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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.

“To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.” ~June Jordan

By Ellyn Ruthstrom

SpeakOUT grew out of a simple urgency to tell the truths about LGBTQIA lives, to tell our own stories and demonstrate that we love and value ourselves and each other. Back in 1972, our founding year, a common expression was “the personal is political.” And that sentiment is what Jordan’s words and SpeakOUT’s personal storytelling reverberate with. There is power in the telling of our own truths, and sharing personal experience with others breaks through the barriers that exist to keep each other in our own boxes. When we understand another person’s life, it is much more difficult to condemn them or distance ourselves from them.

After 46 years, SpeakOUT is still sharing our #ProudStories and telling our truths. This year’s SpeakOUT Day on June 6th will again share the voices of our speakers and our clients through a social media fundraising campaign that speaks to the power of a community of speakers who strive to create safer spaces for LGBTQIA people throughout life—in schools, workplaces, faith communities, organizations, and more!

Many people know that SpeakOUT goes into middle and high schools around the region to discuss issues about sexual orientation and gender identity. Did you know we visit private as well as public schools? And this year, we’ve been approached by elementary schools interested in finding an age-appropriate way to talk about LGBTQIA lives with their students. (Stay tuned for more about that as it develops.)

Beyond the school setting, SpeakOUT members have recently shared their stories with a wide variety of audiences:

  • Several public libraries invited us to share LGBTQ stories or to focus on transgender awareness.
  • Two of our members told their stories at the LGBTQ Elders in an Ever Changing World conference at Salem State that emphasized the importance of sharing elders’ stories.
  • We spoke to USDA officials in central Massachusetts about being LGBTQ in rural environments.
  • Two of our speakers spoke at MCI Norfolk’s first LGBTQ Pride event for those incarcerated there.
  • We helped Resident Assistants on a college campus to be better prepared to support students with sexual orientation or gender identity experiences.

SpeakOUT’s training team with Freedom New Hampshire volunteers.

In addition to our speaking engagements, we also conduct speaker trainings for other organizations in the community. Last November, we traveled to Concord, New Hampshire to train a group of transgender activists and allies as Freedom New Hampshire prepared to fight for passage of a Transgender Rights Bill at their State House. Success! New Hampshire now has a law that protects transgender citizens from discrimination, including public accommodations. We’d like to think we were just a small part of that hard-fought win!

SpeakOUT has also been participating in educating audiences across Massachusetts about maintaining the Transgender Accommodations protections that are being threatened in November with a state-wide referendum. SpeakOUT will continue to speak across the state to encourage voters to get to the polls and put a stop to this backlash.

We have an amazing team of speakers, from students to retirees, who volunteer their time and personal commitment to help create safer spaces for LGBTQIA people. Your gift on SpeakOUT Day can help continue our tradition of telling personal stories to open minds and change attitudes about our community.

Pride Month is a special time for the LGBTQIA community. We take to the streets to both celebrate our fabulousness and to continue the political struggle that our Stonewall warriors began back in 1969. SpeakOUT honors our Pride connections by choosing a day in June for SpeakOUT Day to highlight the power of the #ProudStories our members tell. These truths continue to make a difference—profoundly.

Ellyn Ruthstrom is the Executive Director of SpeakOUT. She admires the work of June Jordan, an amazing bisexual writer whose poetry and prose meant so much to her in her own coming out process.

The Power of Silence

By Jenn Nguyen

I am so inspired by the youth of today who raise their voices about gun control, anti-racism, and LGBTQ civil rights. Their voices are working to create positive change for the future. And their silence is also meant to create change.

Friday, April 27th is the annual Day of Silence, which was initiated in 1996 by university students who pointed out the lack of support that was provided to LGBTQ students on campus. The Day of Silence is also meant to increase awareness of the harmful effects that bullying and harassment inflicts on LGBTQ students. Students voluntarily participate in Day of Silence by not speaking throughout the day in order to spotlight the erasure of LGBTQ people at school. Students then “break the silence” by communicating to their school administrator (whether it’s the day before, after, or through non-verbal communication) for LGBTQ-inclusive supports. Educators can also participate in Day of Silence by planning classroom activities to highlight these concerns.

