definitely that time of year again!

The onslaught of back-to-school commercials are the best indicator that students will be filling the classrooms again very soon. And that means SpeakOUT will be heading into those classrooms as well as we raise awareness about LGBTQ+ lives in the new school year.

According to a 2017 National School Climate Survey administered by GLSEN, 60% of LGBTQ+ youth felt unsafe at school due to sexual orientation and 45% felt unsafe at school due to gender identification. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes clear that for youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported.

A positive school climate is associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGBTQ+ students (trans students were not included).
 Within schools that have an LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum, students were less likely to hear “gay” used in a negative way often or frequently (62% compared to 78% of other students); and less likely to hear negative remarks about gender expression often or frequently (57% vs. 67%).

SpeakOUT has been sharing our #ProudStories for decades with informal storytelling to help create LGBTQ+-supportive spaces in middle and high schools in our region. We know that our proven style of community engagement works to change the way our audiences see LGBTQ+ people. Sharing our diverse stories in schools opens up dialogue that enhances understanding and positively affects the climate of the schools we visit.

Please consider making a gift today to support our work in the schools as well as in the wider community. SpeakOUT educates about LGBTQ+ lives within public libraries, colleges, faith communities, businesses and much more.

All donors who can give $125 or more will receive the new rainbow Red Sox cap as our thank you!

Warmly,
Ellyn Ruthstrom
Executive Director

P.S. Consider making a monthly donation and spread your gift throughout the year. We appreciate the ongoing support!





SpeakOUT Board of Directors for 2019-2020

SpeakOUT’s Board of Directors is currently looking for new members to join as we plan for the coming year. Are you interested in helping to plan the direction of one of the oldest LGBTQ+ organizations in Boston? The board meets once a month and has opportunities for board members to support the organization’s fundraising, events planning, organizational development, and more. If you are interested, please email Executive Director Ellyn Ruthstrom at ellyn@speakoutboston.org to find out how you can get involved.

Michael Bookman’s attendance at SpeakOUT’s Speaker Training in 2012 inspired him to learn more about the organization and he has been volunteering and speaking for SpeakOUT ever since. He joined the Board of Directors in 2014 and assumed the Board Chair position in 2018. Michael has served on the Volunteer Recognition Committee and as a disaster services instructor for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts, and as the co-chair of Boston Pride’s Human Rights and Education Committee. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree of science in psychology, and a master’s degree of science in management. He is a human resources professional and belongs to the Society of Human Resources Management. For over nine years, Michael has been a proud member and executive club committee member of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organization that helps its members develop their public speaking and leadership skills.

Andrew Chou joined SpeakOUT’s Board of Directors in September 2018. Andrew’s affinity to SpeakOUT stems from his belief that sharing personal experiences and building community are critical to helping LGBTQ individuals better understand their identities and allies better support their LGBTQ peers. Outside of his involvement with SpeakOUT, Andrew enjoys his day job in finance and is a spin class regular, an avid squash player, and an aspiring pastry chef.

Meg Duberek joined the board of SpeakOUT in March 2017. Meg previously volunteered with Horizons for Homeless Children and REACH Beyond Domestic Violence. After the November 2016 election, she was reinvigorated to spend her free time focusing on social change. Meg values the focus of SpeakOUT on breaking down interpersonal barriers and changing hearts and minds, and knows that this vital work must go hand in hand with policy change within our political climate. During the work day, Meg is a member of the Communications team at an education consulting nonprofit. She analyzes reporting, tracks data, and assists with website development. In her spare time, she is usually found outside hiking, kayaking, or in a hammock with her kindle. 

George Grattan headshot

George Grattan’s career track and volunteer history has wound through the woods of academia, non-profits, marketing, writing, acting, public speaking, board service, environmental activism, and general “doing of stuff.” George joined the board of SpeakOUT in the fall of 2014. In his day gig he serves as “Editor in Chief” for Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit in Boston. He has worked in the past for Earthwatch, the Urban Ecology Institute, Boston College, and the College of the Holy Cross. He lives with his wife, Mary, in Waltham, MA and can be found every third Wednesday of the month hosting the Bisexual Resource Center’s “Bi/Pan+ Guyz Social Night.”

