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Being Myself Without Fear of Judgment

By River Olsen

When SpeakOUT’s Executive Director, Ellyn, asked me if I was ready to tell my story for the Walnut Hill School for the Arts engagement, my heart both skipped a beat and started racing off into the hills. I was thrilled and excited to finally have a chance to step up and speak out – to tell my story for the first time as a SpeakOUT speaker. But that enthusiasm came hand-in-hand with anxiety, stress, worry, fear, nerves. I ruminated like this for days: “Am I ready for this? I have only shadowed once, and I don’t feel like my story is interesting enough. I’m really soft-spoken. What if I can’t answer a question correctly? What if I freeze up? What if, what if, what if?!”

River Ellyn Marcy Feb 11 2016

River (at left) will Ellyn and Marcy on stage at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts assembly.

Despite all my worries, I agreed to take on the engagement and spent hours working on my story – writing drafts, outlining, and trying to fold interesting hooks into its telling. When the day finally came, Ellyn and I drove out to Natick to meet our fellow co-speaker Marcy and the student leadership of the Walnut Hill School GSA (cleverly re-monikered as the Gender & Sexuality Alliance). We were greeted with lots of smiling, laughing, and warmth – my tenseness lessened a bit.

At last we were all led into the auditorium where three chairs awaited us on a stage. While we were sitting on the stage as some 200 teenagers streamed into the room, I was sharply aware of a sense of ecstatic anticipation – a jumbled mix of nerves and elation. It was finally happening! Music began to play from the loudspeakers, and as I looked out into the audience, I saw several students jump to their feet and start dancing amid the rows of seats. Immediately, I grinned at the expressiveness and genuineness of these students, and my nervousness fell away.

The students themselves were amazing! I could feel that they were truly listening to our stories, and they all asked such interesting questions. One question that stood out in particular was around how we handle traveling in countries and cultures that are less-than-friendly for LGBTQIA folks. I deeply admired the way my co-speakers worked together to answer the question from their own experiences, especially when I wasn’t able to think of anything to say.

Another set of questions from students and faculty asked Marcy and me about genderqueer and genderfluid identities. It was a rare gem to have such an engaging and nuanced conversation around non-binary gender identity in a setting like that. It really gave me a lot of hope to see wonderful questions like these coming from folks who genuinely want to learn from experiences different from their own.

When I first started to speak, I stuck pretty closely to the story I had prepared in advance. But once I spoke, I discovered – with some surprise, I might add – that I was truly moved by finally hearing my own story spoken aloud. It was liberating and validating and affirming and unburdening. And as I continued to tell my story and answer questions, I noticed that I was now speaking from my heart – an authenticity that was finally becoming transparent. That was the reason my nerves had disappeared – I was just being myself without fear of judgment.


River Olsen is a queer trans woman who lives in East Boston with her wife, Katie, and daughter, Lisbeth. She is currently in the second year of her MDiv program at Harvard Divinity School, and has been interning with SpeakOUT Boston for the last six months.

 

 

Speaking OUT and Proud at Gordon College

 

Bill rainbow

By Bill Barnert

Gordon College has gotten a lot of negative press in recent years on LGBTQ issues. The college’s behavioral standards specifically includes a ban on “homosexual practice,” and Gordon’s President D. Michael Lindsay co-signed a letter to President Obama asking for a religious exemption from Obama’s executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (That action resulted in Salem’s mayor prohibiting Gordon from using city facilities.)

So when SpeakOUT was invited to speak there in December by a group of LGBTQ students and their allies, One Gordon, we jumped at the chance. After discussions with the Student Activities office, we agreed to share the stage with a Christian group called “Lead Them Home.” Looking at LTH’s website, we found phrases like “Share the Gospel within reach of LGBTQI Communities” and “Assist those in our churches seeking help with gender and sexual brokenness,” so we knew our perspectives were coming from very different places.