Coming to terms with your LGBTQ identity can be difficult if your community is unaccepting. It’s especially harmful if your peers use “gay” as a derogatory term and your school administrators prevent you from basic forms of self-expression. In fact, GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey reported that 98% of LGBTQ students have heard the term “gay” used as a derogatory term (i.e. “that’s so gay”) from their peers at school. Additionally, 22% of LGBTQ students were prevented from wearing clothes deemed inappropriate for their sex and 17% were discouraged from writing or discussing LGBTQ topics. Some school policies specifically target transgender students: 51% of transgender students were prevented from using their preferred name or pronoun, and 60% were required to use a bathroom or locker of their sex at birth rather than their preferred gender.

When LGBTQ students experience bullying and harassment at school, the effects are detrimental. LGBTQ students have higher rates of depression, low self-esteem, low GPA, and are less motivated to pursue higher education than their straight peers. LGBTQ students who have experienced bullying and harassment because of their sexual orientation are three times more likely to have missed school in the past month. The Day of Silence encourages schools to provide better support and awareness for their LGBTQ students. Schools that have a Gay-Straight Alliance or Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) or similar group are proven to promote visibility, safety, and acceptance to their LGBTQ peers. The groups also increase the likelihood of supportive school staff and accepting peers. The overall benefit is increased inclusivity and acceptance for the LGBTQ students.

There are various ways you can get involved with Day of Silence activities. On Friday, April 27, follow #DayofSilence on social media to tune into the activity nationwide. If you’re a student, make sure that you are granted permission to participate by your school administrators. For more details and to register for Day of Silence, check out GLSEN’s website:

The fact that more states, such as Massachusetts and California, are starting to implement LGBTQ history into their curriculum is a huge milestone. I am hopeful and excited to see the power of silence help to raise more LGBTQ voices throughout the community.

Jenn Nguyen has been a member of SpeakOUT for over a year. Born and raised in Boston, she enjoys spending time with her partner, their rescue Ollie, and their 30-pound Maine coon cat, Junior.

Deciding Not to Be Who I Wasn’t

By Gabi Moynihan

Gabi with the transgender flag at Boston Pride.

March 31st is Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), a time to celebrate transgender lives and to honor the resilience and strength of those who led the way to create space for transgender people within the LGBTQ movement. Gabi Moynihan, an active speaker with SpeakOUT, shares her own journey to living her true self and her commitment to supporting others in their quest.

A little over two years ago, the term transgender started being more widely known to me, even with a celebrity name or two identifying that way. Too bad I could never do that. Fear again. I was a volcano ready to erupt. Suicide wards were becoming commonplace, my mind a blur. I found a friend who I felt I could say anything to. I knew I had to share my true existence. Finally, January 19, 2016, at 59 years, 7 months and 20 days old, I shared who I was with her. I finally understood the term “weight of the world off my shoulders.” I didn’t think anything would come of it, but I laugh at that thought now.

First, the pierced ears, then a little mascara. No, I need to introduce Gabi to the world. I had told a few people but on February 25 I shared it on Facebook. Wow, still don’t know what was more emotional, writing it or reading the hundreds of supportive replies that followed. I had to move forward. I learned a little about makeup and dressing well for a 60ish woman. I attended the Transgender Flag Raising at Boston City Hall. I’m pretty much all in now. I went to the ceremonial signing of the Public Accommodations Bill on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in the summer of 2016 in a dress and heels. OK, really all in now.

I knew I could never go back to pretending. I took off on the greatest ride of my life. Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, Gender Soup, attending and marching in my first Pride Parade. Joining SpeakOUT. I had a lifelong fear (that word again) of public speaking and now I could share who I was and how I got there with groups of people and maybe make a little difference by educating others. I live a life I am proud of today.