Jenn Guneratne joined SpeakOUT’s board in July 2014, having initially signed on as a volunteer in late 2013 to assist with the organization’s social media presence. Since then, she has watched the board grow with a number of highly talented and enthusiastic members. Jenn is excited to be involved with the Board during this time of growth and she is serving in the role of Board Clerk. Professionally, Jenn has worked in both arts organizations and educational institutions, and is currently working for the Undergraduate Affairs department at Boston University College of Communication. Jenn’s background and interests span the gamut of drama, music and musicology, photography, deaf studies, involvement with the LGBTQ community, and commuting around the city on her trusty bike.

Stonewall 50: Honoring the Rebellion

By Ellyn Ruthstrom, Executive Director

Today is the 50th anniversary of the night LGBTQ+ people fought in the streets of New York City against the harassment of police and said enough is enough! 

The Stonewall uprising of 1969 was not the first time the queer community stood up against oppression and violence, but it was a pivotal moment that captured the anger and frustration of a marginalized community. The sparks that ignited a movement after Stonewall spread across the nation and inspired many LGBTQ+ organizations to form and build a political movement that would better the lives of our community and encourage millions to live out and proud lives. 

Those nascent sparks led to the development of SpeakOUT in 1972, when members of the Homophile Society and the Daughters of Bilitis joined together to form the original Gay Speakers Bureau. The founding SpeakOUT activists believed in the power of “telling the truths of our lives.” It was a deeply personal form of activism to engage in dialogue with strangers in the hope of opening minds and changing attitudes. Our members still live by that mission with the commitment to share our stories to create positive change for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Today we have an out legally-married gay man running for the Democratic nomination for president! That idea was not in the minds of those street warriors on June 28, 1969, but it is a direct descendant of those flying bricks and loud chants that filled the air for six days outside the Stonewall Inn. From standing up against police harassment and violence to decriminalizing our identities and sex lives, from HIV/AIDS direct action demanding queer lives be taken seriously to creating legal protections in housing and the workplace, from federal marriage equality to banning conversion therapy. All of these issues and more are part of the legacy of those heroes who stood their ground 50 years ago. 

On Sunday, millions of LGBTQ+ people and allies will be marching through and lining the streets of New York City during World Pride to both commemorate what occured at Stonewall in 1969 and to celebrate our queerness as we proudly live it in 2019. We can celebrate how much change our community has fought for and achieved already, and we must also honor those street warriors by continuing to fight for those in our community who are still marginalized and oppressed. 

Stonewall was an important instigator for our community’s activism. Let this anniversary celebration be another source of rebellion for us!

Queer Books Round-Up

By Anna Saldinger

Books imagine new worlds and possibilities, and those that authors place in the fictional record are written into the collective imagination. This range of books encapsulates queer theory, novels, picture books, and young adult fiction. Each offers a place for LGBTQ+ characters in the collective imagination through love, analysis, adventure, heartache, and hope.

Queer: A Graphic History, by Dr. Meg John Barker and cartoonist Julia Schele: This non-fiction graphic novel takes the reader through various facets of queer theory with history, conceptual analysis, and cultural context. Queer: A Graphic History is a beautifully illustrated and digestible opportunity to engage with the political context of queer life.

Queer: A Graphic History‘s cover art

Mean, by Myriam Gurba: Mean is Gurba’s coming of age memoir about growing up in a small town as a mixed-race queer Chicana. She reveals the comic in the tragic while confronting sexual assault, homophobia, racism, and other forms of oppression.

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang: This graphic novel centers on a prince (or Lady Crystallia) and Frances, a young seamstress who makes Crystallia’s magnificent gowns.

Little Fish, Casey Plett: Thirty-year-old trans woman Wendy Reimer works to uncover whether her late Mennonite grandfather was also trans and reflects on her own life and experience. The book explores the trans experience in the United States through a story of family, history, and secrets.

Speak No Evil, by Uzodimna Iweala: The teenage protagonist, Niru, hides his gay identity and his relationship from his conservative Nigerian parents, afraid that they won’t accept him. This novel explores the reality of being black and queer in the United States today through a complicated and heart-wrenching coming-of-age story.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Speculative Fiction from Transgender Writers, edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett: Need I say more? Queer representation, let alone trans representation, in speculative fiction is sparse, which makes this anthology tremendously refreshing and important.