I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Lead Them Home speakers. The evening started with a private dinner between the SpeakOUT speakers and board members, LTH, the Vice President of Student Activities, and members of the LGBTQ group. This set the tone for a mutually respectful sharing once we took the stage in the campus auditorium.

Both of the LTH speakers were men who acknowledged that they were attracted to men, but did not believe they could act on this because of their views on what it meant to be Christian. In other words, very similar to any straight person who felt that they needed to refrain from pre-marital sex based on their religious beliefs. This definitely resonated with some of Gordon’s students and they came up afterwards to discuss their feelings with LTH. The big difference of course, is that a straight person is just putting off sex for now, and the men in LTH are essentially putting off same-sex expression forever. There was absolutely no “gay bashing” by their speakers and, in fact, one of LTH’s goals is to get Christians to accept gay people as people, while preaching abstinence.

The two speakers from SpeakOUT were very well received. Kara, a bisexual woman, and Paul, a gay man, shared their life experiences, and talked about their husbands and their experiences within their own Christian churches. Paul shared how important it was for him to marry his husband in his local church and Kara talked about how elements of intolerance in her denomination inspired her to do more work within her local congregation. The questions from the students were thoughtful and respectful, and Kara and Paul’s answers were insightful. For many of the students in the audience, it was a refreshing change to hear people talk comfortably about their sexuality and their religion in the same breath, with no seeming contradiction. Quite a few came up afterwards and thanked the speakers for their participation.

The Gordon College students were very appreciative to have us there, and to have a chance to hear a pro-LGBTQ pro-Christian message. It’s hard to measure how much effect we had, but both the students and the administration have asked that we return in the future. Here’s hoping that little steps grow to larger strides of understanding.


Bill Barnert has been with SpeakOUT since 1980, and co-hosted SpeakOUT TV and PrideTime. Bill has sung with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, danced with the ReneGAYdes, drummed with the Freedom Trail Marching Band, and has volunteered at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s GSA, “Project-10 East.” He sits on the City of Cambridge GLBT Commission, and he helps run the Cambridge Men’s Group.

Meet SpeakOUT’s 2016 Board of Directors

SpeakOUT is proud to introduce the Board of Directors for 2016. We welcome four new board members who have joined us over the last six months and will be helping to guide our work in the coming year. If you are interested in learning more about SpeakOUT and how you can become involved with the organization, please email Executive Director Ellyn Ruthstrom at ellyn@speakoutboston.org.

Brian Balduzzi photo croppedBrian Balduzzi is a new Board Member and Treasurer for SpeakOUT, and he is ecstatic to promote and support its mission. Brian is a former teacher, certified in English Grades 7-12, who followed his passion for advocacy to Boston University School of Law where he earned his JD and Tax LLM. There, he was active in both OutLaw, serving as Treasurer, and the Public Interest Project, serving as Co-President, among other LGBTQ advocacy and public interest organizations. Now, he works as a Tax and Estate Planning Attorney at a mid-sized law firm in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and serves as a Board Member for the Mass. LGBTQ Bar Association and Weston Friendly Society, the second oldest community theatre in the country.  In addition to directing and producing LGBTQ theatre, Brian is a reviewer with the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) and American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), and Managing Editor for ArtsImpulse, a Greater Boston theatre reviewing site.  In his spare time, he enjoys taking walks with his partner and King Charles Cavalier-Poodle, belting showtunes, and singing with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus.

Bill Barnert headshot

Bill Barnert is the most tenured member of the Board of Directors, having been speaking for SpeakOUT since 1980. He was a co-host of SpeakOUT TV (the weekly cable show produced by the organization from 1993-2007) and PrideTime for Boston cable. Bill is proud of the organizations he has helped to co-found, including the AIDS Action Committee, Brown University TBGALA, and the Cambridge Men’s Group. Bill has sung with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, danced with the ReneGAYdes, drummed with the Freedom Trail Marching Band, and has volunteered at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s GSA, “Project-10 East.” Currently, he sits on the City of Cambridge GLBT Commission, and he helps run the Cambridge Men’s Group. Professionally, Bill is a User Experience Designer, and is active in BostonCHI. In what’s left of his spare time, he is an amateur actor, comedian, and playwright.