A doctor asked if I had regrets I was not born a woman rather than a transgender woman. Maybe a few. Maybe I missed a lot of struggles, but they should’ve been my struggles. I am proud to be a transgender woman. To be accepted as I am for who I am. Not tolerated, accepted.

Transgender Day of Visibility. It is a day to reflect on my own journey and to appreciate the efforts and courage shown by so many before me. To be here. To be of help to someone with similar feelings and to help cisgender people understand the transgender experience better.

I never decided I wanted to become a woman. Thankfully I decided not to be who I wasn’t and be truthful with myself. I like who I am today. Finally. Yeah, it’s a pretty good day.

SpeakOUT’s Board of Directors for 2017-2018

SpeakOUT welcomed three new board members in the last six months who will be helping to guide our work in the coming years. We have a very talented group of eight now working together on organizational growth and sustainability. 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

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, 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.

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. 

Jess FickJessica Fick joined the SpeakOUT board in September 2015. Jess 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, Jess 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, Jess enjoys walking, hiking, and 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.


Jackie Pomposelli joined SpeakOUT Boston’s board in April 2017. Jackie has been involved with several non-profit organizations over the years advocating for human and environmental rights. Jackie’s involvement with SpeakOUT ties directly to her belief that providing people with a platform to share personal experiences helps to break down stereotypes and provide a sense of understanding that would not exist if people remain silent. In her day job, Jackie works in project management for Reebok’s US Retail team. In her spare time, Jackie loves spending time with her loved ones, cooking, and enjoying the outdoors, specifically her favorite beach in Marshfield.

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.

Rob Symanski joined SpeakOUT’s Board of Directors in April 2017. Currently a Finance Director and MBA candidate at Boston College, Rob has worked in the nonprofit sector for the majority of his career. He is passionate about public service and hopes to make a social impact with the work he does as a volunteer. In his free time he enjoys travel, art, music and architecture. He currently serves as the Treasurer for SpeakOUT and believes that his work as a Board member will help to create a more inclusive and safe community for LGBTQ individuals in the Boston area.

A Different Tone to Pride This Year

By Ellyn Ruthstrom

As Executive Director of SpeakOUT, my custom over the last three years has been to publish a blog post to celebrate Pride Month with high energy and enthusiasm for the beauty, glitter, and joy of our high holiday. Outrageous fabulousness is a trademark of our celebrations and you won’t take that away from us! However, two crucial occurrences have shaped our realities this year that provide another layer of significance to our community’s Pride events. I hope, dear reader, that you don’t mind me getting a bit more serious this year.

One year ago on June 12th, I stood in Copley Square with several hundred others as we mourned the loss of 49 people that had been killed the night before in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. We were in shock and sought comfort within the same community that we had been marching through the streets of Boston with just the day before. From floats and rainbow flags to tears and grief within 24 hours.

Hundreds of people came out to Trinity Church in Copley Square on June 12th, 2016 for a vigil to mourn the victims of the Orlando Massacre.

Once we realized that the shooter had been motivated by ISIL terrorism and that the majority of victims were Latinx and LGBTQ, it only heightened the fear of violence against queer people and people of color in particular. Having the violence within our own queer space sent reverberations throughout the community. Some of us felt unsafe going to queer spaces; others of us defiantly set out to reclaim the spaces as our own. Vigils around the country similar to the one at Copley allowed us to vent our pain and seek out a place to feel safer together.

Secondly, since November 8th when the Electoral College produced a political outcome no one imagined could ever happen, our whole sense of safety has taken on a new dimension. Not only do we feel more targeted as LGBTQ people, but people of color, women, Muslims and Jews, immigrants and refugees, working class and people who live in poverty are all made more vulnerable by the policies and the hatemongering atmosphere this Administration perpetuates. We saw hate crimes increase by 20% in 2016, and indicators show these rising still in 2017. Almost every day we hear of instances of people being harassed and assaulted in public just for who they are.