Kids Books: Books targeted at children and young adults that introduce queer narratives and concepts encourage self-exploration, compassion, and curiosity. Here are a few vibrant stories that celebrate queerness and offer kids a perspective that goes beyond the mainstream.

Julián Is A Mermaid, by Jessica Love: Inspired by women dressed as mermaids that he sees on the subway, Julián wants to look just like them. This wonderful picture book is about expression, inspiration, and acceptance.

Julián in his mermaid attire

Artist, author, educator, and activist Maya Gonzalez: Maya Gonzalez is the author of several radical children’s books, including They, He, She, Me: Free to Be! and The Gender Wheel. She champions creativity as a tool for empowerment and is a notable member of the Chicano Art Movement.

Who Are You: The Kids Guide to Gender Identity, by Brooke Pessin-Whedbee: This book is a great tool for introducing kids to gender divergence. With bright illustrations and simple language, it encourages them to consider who they are, what they like, and the infinite possibilities of gender and expression.

Star Crossed, by Barbara Dee: Star Crossed charts Mattie as she grapples with a crush on Gemma, who is playing the Juliet to her Romeo in a middle school production of Romeo and Juliet. Because she has had crushes on boys, Mattie is confused–can she like both? This is an essential story for readers who are right in the thick of figuring out their identities and what attraction means


Anna Saldinger is a radio journalism student at Bennington College and SpeakOUT winter intern. (She/her pronouns)

Queer Documentaries Round-Up

By Anna Saldinger

Queer-centered documentaries are opportunities to explore what and who came before and where we are today. Keeping our history alive is a vital way to honor trailblazers and to assert and remember that we’re queer and we’ve always been here.

Compton’s served as a touchstone of the queer community in the Tenderloin.

Screaming Queens: Screaming Queens is about the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Tensions erupted between the queer community rooted in the Tenderloin (particularly trans women and drag queens) and the San Francisco Police. This riot went largely unreported and remains a lesser-known historical event (check out this article for some basics). In this documentary, learn about West Coast Stonewall’s predecessor and the brave folks who fought for their right to exist.

Stonewall Uprising: Stonewall Uprising is a PBS documentary about, well, the 1969 Stonewall riots. This is one of the best-known moments in queer history, but it’s always worth revisiting. I recommend watching it alongside Screaming Queens for extra nuance.

Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story (Trailer): Lady Valor introduces you to Kristin Beck, a former Navy Seal who transitions after leaving the service. The documentary examines her 20 years of military service, her decision to transition, and queer patriotism. Though not available for free, it is available to rent on Amazon and iTunes.

#StillBisexual: Though not a single documentary, #StillBisexual is a video media campaign that includes a series of self-told stories by bisexual+ people from around the U.S. and beyond. The stories illustrate the diversity of experience of bi+ people and emphasize the importance of self-identity, finding community and validation. Visit the website and dip into lots of different stories.

Kumu Hina (Trailer): Kumu Hina traces the journey of native Hawaiian teacher Hina Wong- Kalu, who embraces the Hawaiian tradition of mahu- one that embodies both male and female spirit. This is a rich exploration of gender, acceptance, and Hawaiian culture which culminates in Hina Wong- Kalu mentoring a young student who is exploring her mahu identity.


Anna Saldinger is a radio journalism student at Bennington College and SpeakOUT winter intern. (She/her pronouns)

Queer Podcast Round-up

By Anna Saldinger

Podcasts are a powerful medium that have increasing sway over the way that many people understand the world. In this new era, there’s an increasing presence of powerful queer podcasting and representation, and this presence becomes a public window into queer life and experience. Here’s a sampling of shows that explore our history, our place in the political landscape, and our stories.

Nancy hosts Kathy Tu and Tobin Low

Nancy, WNYC: Nancy is a podcast focusing on queer lives, stories, and issues, hosted by Kathy Tu and Tobin Low. Kathy and Tobin are at once bubbly and vulnerable, and they include their own raw stories as well as the ones that they report. Try out this early episode, where Kathy grapples with her queer identity and her relationship with her hair: “Fear of Being Butch.”

UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America: This series documents the history of conversion therapy through in-depth and beautifully told stories- including one episode that covers the removal of homosexuality from the DSM. There’s also a condensed run of the series on WNYC’s Radiolab.

