We Are All Orlando

I feel so utterly deflated and numb by the hateful and horrendous events that have unfolded in Orlando.  I am in pain.  The wind has been taken out of my sails.  I am angry.  I am depressed.  On an emotional level, it brings front and center the same array of feelings I experienced when I was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001.  At its best, it is disturbing; at its worst paralyzing.

Innocent, vibrant lives were taken far too early.  Bright lights of hope for a better, more loving tomorrow snuffed out in the blink of an eye and in the muzzle flash of an AR-15. One hundred and two families forever changed by the horror of that night seared into their memory.  As I write this, there are some parents that still do not know the whereabouts of their children. I pray for them.  I pray with them.

This was not ISIS; this was not some quasi-radicalized terrorist.  Quite the contrary.  This was an act of pure, unadulterated hate.   The kind of hate that blinds and eviscerates the soul of the person who embodies it.  That was Omar Mateen.  By all accounts thus far, he calmly and unemotionally stalked his prey and carried out his perverse plan, unaffected and unmoved by the cries and pleadings of his victims.

When I woke up Sunday morning, the news had broken, but the extent of the carnage had yet to be revealed. It wasn’t until I reached the park in Brooklyn where I was being taped for a Logo series that I found out from the production team that 50 people (50 people!!!!) had perished. My heart immediately sank, and I suspect it will remain heavy for a very long time.  Tears come rather easily.

Because you see, I may not have actually met – in person – the patrons of The Pulse nightclub, but I am intrinsically connected to them.  They are, for all practical purposes, my brothers and sisters.  They are, in a very real way, a part of my family.  We share a common bond, a common thread – we are all unique.  In one form or another, we have let our freak flags fly high and wide.

We have suffered the indignities of those who choose hate over love and throw their version of the Bible at us at every turn.  We have felt the loss of loved ones and friends who either could not, or would not, see past what they did not understand to the loving human being that lies within.  We have struggled with that strange brew of excitement and sheer terror that comes with – finally – revealing our true selves to our co-workers and hoping we won’t be fired on the spot. We felt the exhilaration of the immense weight lifting off of our shoulders when we weren’t.  We all have slowly opened up the door of our very dark closet to embrace the light of day that was always waiting outside – for all those years.

The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls this connectedness Ubuntu.  He describes it this way, “‘It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. . . They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are.” 

Make no mistake . . . there is a disturbance in the force.

But lest we forget, this is Pride Month – it is our time to hold up our heads proudly and demand that we take our rightful place in society. Our voices, though perhaps temporarily weakened by the tears we shed and the cries of justice we shout for our brothers and sisters who perished in this horrific act of hate, must never be silenced. In fact, we must be louder and prouder and queer-er than ever.

We must be seen.  We must be heard.  We must be strong. 

We must be fearless.

Sure, do it for yourself and for those closest to you – the ones that love you unconditionally and celebrate the awesome person you are.  But more importantly, do it for your brothers and sisters in Orlando – both the perished and the survivors – because they are an elemental part of your family.

We need to hold on tightly to each other and our allies and love each other like we never have before. We do so to honor and celebrate the lives of the fallen and to remind ourselves that we are amazing points of light that will never allow our collective flame to be extinguished.

We stand in solidarity with Orlando, because we are all Orlando.

Orlando_Pulse

Stephanie Set to Return to the Forum on Workplace Inclusion

As she did last year, Stephanie will be returning to speak at the 2016 edition of the Forum on Workplace Inclusion sponsored the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business and being held at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 29 – 31.

On Wednesday, March 30 from 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm she will present a workshop entitled, “So What Do We Do NOW? Evolving the Transgender Workplace Inclusion Narrative from Policy to Practice.”

The session overview outlines what will surely be an interactive and enlightening workshop for all who attend:

The current narrative with regard to the workplace issues of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals has tended to focus on the events and preparations leading up to the time of transition itself. This lively and engaging session evolves the conversation beyond this stage and covers an area that up to now has not been discussed—the post-transition (and beyond) story.