For the last eight years, there has been an LGBT Pride celebration at the White House (one I’ve been honored to attend twice); and now, instead the current president curries favor with anti-LGBT organizations. On the positive side, this change of direction and general level of disregard for our community has prompted a renewed sense of urgency to vocally and visibly resist the actions of this Administration. SpeakOUT has definitely seen more interest in our community outreach programs and I’ve heard many other organizations report this upsurge.

As we near the first anniversary of the Orlando massacre, let’s double down on our commitment to uprooting hatred and working to end anti-LGBTQ bigotry throughout the country. Equality Florida, the key organization that responded to the Orlando tragedy, is asking folks to participate in a social media campaign, starting on Friday, to connect with others and to #HonorThemWithAction. Ways you can participate:

* Tweet using #HonorThemWithAction at 1:00pm ET on Friday, June 9th.

* Join the Thunderclap campaign and schedule Facebook posts, Tweets, and Tumblr posts to automatically launch at 1:00pm ET on Friday, June 9th.

* Use the graphic with #HonorThemWithAction in posts starting on Friday at 1:00pm ET.

And as we mark this somber anniversary, let us also choose to celebrate the fabulousness that runs within our queer spaces. SpeakOUT will be at Boston Pride on Saturday, June 10th and we will be absorbing the joy that sparks when we bring our full selves OUT!

Ellyn Ruthstrom has been the Executive Director of SpeakOUT Boston since 2014 and an active speaker for the organization since 2008.

Spring Speaker Training Message: It’s Time to Speak OUT

By Dr. Jennelle Kariotis

As part of my work as a Relationship Advisor to members of the Rainbow Community, I regularly share my story as a way to provide a nonjudgmental, safe space for open, honest connection. When I learned about SpeakOUT and its mission to share the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual people and their allies—well, let’s just say it spoke to me.

I have always believed that it is incredibly important to share the voices of the minority with the majority as a way to educate and build common ground. SpeakOUT’s purpose is to educate through shared experiences, and the organization has been doing this in the Greater Boston area for over 45 years—and doing it damn well, might I add. As someone who has been speaking in front of audiences for pretty much all my life (I was raised in and took a strong affinity to the theater at a young age), I was truly amazed at how much value was packed into the SpeakOUT one-day speaker training. On April 22nd, 24 members of the local “Rainbow Community” came together with one purpose: to learn how to share our stories in a way that inspires, educates, and motivates others towards change and acceptance. Being with so many truth tellers and “hope spreaders” (as Glennon Doyle Melton would call us), was absolutely incredible. Strangers bearing their souls for a greater purpose, paying it forward with every word spoken. And mind you, these stories were as unique as they come—no two were alike. From coming out experiences to issues with family acceptance to fear around cultural tolerance to fitting into the LGBTQ+ spectrum to branching out of the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and everything in between. Each of us had a different message but with the same purpose: it’s time to SpeakOUT.

As a woman in a same-sex relationship who does not identify with any particular letter of the Rainbow alphabet, I found the SpeakOUT training was also very much about educating within the Rainbow Community. Stories shared from transgender, non-binary, and sexually fluid members (such as myself), allowed for thought-provoking, provocative conversations all day long. Questions were asked that required careful attention and the recognition that we all have a lot to learn from each other. And the opportunity to ask the SpeakOUT panel our most feared questions during a speaking engagement (e.g., “Why are all lesbians so ugly?”) was absolutely priceless. And rest assured, we are now all armed with the cool, calm, collected approach to dealing with even the most difficult of inquiries. As I like to say, kill ‘em with kindness and knock em’ dead with knowledge.

A large group of speakers came out for the Spring Speaker Training to prepare to tell their personal stories to create positive change.