LGBTQ&A With Jeffrey Masters: This interview podcast is thoughtful, in-depth, complex, and wide-spanning. It’s the queer equivalent of WNYC’s Death, Sex, and Money, hosted by Anna Sale, in its thoughtfulness and humanity (which is also worth checking out, here’s an episode with queer actress Lena Waithe). I suggest beginning with Masters’ interview with Tre’vell Anderson, which focuses on the complexity of critiquing and covering queer media.

The incomparable Jonathan Van Ness

Getting Curious: Jonathan Van Ness, of Netflix Queer Eye reboot fame, hosts a podcast where he interviews various people to learn about things that he’s curious about. The content is not always explicitly queer, but Jonathan brings his flamboyant energy as well as his intellect and curiosity to everything he does. To start, try his recent interview with author Jodi Picoult.

The Bi Cast: The Bi Cast is a short interview podcast co-hosted by Lynnette McFadzen, Elizabeth M. Mechem, and Amy Leibowitz Mitchell that focuses on the Bi+ community (and features a very catchy theme song). One episode to check out is a conversation with Charlie Mathers of Gay Star News and her Bi Manifesto.

Brown’n Out: Brown’n Out consists of interviews with LGBTQ+ people of color living and working in Vermont. The interviews cover the guests’ life stories, art, experiences as Vermonters, and insights. Recently, they interviewed Noa Coffey-Moore, a Black Queer Trans Non-binary Femme* writer, community educator, and multimedia artist.


Anna Saldinger is a radio journalism student at Bennington College and SpeakOUT winter intern. (She/her pronouns)





Queer Slam Poetry Round-up

Hello! My name is Anna Saldinger (she/her), and I’m interning with SpeakOUT Boston through mid-February. I’m a senior at Bennington College, and I study radio production, journalism, media theory, and literature. When I’m not making radio, I’m thinking about queer theory and the intersection of the personal and the political. As part of my work for SpeakOUT this winter, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts exploring different facets of queer life that draw both on research and personal experience.

Queer slam poetry has a rich history in the greater Boston area, and continues to be an electric form of storytelling and expression around the country and the world. Here’s a slam sampler that includes queer poets to check out — both local and national — and spoken word organizations and events for youth and adults in the area.

Poets

Porsha Olayiwola

In 2018, Porsha Olayiwola was named Boston’s Poet Laureate, a position akin to a “literary ambassador” that carries a four-year term. She is a self-described “black, poet, queer-dyke, hip-hop feminist, and womanist.” Olayiwola is the Artistic Director of MassLeap, a literary non-profit organization in Massachusetts serving youth artists; a nationally recognized slam poetry champion; and co-founder of The House Slam. Until recently, it was based at The Haley House Bakery and Cafe, but the space is on hiatus, so follow House Slam on Facebook for updated info about future activities. Information about her work and workshops is available at her website, linked above. Check out Unnamed and Angry Black Woman.

Emanuel Xavier

Emanuel Xavier is a poet, author, and gay rights activist and youth advocate. Xavier has survived homelessness, abandonment, addiction, and violence, and he speaks candidly about these experiences in his work. He was invited to speak at the United Nation in 2015, and has published many collections of poetry. Check out Justice Poetry Reading.

Kit Yan is a renowned poet, screenwriter, lyricist, and creator of Queer Heartache, a one-person slam show about the different forms of systematic oppression enacted upon queer people. His work also explores his intersectional identity as a trans Asian American from Hawaii. Yan describes his work as “a dreamspace where queer and transgender folx can time travel in order to witness, remember, and heal our herstories. I hold writing as a spaceship into the borderless ancestral past, the puzzle pieces of an imagined queertureverse, and a lifeline back onto this earth.” Check out SHE and Speaking English (from Queer Heartache).

Oompa is an acclaimed Boston-born poet, rapper, and educator. Click here to view some of her work.  

Andrea Gibson

You may already be familiar with the iconic queer slam poet Andrea Gibson, but now, as always, is a fabulous time to explore their work. Gibson’s poetry is intricate, their most recent book is Lord of the Butterflies, which is newly published in 2018. A Letter to My Dog: Exploring the Human Condition. This reading is overlayed over Gibson performing the poem as well as footage of their dog, Squash. Also, check out Living Proof.

