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.

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Stephanie On Caitlyn Jenner – & Other Women’s Topics – On Huff Po’s #WMN

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 7.09.50 AMEarlier this month on June 4th  I had the pleasure to appear as a live in-studio guest on the the Huff Post Live show “#WMN,” hosted by the wonderful Carol Modarressy-Tehrani.

It was a privilege to  be joined by two other terrific women, doing outstanding work in their own fields – and making a difference at the same time:  Author Leora Tanenbaum and Nakisha Lewis, from the Ms. Foundation.  While I was there primarily to discuss my take on Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out in Vanity Fair, what made it even more special for me was that I had the opportunity to be a part of a larger conversation about issues of the day important to all women.  It truly was an awesome experience with plenty of lively conversation.

You can view a video of the show in its entirety Huff Post

 

Stephanie Serves as Consultant to Diane Sawyer & ABC News on Groundbreaking Bruce Jenner Interview

As I settle in to write this, 48 hours have passed since the airing of the Diane Sawyer interview with Bruce Jenner.  17 million viewers, over 675,000 tweets and innumerable Facebook posts (including mine!) later, I feel compelled to ask the question:  so what has the transgender and gender non-conforming community gained as the afterglow of this past Friday’s watershed event ever so slowly begins to fade?  In a word:  Plenty.

To better substantiate my claim, let me first take you back to Tuesday of last week when I found myself at the ABC News studios in Manhattan in a conference room with Diane Sawyer and her production team.  We were all gathered together that evening to screen, for the first time, the program in its entirety.  I was asked to serve as a consultant to the team at ABC because it was very important to them that a trans person not involved with the production itself had a chance to provide input and offer insights on the show.  From the moment I met everyone, it was very apparent that Diane and her entire team had a sincere desire to make sure that the finished product was a genuine, honest and human portrayal of not only Bruce’s journey, but of the myriad issues that the transgender and gender non-conforming community face.  And you know what?  They hit it completely out of the park in all respects.ratings26n-3-web

The point that I made that evening that thankfully was not lost on anyone in the room was the importance of not losing sight of the larger context within which Bruce’s story was being told.  To be sure, the main drawing card of the show is Bruce’s story: to finally hear what he had to say – his feelings, his emotions, and his journey thus far – it provided a much needed counterpoint to the tired, overblown and all-too-intrusive tabloid coverage that we’ve had to endure of late.

But the program would have done a horrible disservice to the trans/gnc community if it did not employ the forum that the story of Bruce’s journey to embrace his authentic and true self provided.  Thankfully, that was not the case at all – and that’s a very good thing.

The legacy that the show will leave behind has yet to be fully written.  For one thing, Bruce’s transition is far from over.  In so many ways, it is only just beginning.  Months from now, when we look back on what transpired last Friday night, that fact will be quite apparent.  But the immediate – and I hope lasting impact – is its ability to instantaneously create a public discourse – a conversation about not only the issues facing the trans/gnc community, but who we are as human beings – in places where perhaps it has never happened before across the country.  The opportunity this presents for our community to simply tell our stories, have them be heard and, most importantly, to educate – is what the real legacy of this moment is.

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As I was rushing home on Friday night from another commitment I had in New York City, I had one eye on my Facebook feed to see what people’s reaction to the interview was. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Having already seen the show I knew that it was a solid, non-sensationalistic portrayal, but that was just one trans person’s opinion, and obviously mine was just a bit biased.

What I saw amidst the repeated pinging and buzzing of my phone was one very obvious truth: people were all talking to each other about what was unfolding before them on the television screen.  They were sharing their stories.  They were sharing their feelings. They were teaching.  Teaching everyone that we share one common desire:  to be happy.  The pursuit of happiness – a concept our founding fathers got a long time ago.

To see such a display of truth and authenticity left me feeling grateful – for having had the opportunity to serve as a consultant to Diane & her team, emotional – because there are so many parallels I can draw from my own journey to Bruce’s, and last and most importantly – so very proud of who I am, my history and the community I am a part of.

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As a runner, I subscribe to inspirational quotes that I receive in my email each morning.  They help me get out on the road on those days when I would rather do anything but that.  Much to my delighted surprise, today’s edition was from another American Olympic hero, Frank Shorter, which beautifully provides inspiration for not only my newest sister, but for all of the transgender and gender non-conforming community:  “Be willing to move forward and find out what happens next.”

This blog post also appears in the Huffington Post here

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.

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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.