Michael Bookman headshotMichael 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, joining the Board of Directors in 2014. 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. Currently in graduate school at Emmanuel College, Michael holds a bachelor’s degree of science in psychology. He is a human resources professional and belongs to the Society of Human Resources Management. For over six 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.

Michele C-C headshotMichele Canero-Conklin has been on the SpeakOUT board since 2012. Her passion is community service, and she is especially dedicated to life preservation and meeting and connecting with people one-on-one, wherever they may be on this journey we call life. Michele is a seasoned, dedicated, compassionate, and service-oriented campus law enforcement/communications professional with a true passion for mentoring youth to become successful leaders and mentors. She’s also a mother of two adult children, coaches little league softball, and teaches self-defense and CPR/first aid classes.

Jenna ConnollyJenna Connolly is a Certified Nonprofit Professional with a strong background in volunteer management and a proud new member of the SpeakOUT board as of 2015. She has been an employee with Planned Parenthood since 2014 and is committed to reproductive & sexual justice and education in addition to LGBTQ rights. She considers herself an intersectional feminist and will receive a graduate certificate in Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy from UMass Boston in May 2016, which she hopes to use to break into the advocacy and policy sector. She is an amateur musician and writer in her spare time and currently resides in Brighton with her feline roommate, Peebee.

Jess FickJessica Fick joined the SpeakOut board in September 2015. Jessica has served in a variety of talent/organizational development focused roles throughout her career in the nonprofit sector.  She is passionate about helping organizations run well and become better places to work/volunteer, so that they can make even more of an impact. Her day job involves leading the talent function at an education consulting firm, for which she has recently taken on the role of integrating diversity and inclusion efforts into the overall recruitment and employee engagement efforts. She joined SpeakOut to learn and extend her impact beyond work. As an LGBTQ ally, Jessica is a true believer in building stronger and more inclusive communities and cultures through listening and understanding the unique perspectives and experiences of others. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys spending time outdoors (walking, hiking, biking) with her husband and dog.

George Grattan headshotGeorge 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, and prior to that was a board member of Living Routes, an environmental study-abroad program. His day gig focuses on marketing academic and social media content for Bentley University in Waltham, where he resides with his wife Mary. He has worked in the past for Earthwatch, the Urban Ecology Institute, Boston College, and the College of the Holy Cross. He has co-authored and co-edited both editions of Writing Places, a place-based composition reader for first-year college courses, and can be found every third Tuesday of the month at a “Bi Guys Bowling Night.” George is now serving as SpeakOUT’s Board Chair and is also one of our active speakers.

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.

alley photo

Alley Stoughton became an LGBTQ activist in Kansas during the fight against a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution restricting marriage to one man and one woman. The amendment passed, but the process of fighting it had beneficial effects for many participants, both personal and professional. In Alley’s case, it gave her the courage to transition genders, restarting a process that had been stalled for decades; it also led to her becoming a social and political activist, taking on leadership roles in a new LGBTQ rights organization as well as in an established peace and justice organization. Alley and her wife moved to Boston in 2010. In her professional life, she’s a research computer scientist, and currently works mostly remotely for a research institute located in Madrid. She trained as a SpeakOUT speaker in the fall of 2014, and joined the SpeakOUT board in the summer of 2015. She’s also a member of WMBR, MIT’s community radio station, where she hosts a modern classical music program.

SpeakOUT “Back-to-school” Season Begins

“Back-to-school” season is a great time for SpeakOUT. We get excited to be returning to classrooms and assemblies across the state as we speak about LGBTQ lives. And we value our connections with students and faculty who are working to improve the supportive climate in their school systems for all students.

Jennifer Wolfrum, Assistant Coordinator of Physical Education and Wellness in the Lexington Public Schools, shares with us below why the high school has invited SpeakOUT into their classes for many years.


Lexington HS front

The entrance to Lexington High School.