Boston Spoken Word Organizations and Events

MassLEAP:The Massachusetts Literary Education and Performance Collective (MassLEAP) is a Boston-based collective dedicated to holding artistic space for youth through spoken word. They work with schools and organizations, offer internships, and host the Louder Than A Bomb Boston Youth Poetry Festival each April.

Boston Pulse: Boston Pulse is an offshoot of Indy Pulse- an organization that offers slam poetry programs in middle and high schools.

The Cantab Open Mic: The Cantab open mic is a two-hour segment at the beginning of the Boston Poetry Slam weekly show with an open sign-up list. The Boston Poetry Slam encourages an eclectic variety of acts on their website, including a “sixth grade diary entry, stump speech, political diatribe, [or] nonsense verse.” While not a specifically LGBTQ space, Cantab has been a springboard for many queer poets. On March 13, 2019, genderqueer trans womxn torrin.a greathouse will be the featured poet at the weekly show. For more information about torrin.a greathouse and their upcoming performance, click here.

FEMS: The Feminine Empowerment Movement is a grassroots organization dedicated to radical accessibility and holding space for the voices of femme poets. They host slam tournaments as well as monthly open mics at the Lucy Parsons Center in Jamaica Plain. The events are open to all, but the mic is reserved for femme identifying people. This year, FEMS Festival and Tournament will be held October 18th-20th, 2019. To learn more about the tournaments and their work in general, visit their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


#ProudStories: Support SpeakOUT’s Ongoing Work of Sharing LGBTQ Stories

On November 6th, 68% of Massachusetts voters took a decisive stand against discrimination by voting to maintain the transgender accommodations protections that were signed into law in 2016! After a full year of a concerted statewide education campaign, those of us who fought to keep these civil rights protections have every reason to celebrate!

The vote to maintain these civil rights protections is an important victory and all of the organizations and individuals who worked so hard on it can feel very proud of achieving this. Yet, as SpeakOUT well knows, our work does not end here.

According to a 2015 National School Climate Survey administered by GLSEN, 58% of LGBTQ youth felt unsafe at school due to sexual orientation and 43% felt unsafe at school due to gender identification. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes clear that for youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported.

A positive school climate is associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGBQ students (trans students were not included). Within schools that have an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, students were less likely to hear “gay” used in a negative way often or frequently (60% compared to 77% of other students); and less likely to hear negative remarks about gender expression often or frequently (60% vs. 67%).

SpeakOUT has been sharing our #ProudStories for decades with informal storytelling to help create LGBTQ-supportive spaces in middle and high schools in our region. As part of a new initiative, we are expanding our work into elementary level as well, looking for age-appropriate ways to share our stories and educate about difference and inclusivity.

2018 has been busy and productive! Along with conducting our usual speaking engagements throughout Greater Boston, we have also spoken as far north as Lynn and Newburyport, as far south as Weymouth and Stoughton, and as far west as Hadley! Other highlights this year include:

  • SpeakOUT speakers and others presented their personal stories of being LGBTQ veterans at the Boston Public Library in November.

    SpeakOUT’s Executive Director and two speakers presented a workshop at the LGBT Elders in an Ever-Changing World Conference at Salem State University in March, encouraging more senior services to share LGBTQ stories in their programming.

  • SpeakOUT initiated a $500 scholarship for LGBTQ students, awarding our first 2018 SpeakOUT Scholarship to a student at Emerson College. (This year we are expanding to at least two $500 scholarships! Your support helps this continue!)
  • SpeakOUT co-sponsored, along with The History Project, Ask & Tell: The History and Personal Stories of LGBTQ Veterans at the Boston Public Library in honor of Veterans Day.
  • SpeakOUT provided transgender speakers for a variety of educational forums across the area, including businesses, faith communities, public libraries and community organizations to ensure their constituencies had more information about the #YesOn3 campaign.

#ProudStories! We know that our proven style of community engagement works to change the way our audiences see LGBTQ people. Sharing our diverse stories in a variety of settings opens up dialogue that enhances understanding and positively affects the climate of the places where we speak. A recent business client shared these reflections with us:

“This is the second time SpeakOUT has come to Bain for an office-wide speaker series on LGBTQ topics, and each event was very well attended and anticipated. Each speaker’s personal story helped to drive awareness of LGBTQ issues in a real and relatable way, prompting ongoing conversations between Bain’s LGBTQ group and allies. The panel’s willingness to answer questions provided Bain employees with practical ways to show support for the LGBTQ community, both personally and politically. SpeakOUT’s speakers are professional, open and knowledgeable. We would absolutely consider bringing them in again in the future.”