In today’s political climate, sharing our everyday experiences with the community at large is so incredibly important. Our stories humanize what the political scene and the media can often demonize. Our greatest assets are our collective voice, we must continue to speak up when it comes to social justice, and the best place to start is with our individual experiences. Let us continue to lead by example and remind everyone that we are everywhere.

If you are a member of the local Boston Rainbow Community, find out more about SpeakOUT. You may not think you have a story to tell, but your story may be the one that someone else is waiting to hear. And you will no doubt meet some of the most compassionate, brave, intelligent, supportive people that you will ever come across in this city. We are here, we are queer, and all we need now is for you to lend an ear. To the newly inaugurated SpeakOUT speakers: congratulations on a day of hard work and dedication, and may we each go out and be the change we wish to see in the world.

As a Relationship Advisor, Dr. Jennelle Kariotis offers support, guidance, and advice on the matters of the heart that matter most to you. With over 10+ years of psychology education and a lifetime of personal experience following a nontraditional path, Dr. Jennelle advises through various platforms including a free, private community on Facebook (the Big Change of Heart Community) and her weekly podcast (the Big Change of Heart Podcast. Connect with Dr. Jennelle on Facebook @ Dr. Jennelle or contact her directly here.

Being An Ally Is What You Do, Not Who You Are

By Jess Fick

I grew up in a conservative community in the midwest. I remember one year students in my high school participated in GLSEN’s Day of Silence. I also remember that there were other students who wore T-shirts that day that said, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” My high school self thought that was pretty witty.

When I went to college, I began to examine my belief system. I attended a very conservative Christian university in the south. When the Equality Ride came knocking at our doors, the university responded by setting up events to teach us why homosexuality was a sin and even had a person who ran a conversion therapy camp come and speak to us about how conversion therapy has helped so many people. It made me angry, so I did my own research. I decided that loving the people around me was the most important thing that I could do, no matter their sexual or gender identity. Obviously an evolution from when I thought the joke about Adam and Steve was funny.

During my junior year of college, one of my best friends came out to me as a lesbian, and I realized that there was absolutely no way I could respond with anything but love and compassion for how she was feeling. She was obviously feeling out of place at our ultra-conservative university, and as though she couldn’t be herself. We had hours and hours of conversations late into the night, where we talked through her thoughts. She told me about when she knew she was gay (In kindergarten, she wrote a love note to another little girl, not yet knowing that was “outside” of social norms.), and we talked about the ways she was beginning to accept herself. At this time, I knew I needed to be a listener and a loving friend.

However, it wasn’t until a few years after I graduated from college that I had a breakthrough in my understanding of true allyship. In my mid-20s, I dealt with a severe bout of depression. I spent a handful of years in therapy working through issues of self-worth. Since then, I have come out on the other side of it, not knowing where I stand on religion, but having realized that I am good (in fact, great) just the way that I am. Furthermore, if there is a God, they would never, ever want me or anyone to feel the way that I did for those few years. By extension, if there is a God, they would never, ever want any LGBTQIA person to feel like they weren’t great exactly as they are.  

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an ally. I was the opposite of an ally when I thought the whole “Adam and Steve” bit was funny. Although it was a step in the right direction, I was still not an ally when I began to believe that I should love instead of hate someone in the LGBTQIA community. I was beginning to become an ally when I began to listen, learn, and love, and when I had my personal realization about self-worth for all. I now know that to be an ally, it is not enough to simply show this love and compassion to your loved ones.

I have learned that I cannot truly be an ally to my friends and loved ones if I am not also fighting against prejudice that impacts them and fighting for their equal rights to marry, have full custody of their children, and be treated without discrimination in the workplace, in hospitals, and in businesses as they go about their daily lives. I have learned that being an ally is not a state of being, but something you do. This is why I am on the board of directors of SpeakOUT. As an organization, we are focused on ending prejudice and discrimination against the LGBTQIA community through changing hearts and minds. As a board member, I support the smooth functioning of the organization, through supporting fundraising, board recruitment, and volunteer speaker trainings. I hope the actions that I am taking to be an ally, even though I am far away geographically from my loved ones, have helped them to feel empowered to more proudly be who they are.