For over 20 years, SpeakOUT speakers have come into our junior health classes at Lexington High School to discuss issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The speakers have provided valuable perspectives, insights and life experiences that have enabled our students to better understand the issues that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face.

When asked on a course survey, 95% of all juniors recommended that SpeakOUT come back for future health classes. Here are some of their comments:

     “They were very informative. It is always good to hear first-hand accounts. They provide a story that no one else could, which made it very important.”

     “These were great speakers and they helped a lot in understanding some of the struggles homosexuals/bis go through in their everyday lives. It puts perspective on your own life and says that you need to treat everyone equally, everyone is human, and their sexual identity doesn’t make that much difference.”

     “I myself am straight so I didn’t really know how it felt to be gay/bi/lesbian in a non-accepting community so it helped me understand that.”

     “They were very helpful because people could ask questions that would be uncomfortable to ask in real-world situations, but that are important to know and understand.”


See a sample of an engagement that was filmed at Lexington High School in 2014. SpeakOUT is booking engagements now for fall months. To find out more about how to bring speakers to your school, college or other venue, call 877-223-9390. Or visit our website and email us with your request.

Question, Persuade, Refer

“You seem to be experiencing a lot of pain.  I am worried about you.  Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

National Suicide Prevention LIfeline

If you need to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Can you picture yourself saying those exact words to a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker, or maybe a student? Does the thought make you squirm, just a little? Be honest. Asking someone if they are thinking of killing themselves might be the difference between life and death, and until attending Socializing for Justice’s workshop I was uncomfortable asking the question.

Recently, SoJust held a professional development workshop, led by Robbie Samuels, on the theme of “QPR Suicide Prevention Training for Community Leaders.” QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer and, much like CPR, it offers a potentially life-saving process with which to engage a person who is considering suicide. Samuels recommended we all have it in our toolbox of ways to respond to those needing emergency care. This is especially important information for those of us who work with LGBTQ youth. As a speaker with SpeakOUT, I am regularly talking to young people and their teachers. Being able to share this information and these tools will be helpful in particular because, as the Trevor Project reports, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 10-24 and LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

We don’t talk much about suicide, as if uttering the word could create a self-fulfilling prophecy, or, like Harry Potter’s Voldemort, might invite the villain to visit us. Our silence is effectively reinforcing a taboo that has the destructive consequence of limiting access to support systems and stigmatizing those who would benefit from them. In reality, speaking the question out loud, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” is like turning the valve on a pressure tank and releasing just a bit of air, providing a little more room to breathe. We learned that directly asking someone often allows the person to talk about their suicidal thoughts and to feel that release.

Identifying suicidal warning signs is the first step to helping someone. Direct statements like “I’ve decided to kill myself” or “I wish I were dead” are obvious warning signs that should be taken seriously, but indirect clues such as behavioral changes, giving away prized possessions, or stockpiling pills might also point to suicidal thoughts.*

We also received a packet of materials that included local and national resources that might be useful to helping people through a suicidal episode or other mental health crisis. For more detailed information on how to help, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Or visit this listing of suicide hotlines for immediate support resources.

Saving a life begins with one question. So say it with me, out loud, “You seem to be experiencing a lot of pain. I am worried about you. Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

*as listed in the training booklet “Question, Persuade, Refer” by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.

 


Kara Ammon

Kara Ammon

Kara Ammon has been a SpeakOUT member and volunteer since the fall of 2014. She is active in the Boston bisexual community. Kara works with Reconciling Ministry Networks promoting the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in faith communities.

The World was Different on June 26th

John Sheehy and dads

John Sheehy with his dad and step-dad on their 22nd anniversary, when they signed their marriage license.

The only marriage license I’ve ever signed is the one between my dad and step-dad. Signing it was a given, almost to the point that it felt meaningless. What is a squiggle of ink on a leaf of flattened pulp? For that matter, what is the word “marriage” compared to the fact that they have been together since before I can remember, loving and caring for me the whole time? Their “marriage license signing dinner party” was one of the best, but it didn’t change my world.