A major international voice in the workplace equality movement for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, Stephanie throws open the shutters of this darkened room and casts a bright light on the pertinent issues that D& I and human resource professionals need to know to successfully transform their workplaces into a truly welcoming environment for ALL of their employees. Participants will learn key actionable takeaways that will “bring to life” their transgender-inclusive workplace policies and procedures – and leave better prepared to be an advocate / ally.

To learn more about this wonderful conference, you can access a downloadable PDF summary HERE.  

You can also access the 2016 Forum website HERE.

Hope to see you there!

Stephanie Attends The Official White House Welcome Ceremony for the Pope

I had the honor, this past September, to be invited by The White House to attend the official Welcome Ceremony for Pope Francis’ first – ever visit to the United States. The invitation, which came via my association with PFLAG National, was quite an honor indeed and a personal highlight for me. It was made even more special because I was able to share the moment with my spiritual director, Sister Monica. Sister is a trailblazer in her own right, as she has – for a number of years now – ministered to the transgender community, albeit under the Vatican’s radar, but interestingly enough, with the full support of her order.

Representing PFLAG was our Deputy Executive Director, Beth Kohm, our Operations Manager, Paul Rocco and our Manager, Field & Policy, West Region, Cesar Hernandez. Being able to share this moment with members of my PFLAG family as well as with Sister Monica made for a day that I will never forget.

 

Stephanie Meets the Creator and the Star of the hit series Transparent

Stephanie with Transparent series creator Jill Soloway, who received the SFE in Entertainment Award at the PFLAG National Straight for Equality Gala, March 30.

Just last month I was fortunate enough to meet and spend some time with two key persons responsible for the creation and success of the hit series “Transparent.”  As a Board member of PFLAG National, we honored the series’ creator, Jill Soloway, at the Straight for Equality gala held at the Marriott Marquis in midtown Manhattan.  In her remarks, Jill spoke poignantly about the impetus for the series, which involved her father’s own transition.

Now in its sixth year, PFLAG National’s Straight for Equality Gala honors and celebrates some of the most powerful straight allies who are generating life-changing change through their work. The awards each year focus on areas key to moving equality forward, including the workplace, faith communities, entertainment, literature, sports, education, and more.

The highlight of every year those who support and are associated with the LGBT Community Center (“the Center”) of New York is the Center Dinner event.  This year’s event was held on April 2 at Cipriani on Wall Street, and among the honorees that evening, Jeffrey Tambor of the hit Amazon series Transparent was honored with the evening’s Trailblazer Award.  He was presented by long-time LGBT ally and fellow cast member, Judith Light.

Jeffrey Tambor & I_Center Dinner 2015

Stephanie with Golden Globe-winning actor Jeffrey Tambor of Transparent, who received the Trailblazer Award at the LGBT Community Center of New York’s Center Dinner gala on April 2.

It was definitely a personal highlight for me, as the only transgender individual on the Center’s Board, to have had the chance to meet and briefly chat with Jeffrey at the event.  In his acceptance speech he spoke poignantly about the transgender community and acknowledged the contributions of the trans individuals in the room – all of whom he did not necessarily know.

I will forever remember how he reacted to me when I told him that so many parts of Maura’s (the trans character he plays on the show) transition mirrored mine.  He simply looked at me with empathy and understanding and kept repeating, “I know, I know” – because I truly believe that in living into Maura and learning about the transgender and gender non-conforming community – he truly does.

Stephanie Adds Her Voice to The Huffington Post

Over  the course of a mere two weeks, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to add my voice on the Huffington Post website:  as a new blogger in their “Gay Voices” section, and as a guest panelist on “Huff Post Live.”

For the former, I was asked by my colleagues at PFLAG to write a piece about what the importance of trans allies means to me, especially as it pertained to my decision to come out at work a few years ago.  Today, as it was then for me, the importance of allies – those individuals that advocate for and support members of a community other than their own – cannot be overstated.  You can read the entire blog by clicking here.

The producers of Huff Post Live asked me to share, once again, my experiences raising my son in a segment about being a parent who also happens to be trans.  The episode, which included other trans parents, provided a rich array of experiences that I hope you find engaging and informative.