Jess Fick is a transplant from Michigan and joined the SpeakOUT board in the fall of 2015.

It’s Time to Understand the “I”

By Kimberly Zieselman

October 26th is Intersex Awareness Day – marking the 20th anniversary of intersex protests outside the annual American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conference in Boston.  That protest is considered the beginning of intersex activism in the U.S. and the beginning of a movement.


Several intersex activists participated in a Buzzfeed video to raise awareness about intersex issues.

Intersex – the “I” in LGBTQIA – is an umbrella term for people born with a biological sex characteristics that are not strictly ‘male’ or ‘female’. As common as red hair, nearly two percent of the population is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or a chromosomal pattern that does not seem to fit the typical male/female binary notion of sex.

For example an intersex person could be born with XY, or typically “male” sex chromosomes, internal testes, and no uterus but have typically female genitals and secondary sex characteristics.   A trait referred to as “androgen insensitivity”. Or a person may have typically “female” XX chromosomes and internal reproductive organs but have external genitals that are perceived to be atypical such as an enlarged clitoris. Intersex people are not really that rare; they have just been mostly invisible due to stigma and shame imposed on them by society and specifically some in the medical community.

Many have not even heard of intersex traits because until recently it has not been widely discussed.  Doctors have attempted to surgically erase variations of sex anatomy attempting to make intersex bodies “normal”. Since the 1950s, intersex children have been routinely subjected to irreversible, harmful, and unnecessary surgeries and other medical interventions in an attempt to ‘normalize’ or ‘fix’ their bodies.  But intersex bodies aren’t broken.  In fact, in the overwhelming majority of cases there is no medically necessity associated with these irreversible and unconsented “treatments”.

These so-called “normalization” surgeries are simply cosmetic, and can result in loss of genital sensation and sexual function, sterility, scarring, ongoing pain, incontinence, loss of reproductive capacity, depression, and PTSD. Families are often told to keep these experiences a secret, sometimes even from the children themselves. Sometimes doctors did not fully inform the parents or the children about the procedures that they performed.

Since the 1990s, intersex people around the world have been stepping forward to speak out against the medical treatment they received in childhood. Many have disclosed that the secrecy surrounding their experiences led to traumatizing feelings of shame and stigma and had a profound negative impact on their lives. Leaders of the intersex community started calling for an end to unnecessary surgeries, and for children with intersex traits to have a voice in in the treatment of their own bodies!

Today, interACT, a national organization based in the Greater Boston area, is the only organization fighting to promote legal and human rights of intersex youth, as well as working to raise awareness of intersex issues in the media and empowering intersex youth advocates.  Some of interACT Youth’s recent projects include a viral Buzzfeed Video entitled, “What it’s like to be intersex,” as well as consulting with MTV to create the first intersex main character on the popular teen show Faking it! interACT also uses innovative advocacy strategies on the state, federal and international levels to impact law and policy in favor of intersex rights.

interact-log-with-taglineThe LGBTQA community and the intersex movement are fighting some of the same societal constraints associated with not fitting into narrow understandings about bodies and identities. Most intersex people share the common experiences of discrimination, stigma and shame based on non-binary notions of sex, gender, and sexual orientation.  Although intersex is not a sexual orientation, it can be an important identity that some have reclaimed and celebrated in the face of medical providers who’ve felt intersex is shameful and should be kept hidden.

This intersex awareness day, please consider sharing this information with a friend who many not yet understand what the “I” in the alphabet soup stands for.  For more information, go to

Kimberly Zieselman, JD, is an intersex activist and Executive Director of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and lives in Sudbury, Massachusetts.