On June 26th, the world was different.

When I sent my dad a selfie I took exiting the Supreme Court on the day they heard oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges (April 28th), he told me how proud he was of me. I was appropriately chuffed, but I texted back that I’m just standing on shoulders. I wasn’t pandering cliché, either; I was distinctly remembering smaller times when I would actually sit on his shoulders, holding onto his hair and learning about the world, literally, from his point of view.

With a profundity that is ringing especially loudly in the ear these days, my dad taught me the absolute importance of being true to yourself. He taught me about belief and conviction. I had to figure out for myself that he was so keen on these lessons because they were the hardest lessons he had to learn for himself. I would have been angry and sad, but by then he had already shown me what it means to live with dignity. Instead I grew, however indirectly, to know the dull heartache that haunts anyone who feels alone in their beliefs.

state house crowd

An enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Massachusetts State House on June 26th to celebrate the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.

The Supreme Court’s marriage decision on June 26th was so, so much bigger than more squiggles and leafs of pulp. I daresay it’s even bigger than love. That victory is for anyone who has ever felt alone. For anyone who has ever fought and sacrificed for change they didn’t even expect to see for themselves. That decision shows what faith and conviction can earn.

Thank you, from the depths of my being, to everyone who added their voice to this chorus, to everyone who refused to let anyone suffer this alone. Thank you for being an example, for being brave, for being loud. Thank you for what you’ve given my dad and my step-dad and all their friends and everyone’s families.

But let me be selfish and thank you most for validating everything my dad taught me. Some day there will be a tiny Sheehy on my shoulders, tangled in my hair, and whatever I’m teaching her will be built on the lessons of conviction that come down from her grandfathers. I’ll tell her she can change the world, even if it takes her whole life, if she just stays true to herself.

And when she asks, “Really?” I’ll be able to answer, nostalgically, “Really.”


John Sheehy was raised bi-coastally between his mom in Boston and dad and step-dad in Seattle. After studying linguistics at Brown University, wandering the world, and freelancing in Brooklyn, he attended Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he started writing Queerspawn!, a book gathering stories of individuals who grew up in homes all across the LGBTQ spectrum. Chapter and essay drafts for Queerspawn! are available at https://www.beaconreader.com/john-sheehy, and John would like all agents to note his distinct lack of representation.

Celebrating the Inclusive Spirit of Pride

June is not just any month to the LGBTQ community. It is our high holiday season. We honor the history and heroism of those who came before us, we recognize the current struggles that we are still facing, and we celebrate the beauty and fierceness of our diverse community. Being an activist, I love the politics. Being queer, I love the glitter and the boom-boom beat of the dance floats. And being bisexual, I don’t have to choose which one I like more. 😉

Ellyn&WoodyThis year, Pride is particularly meaningful to me because I have the honor of being one of the pride marshals to ride at the head of Boston’s 45th Pride Parade. I was nominated for my work as president of the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) for ten years and the efforts I’ve put into raising awareness of bisexuality in both the LGBTQ and straight communities. I will be riding in a car alongside Woody Glenn, one of the co-founders of the BRC, so we are the bookends of the 30-year history of the organization.

This is historic as it will be the first time that out bisexual leaders have been elected as pride marshals in Boston. Within the bi community this is a huge occasion as it is very rare for bi people to be chosen to represent the LGBTQ community at this level. One recent example comes to mind from just last year when New York City’s Pride organizers very publicly patted themselves on the back for being so inclusive by having a gay, a lesbian, and a transgender marshal—somehow forgetting to include a bisexual marshal.

Brenda-HowardI feel honored to be representing the bisexual community as a Pride Marshal, and to be joining other bi activists from Pride history such as Brenda Howard (photo at left), who helped to organize the first commemorative march in New York. Often nicknamed “Mother of Pride,” Howard planned the Christopher Street Liberation Day March a month after the Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969. On the one-year anniversary of Stonewall, Howard again helped organize a march that would be considered the first Pride march of its kind in 1970.