Though we do charge for our engagements, we also conduct pro bono engagements for clients who don’t have the resources to pay for our services. We never want to turn down anyone who is committed to creating safer spaces for LGBTQ people! Consider making a gift during our year-end appeal to help sustain our work and allow us to continue our pro bono work in the community!

A wonderful way to make a deeper financial commitment to SpeakOUT is to become a monthly donor, allowing you to spread out your donation in smaller increments. It’s easy to set up on our Network for Good page and it will automatically be taken care of for you throughout the year!

Thank you for supporting the ongoing work of SpeakOUT. The SpeakOUT community wishes you a happy and healthy 2019!

Warmly,

Ellyn Ruthstrom

Executive Director

 

P.S. SpeakOUT has a 46-year legacy of sharing #ProudStories throughout the region. This year, for donors of $150 or more we will thank you with our new #ProudStories t-shirts!

Staking a Claim for Queer Girls in the Flyover States

An Interview with Emily Danforth, author of The Miseducation of Cameron Post

This past summer, The Miseducation of Cameron Post was released as a feature film and received the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. After seeing the film and enjoying it so much, I was eager to read the young adult novel it was based on. True to form, the book is a much deeper exploration of a queer teen’s coming of age in Montana, and the ending is especially moving as a rite of passage into one’s chosen family. To paraphrase Toni Morrison, we must write the books we want to read, and certainly Emily Danforth has written a book that many queer teens will want to and need to read.

Come to find out that Emily had taken the SpeakOUT training with her wife this past February. Inquiries were made, and after getting back from touring with the film, Emily agreed to answer some questions for the SpeakOUT audience.


Ellyn Ruthstrom: I know you grew up in Montana during the 90s, so you know the area of the country and the timeframe you wrote about very well. What did you want to capture about the location and time period when you were writing the novel?

Emily Danforth: Montana has such a rich literary history, from Ivan Doig to Debra Magpie Earling, Norman MacLean to William Kittredge and James Welch and on and on. I’m proud of that history and the way those authors captured sense of place—many of their novels forever shaped my sense of literary tradition. But they are, no surprise, largely written from the perspectives of straight, white men. Even though I was aware of books like A River Runs Through It from an early age, I had never read a novel that captured something like my own youth as a third generation Montanan growing up queer in a dusty ranching town at the end of the twentieth century, a story where 1980s and 1990s pop culture interacts with street dances and rodeos. I didn’t grow up on a ranch or a farm, even though lots of my classmates had families who owned them. I was a latchkey kid obsessed with renting movies and seeking-out coded queer content in a place that still actively romanticized the “cowboy lifestyle.” Cam Post, in part, stakes a claim for queer girls who grew up in small towns in “flyover states.” It says: Hell, yes, we come from here, too, dammit! We’re your neighbors and your children, your siblings and your friends. I grew up on a steady diet of coming-of-age novels that almost exclusively centered on the formative experiences of straight kids, and so I set out to write one that, at least in its early chapters, looked a lot more like my own experience discovering queerness in a virulently hetero-normative culture.

Ellyn: A lot of people are not aware that conversion therapy camps still exist and queer kids are still sent away to them. What research did you do about the conversion therapy camps? And what reaction do you get from your readers about them?

Emily: That’s certainly one of the reactions I’ve gotten—a bewilderment that conversion therapy exists, in any form, today. Though I also hear from readers who have their own, sometimes terrifying, stories about conversion therapy—or, even more often, the ways in which their religious communities or families have rejected them because of their queerness. Or, happily, sometimes embraced them, too.

I first started writing this book thirteen years ago. It sold in 2010 and was published in 2012. And during that years-long process, I was really looking only at what conversion or “reparative” therapy might have looked like within evangelical communities in the early 1990s, when the novel is set—so that helped narrow the scope of my research. Sadly, there is not a single story of conversion therapy. Sometimes it takes place in a licensed—believe it or not—therapist’s office and is primarily “talk” or cognitive therapy; sometimes it’s as part of a camp or church group, like in my novel; sometimes it’s aversion therapy done in some religious leader’s living room—there are many, many stories of what conversion therapy might look like. All of it is pseudo-scientific, wholly unnecessary, and harmful to the person or people receiving it against their will.

