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Appreciation Night Remarks by the Executive Director, Ellyn Ruthstrom

On June 27, SpeakOUT gathered at Club Cafe in Boston for its annual Appreciation Night event. Along with thanking SpeakOUT’s wonderful speakers for all their work, we also awarded our three LGBTQ+ Student Scholarships, thanked long-term board member George Grattan for his nine years of service, and introduced our new mission statement. SpeakOUT’s Executive Director, Ellyn Ruthstrom, opened the program with these remarks.

I had the opportunity to start the month, our high holidays, by speaking at the Melrose Flag Raising Ceremony, which is where I live. Last year they had had an entire ceremony that did not include a single LGBTQ+ person so I was determined that didn’t happen again. Along with talking about how my own relationship to Pride has evolved over the years, I also talked about what makes SpeakOUT so worthwhile, and I believe the power of our work is in what motivates YOU to speak out.

SpeakOUT board members and speakers gathered on the Club Cafe stage for a group photo.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a speaker say, “It would have made such a difference to me if I had had a queer speaker come into my school or town or business.” Our work educates the general public but it also offers hope to many LGBTQ+ people along their journey, especially our youth who get to see positive role models of adult queer people and to hear how they encountered challenges and overcame barriers and discrimination. They get to imagine that there is a place for themselves in the world. Amplifying LGBTQ+ voices is—especially right now–so important! Our work fights back against the divisiveness and the distorted stereotypes and misinformation that is being spread about our community. 

Sadly, I now have to discuss a security plan with all of our clients who we organize public events with, mostly public libraries and community groups. Those plans usually involve either having police on site or asking them to be on alert in case anyone causes trouble at the event. I honestly never thought I would have to do that.

Within each generation since Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ community has fought for — and won — more rights, more visibility, and more inclusion within American society. We’ve had tremendous success, and now we are in the midst of a severe backlash that is targeting our queer youth, our queer families, and in particular our transgender siblings. And again, I never imagined we would be here.

SpeakOUT board members and Executive Director Ellyn Ruthstrom at Appreciation Night at Club Cafe.

But one thing that has changed a great deal within the last few decades is that the LGBTQ+ community does not stand alone. We have tremendous allies who stand with us when we fight back and I believe the work we do with SpeakOUT is building those connections with allies one zoom event or one library group at a time. And that will make all the difference as we work to turn the tide again towards embracing MORE rights rather than fewer rights for all of us. And as queer people it is also our responsibility to be allies to others who are fighting for racial and economic justice, including fighting back against voter suppression. “None of us are free until all of us are free.” And I certainly believe that.

Just as our own LGBTQ+ movement has evolved over time to be more inclusive, SpeakOUT has also grown and evolved over the course of our five decades. Most recently, the board of directors has voted to revise our mission statement and I want to introduce the new statement to you this evening. 

SpeakOUT is a community of speakers and volunteers working to create a world free of bias and prejudice by telling the truths of LGBTQ+ lives.

I want to thank the board of directors for their work on revising and updating our mission statement and for all the work they have done over the last year, including helping to organize our SpeakOUT50 event last October.