My personal pride is certainly partly due to my work in the bi community, but it is and always has been tied to feeling connected to the larger LGBTQ family as well. The work of SpeakOUT, for example, is enhanced by having individuals from various identities and intersections speak in the schools, colleges, religious classes, and corporate settings to tell the truths of their lives. We strive to have people from every letter in our community’s acronym to feel empowered to tell their stories and to help open minds and change attitudes in the spaces in which we speak.

On Pride Day in Boston, a few hundred thousand people will be out on the streets keeping this tradition of activism and celebration alive. As one of the oldest LGBTQ organizations in Boston, SpeakOUT will again be there to be a part of the festivities and to spread our mission of creating a world free of homo-bi-transphobia. Having been the Executive Director of SpeakOUT for a year now, I feel so lucky to be working with a team of such talented and committed volunteers. Stop by our booth and meet our team to find out more about what’s kept us going for 43 years and counting. We hope to see you there! Happy Pride!

Ellyn Ruthstrom, Executive Director

Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus


Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 6.15.22 PM
I believe there is strength in numbers, power in words, and freedom in art and I strive to raise awareness with this book.
-Rachelle Lee Smith

On Thursday, June 4th, 2015, SpeakOUT Boston and BAGLY will be co-hosting a book event with author Rachelle Lee Smith for the release of her book Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus. Smith’s book is a photographic essay that explores a wide spectrum of experiences told from the perspective of a diverse group of young people, ages 14 to 24, identifying as queer. With more than 65 portraits photographed over a period of ten years, Speaking OUT provides rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth. The collaboration of image and first-person narrative serves to provide an outlet, show support, create dialogue, and help those who struggle.

SpeakOUT interviewed Rachelle Lee Smith in anticipation of the event.

What inspired you to make Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus?
I was very fortunate and had a great “coming out” experience. I was supported and accepted by family and friends.  I know that I was lucky, but did not quite realize how lucky until I went to college and met people with dramatically different experiences than my own. It was hearing the, often, tragic stories from friends that inspired me to do something… to tell our stories!

I wanted to create a place where people could learn about other experiences and share their own. My hope was to create a place for dialogue, inspiration, and hope. Photography was my means for storytelling and an outlet for creative expression. I thought the faces and handwritten text would be a powerful combination of real-life, present-day, for-youth/by-youth experiences.


Speaking OUT coverWhy do you think it is important to provide spaces for LGBTQ people to express themselves?

I think it is important for everyone to have a means of a cathartic, creative or expressive outlet, but LGBTQ people in particular because we are often an under-represented group of people. Personal or group expression allows us to learn, grow, heal, teach, and challenge ourselves.

Bottling up emotions is not healthy, and neither is closing off from the world. By having spaces for LGBTQ people to express themselves it allows us to open up within ourselves and also helps open the minds of others. Conversation and dialogue are enormous educators and any form of expression incites discussion.

What kind of response have you gotten from queer youth and from adults in the LGBTQ community?
I have received an overwhelming amount of support and positive feedback for capturing these snapshots in time and also for creating a body of work that spans over a decade and really shows the change over time within our community.

People have told me how they relate, draw inspiration from, or learn from the words that these people have written.  My goal is to show people that they are not alone, that there is a variety of experiences and so much diversity within the LGBTQ community. I hope this work accurately represents that for the community.

What did you learn through your process of making the book?
This was my first endeavor in the publishing world and I learned a great deal about that process from start to finish. But I also had the opportunity to review and read and re-read the words from these brave young people who put their words and lives out there for the world to see. It allowed me to see how far we have come in the last decade. The book also allowed for a unique opportunity to reach out to those who were photographed over the last decade and include a follow up from them.  People reflected on what they wrote 5-12 years ago, how they have changed, and how the climate has changed. I am constantly learning through the experiences of those in the book and the people I meet along the way.

Rachelle Lee Smith is an award-winning photographer based in Philadelphia. Rachelle’s work in Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus combines her passions for activism and photography. 