My research took several forms, from speaking with some survivors of conversion therapy to reading memoirs on the subject. Mel White’s Stranger at the Gate was particularly influential. To watching a documentary about the founding of Exodus International, a once-umbrella organization that provided many resources for practitioners of conversion therapy that thankfully disbanded in 2014 and the early days of conversion therapy in America. To also seeking out primary source material like instructional guides for would-be practitioners of conversion therapy. For instance: the “dorm manual” pamphlet that’s reproduced in my novel takes its language and rhetoric and overall form from a very similar document that was being used at a conversion therapy residential center in Kansas for years. I think it’s really important for readers to understand that God’s Promise (the camp where the novel is set), and its practices and policies, are just one story of conversion therapy and what it might look like. There are literally, and shamefully, hundreds and hundreds of others.

I would encourage people looking to read a recent memoir about conversion therapy to seek out Garrard Conley’s beautiful Boy Erased, which has also just been made into a feature film and will be releasing on November 2nd. I also encourage people to check out the podcast UnErased when it also releases on November 2nd. It will tell all about the history of conversion therapy in America.

Ellyn: The relationships that Cameron builds at the camp with other queer kids are so important to her own ability to survive it, especially the very powerful ending in the book. What do you think is important about these characters and relationships for Cameron?

Emily: Like a lot of queer kids of my generation, and certainly before, I had never even met an out LGBTQIA person until I went away to college. Certainly there were people who were rumored or whispered about in my hometown, and of course there were, statistically, other queer people, but I knew not one single person who was out and proud about being LGBTQIA until I was 18 years old and living on Long Island. And, of course, there was so much less representation of queer lives or identities in our entertainment and media at that time, and what little we did get was largely tokenized or stereotypical. What I knew about trying to live as a queer person was a culture of shame and silence—pervasive silence. It made every difference in the world to me just to meet other queer people and talk to them and hear about their experiences and feel seen and heard in ways I never had before. I knew I was gay by the age of 11 or 12, and by 13 or 14 I didn’t even really question that fact anymore—it wasn’t an internal struggle for me. But I absolutely could not conceive of coming out in my hometown at that time. What I needed was a queer community. I needed other queer people and vocal allies around me. The same is true for Cam Post. God’s Promise offers lots of terrible things, but meeting Jane and Adam are its silver lining for her.

Ellyn: This is quite a powerful young adult novel with a queer protagonist. Do you see yourself writing more YA with queer themes, or are you venturing off in other directions for your next novel?

Emily: It’s possible that someday I’ll write another YA novel, but my new novel, titled Plain Bad Heroines, is for adults, though certainly older YA readers might also find a lot there to interest them. Plain Bad Heroines is part contemporary and part set in the past in gilded-age Rhode Island, and concerns a cursed girls’ boarding school on the ocean and the three contemporary queer women trying to make a controversial horror movie about it. It’s very, very different from The Miseducation of Cameron Post but still very, very queer. I won’t ever write fiction that isn’t explicitly about queer people and queer lives and themes—especially queer women. Even though we’ve certainly made progress when it comes to LGBTQIA representation in our art and entertainment, there’s still a real shortage of stories that show a complex range of queer experiences. Right now, I’m particularly interested in writing fiction that reclaims queer histories that for far too long we’ve been incorrectly told never existed in the first place. Queer people have always been around, finding ways to live our lives even in the most oppressive of societies.

Ellyn: It’s exciting that your book has been made into a film. What was that process like? And were you happy with the way the film told the story? Was it hard to cut away a lot of the early story development when the film’s focus was chosen?

Emily: It’s so exciting! It still feels unreal to me. What I usually tell people is that the film is very different from the novel AND I love it. Both things are true. I think of the film as a love letter to the heart of the book and not a direct adaptation.

Desiree Akhavan, the film’s director and co-writer, read Cam Post when it was still in galleys and sent me a really lovely email about it. I wrote her right back with my own, as my wife and I were such fans of the queer web-series she was then making and co-starring in, The Slope. We met a few times after that, socially, and stayed in each other’s orbit. After the success of her wonderful first feature film, Appropriate Behavior, Desi reached out again and said that she and her filmmaking—not romantic—partner, Cecilia Frugiuele, were interested in optioning Cam Post. I was absolutely thrilled. It’s so rare to even find a woman director in Hollywood—even in indie-Hollywood—so to have the material end up with a bisexual, Iranian woman director who had been a fan of the book for years felt—and still feels—unbelievably lucky.

Over the course of the next year or so I read several versions of the screenplay (it changed significantly over its various drafts), offered notes, skyped with Desi and Cecilia about the project, and even toured Desi around Montana for a couple of whirlwind days while she was scouting potential locations. I knew, from the outset, that they planned to focus on the God’s Promise storyline—which is ultimately the final third of the novel. This was the plan from the very beginning, so I had a lot of time to acclimate to it and get used to the idea that so much of Cam’s story wouldn’t make it onscreen. I think, really, the biggest loss for me isn’t so much that material but the Montana location. I pushed and pushed for them to film in Montana, but it’s a hugely expensive state to get a cast and crew to when none of you are located there, and doesn’t have particularly great tax incentives for doing so. This film was made for just a little over a million dollars—which might seem like a lot but is, even in the world of independent film, a tiny budget. They just couldn’t make Montana work and I’m glad they decided not to “cheat” it and pretend like it’s filmed there because upstate New York, where they did film, just doesn’t look like Montana.

During the fall of 2016, I visited set a couple of times and you can even glimpse my wife and me in the rock concert scene if you look close and don’t blink. Everyone involved in making this film was so brilliant and passionate and willing to work for almost nothing to see it through and I’m so grateful to all of them and their talent. I think it’s such a funny, warm, honest film. Seeing it would have absolutely changed my life as a closeted 14-year-old in 1990s Montana.

Ellyn: I hear you’ve toured with the film as it was being presented at different film festivals, what was the general reaction from audiences? Did anything surprise you?

Emily: It’s been wonderful to watch the film with audiences and talk with them after. I felt particularly lucky to attend several screenings in Montana with Mathew Shurka, a conversion therapy survivor and activist who founded The Born Perfect Campaign to End Conversion Therapy. I don’t know that I’ve been surprised by this, but it has been thrilling to see how many audience members have questions about what they can do to get involved ending conversion therapy in their town or state. One thing that surprises audiences is how much humor is in the film, just how funny and warm it is, despite its serious subject matter. I don’t think it will ever get old for the lights to go down and then to sit in an audience of strangers with people laughing and crying—even sometimes gasping—over the actions of characters I dreamed up so many years ago. It’s a pretty magical experience.


Ellyn Ruthstrom is the Executive Director of SpeakOUT.

SpeakOUT Boston Stands with Transgender, Intersex Communities

A “Yes” vote on Ballot Question Three Is Imperative

 

SpeakOUT Boston strongly condemns any and all attempts by the Trump Administration to define transgender, intersex, and gender non-binary/gender non-conforming identities out of legal existence.

A recently leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services suggests that the administration is attempting to conflate gender with sex and define it purely as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” SpeakOUT joins in solidarity and resistance with those who would be most directly harmed by such a rule, the transgender, intersex, gender non-binary, and gender non-conforming communities. SpeakOUT views the proposed rule as unscientific, prejudicial, cruel, and dangerous. Transgender and intersex people exist, and they will not be erased.

“We are fortunate to live in a state where transgender protections have been instituted, but this proposed HHS change demonstrates how vulnerable transgender and intersex people still are to the whim of the current administration,” commented SpeakOUT Executive Director Ellyn Ruthstrom. “As early voting begins this week, it is imperative Massachusetts voters cast their ‘yes’ vote on question three to maintain the civil rights protections for our transgender citizens.”

SpeakOUT urges all those in the Boston area to attend a rally in support of transgender and intersex rights this Sunday, October 28, from 1-3pm on the Boston Common near the State House.

SpeakOUT also urges all Massachusetts voters to vote “YES” on Ballot Question Three on Tuesday, November 6, in order to preserve the laws that exist in the Commonwealth that provide rights to public accommodations and protections against discrimination for transgender, intersex, gender non-binary, and gender non-conforming people regardless of their gender identity or gender expression.