Join SpeakOUT and BAGLY at First Parish in Harvard Square in Cambridge on Thursday, June 4 from 6:00-8:00pm to kick-off Pride season in Boston and support the work of SpeakOUT and BAGLY in our community.

International Transgender Day of Visibility

The International Transgender Day of Visibility, commemorated on March 31, was started in 2009 to celebrate transgender people’s lives and to raise awareness about the discrimination that transgender people experience. SpeakOUT invited several of our trans speakers to describe the importance of visibility and why they choose to speak about their lives out in the community. These wonderful speakers are part of the long SpeakOUT history of “telling the truths of LGBTQ lives.”

 

alley

Alley 

My goal as an LGBT speaker is to gently encourage people to think more flexibly about gender and sexuality, to look beyond the binary boxes that we are too often pushed into: gay/straight, trans/cis, man/woman. I’m a trans woman who lived as a man for decades, but finally reached a point where I had the internal and external resources to transition. Although I now happily live and identify as a woman, I’m the kind of woman who continues to question what it means to be a woman or man. In my speaking, I hope to encourage the emergence of a future in which we can all live outside the box, expressing our own complex genders and sexualities. A future in which people aren’t reduced to their bodies.

 

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Kai 

As a trans-masculine person, I’m often asked, “Why be visible?” I can so easily fade into the fabric of our society, so why make myself stick out? I like to respond with a few questions of my own:  In a world where transgender people are still arrested, molested, assaulted, tortured, violated, and murdered for simply living their lives, how can I honestly choose to disappear? How can I hide behind a privilege that offers me the very safety not afforded to others? How can I leave my community without a helping hand? The world still clearly needs a lesson in humanity. We are teachers, firefighters, lawyers, bankers, truck drivers, engineers, doctors, police officers. We are parents, children, siblings, and grandparents. We are every-day, run-of-the-mill people, and yet, we still suffer gross injustices each day. Our youth are still seeking suicide as an answer to their suffering. Why be visible, you ask? Because I want every non-trans*person to realize that we are everywhere. And I want every trans*person around the world to know that no matter how bad it is, or how bad it gets, they are never, ever alone.

 

mitzzy2-small

Mitzzy Anne

Why is it so important for me to live and speak about my life experiences as a transgender person? I live my life as a visible transwoman everyday, loving my family and friends, doing volunteer work, working hard at my job trying to be a good person as an example to others. I choose to speak about who I am so people will see that trans people are human like everyone else.

I believe that the more I can talk about my own life experiences, the easier it is for people to accept the trans community for who we are. The more of us who speak up to be heard, the easier it is for all of us to be treated with basic human rights, not just here in our community, but across the globe. When I tell my story, I talk about the hard times I had growing up in the hopes of making it that much easier for the next person to be who they are. I also feel that the more people who know about some of the outrages I have seen in my life, the easier it will be to rid the world of these injustices.

What I love most about sharing my story through SpeakOUT is that I, in turn, get to hear so many other inspiring stories of love and hope.

 

Oscar

Oscar

I love being an out trans person because of the people that I am able to relate to and form connections with. I hope that my enthusiastic visibility can show people that trans people are important because of the unique perspectives they bring. I am a special education teacher that works with autistic students that have intensive support needs. Recently, I had a student that expressed interest in wearing a dress and I was able to advocate for his right to make choices about what he wears. There were some people who wanted to prevent him from making this choice, but as an out trans man I knew how to advocate for him. I was able to find a ton of support amongst the administration and he’s been very happy wearing his new outfits at school.

 

Laurie Wolfe headshot

Laurie 

Being visible as an out trans person is important to me as a social and human rights activist. The more people see me (us) and get to know me (us) the more friends we make. When our common human experiences are out for all to see, the differences begin to be a source of interest and even wonder; we begin to live in the similarities. Therein lies the transformation of society from discrimination to inclusion, and from hate to appreciation and admiration. As a byproduct it creates community and safety, and helps bring about laws which protect me and my friends. This ensures a greater sense of ease for all our families.

Introducing the 2015 Board of Directors

SpeakOUT is proud to introduce the newly elected Board of Directors for 2015. This talented group of new as well as tenured members offers a wonderful array of experience, interests, and commitment to help chart the next leg of SpeakOUT’s journey. If you are interested in learning more about SpeakOUT and how you can become involved with the organization, please email Executive Director Ellyn Ruthstrom at ellyn@speakoutboston.org or read an earlier post with more details.

Bill Barnert headshotBill Barnert is the most tenured member of the Board of Directors, having been speaking for SpeakOUT since 1980. He was a co-host of SpeakOUT TV (the weekly cable show produced by the organization from 1993-2007) and PrideTime for Boston cable. Bill is proud of the organizations he has helped to co-found, including the AIDS Action Committee, Brown University TBGALA, and the Cambridge Men’s Group. Bill has sung with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, danced with the ReneGAYdes, drummed with the Freedom Trail Marching Band, and has volunteered at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s GSA, “Project-10 East.” Currently, he sits on the City of Cambridge GLBT Commission, and he helps run the Cambridge Men’s Group. Professionally, Bill is a User Experience Designer, and is active in BostonCHI. In what’s left of his spare time, he is an amateur actor, comedian, and playwright.

Michael Bookman headshotMichael 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, joining the Board of Directors in 2014. 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. Currently in graduate school at Emmanuel College, Michael holds a bachelor’s degree of science in psychology. He is a human resources professional and belongs to the Society of Human Resources Management. 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, for over six years.

Michele C-C headshotMichele Canero-Conklin has been on the SpeakOUT board since 2012. Her passion is community service, and she is especially dedicated to life preservation and meeting and connecting with people one-on-one, wherever they may be on this journey we call life. Michele is a seasoned, dedicated, compassionate, and service-oriented campus law enforcement/communications professional with a true passion for mentoring youth to become successful leaders and mentors. She’s also a mother of two adult children, coaches little league softball, and teaches self-defense and CPR/first aid classes.

George Grattan headshotGeorge 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 the fall of 2014, and prior to that was a board member of Living Routes, an environmental study-abroad program. His day gig focuses on marketing academic and social media content for Bentley University in Waltham, where he resides with his wife Mary. He has worked in the past for Earthwatch, the Urban Ecology Institute, Boston College, and the College of the Holy Cross. He’s co-authored and co-edited both editions of Writing Places, a place-based composition reader for first-year college courses, and can be found every third Tuesday of the month at a “Bi Guys Bowling Night.” A SpeakOUT newbie speaker, he looks forward to many future speaking engagements.

Jenn Guneratne arrived on the Boston scene nearly five years ago following several years of studying across the pond in England. Jenn has a background in music, theatre, and photography, and she currently works at Boston University’s College of Communication. In her spare time, Jenn enjoys yoga, cycling, and recently developed a small obsession with learning to play the banjo. Jenn officially 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 build with a number of highly talented and enthusiastic members who she is thrilled to be working with during this time of growth.

Tracey Solomon-White headshotTracey Solomon-White is a fashion, entertainment and communication industry insider who is happiest working and playing in her hometown of Boston. With that said, it’s been a personal goal to use her passport at least twice a year to explore countries such as Europe, the Caribbean islands, and Central America. Tracey was elected to SpeakOUT’s Board of Directors in December 2014 and previously held committee positions with New England Financial, Wayland Public Schools, and Sporty Rich Entertainment. A lifelong volunteer, specifically dedicated to organizations that improve the lives of women and children, Tracey donates her time to Rosie’s Place, More Than Words, and the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation. Currently, Tracey is employed at Sotheby’s Imprint as the Account Liaison for cosmetics company, L’Oreal. Tracey’s favorite diversions are anything to do with fashion, reading books of all genres, and playing with make-up—though none of those activities compare to recreating unique meals for her husband and three kids.