Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Favorite Gift of the Season

by Martha Fugate, Co-Founder of YES Institute 

Martha Fugate.
I've invited YES Institute interns to create a CD of songs they want to share with me. These are treasured gifts that always bring new sounds, ideas, and experiences to my life. This year, this has been exceptionally true. 

Ten CD’s of music favorites are coming into my life bringing new ways for me to listen and learn.  It is an amazing gift, and each CD conveys an artful thoughtfulness and excitement behind the choices selected.  One of the interns Amanda also shared a collection of classical instrumental music that included several compositions and renditions of her own violin recitals. Is it possible to convey so much with a violin? Her performance was riveting, way beyond merely playing of notes and strings. The music evocative, sounds dancing, stirring, encompassing a new art of communication.  She is an amazing musician, and an extraordinary communicator. Caro has just delivered her playlists, sharing her experience of women's music, which I am already excited about hearing. Better than the twelve days of Christmas, I have even more gifts awaiting from Mariana, Adrian, Annie, and Sky!

YES Institute student interns and volunteers hard at work! 

I started thinking about how karma works. As one of the founders of YES Institute, I began this work because I wanted to make a difference in the world for youth who struggled simply because of their orientation or experience of gender.  No matter how hard I have worked these past 15 years, it can’t begin to repay all the love, gifts, and growth I have received from the youth and families that come to YES Institute. I have always said the “brightest and the best” come to YES, and this season, like each one since YES began, their gifts are my favorite. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Engaging with Schools and Communities

YES speaker Sky at Hialeah Gardens.
The sixty volunteer members of Community Voices, the YES Institute speakers bureau, conducted over 142 presentations and courses reaching 3,800 people in Florida in addition to communities across the United States and Mexico this year.

Requests for community presentations and education courses has increased 24% over the last 3 years, and 94% of participants rate YES Institute presentations and courses "worthwhile" or "extremely worthwhile".

Last week, YES Institute presented to Honey Shine Mentoring Program and Ferguson and Hialeah Gardens high schools.
"I will be retiring this December, and after 33 years of teaching, I must admit that this is the most informative and moving presentation that I have ever attended." –Delma M.
YES speaker Jowharah with Honey Shine youth.
YES Institute thanks all the volunteer speakers and interns who have made our community dialogues and education courses possible.

Amanda, a new speaker with YES Institute shared, "A few months ago, I was searching for a place that I could feel safe, be who I am, and make an impact in the world. That is what I found at YES Institute, and so much more. After the Communication Solutions™ course, I walked away with new knowledge and tools to express how I feel, be genuine, and honor others. Also, being a part of Community Voices speakers bureau has enriched my life and has made a tremendous positive shift in how I interact in the world. I am able to share my story and let others know they are not alone."
"I got to see the mistakes everyone– including me–makes, by assuming that people are gay just because of their physical appearance." –High school student
If you would like your voice to make a difference, become a speaker and by joining us in our upcoming Communication Solutions™ course on Friday & Saturday, January 13–14, 2012. Learn the skills to create powerful dialogue and action in our community. Contact Brittney McCabe at 305-663-7195 or to register.
"Honestly, it helped me know that there's people out there who care." –High school student 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Eva Leivas-Andino is Purpose Prize® 2011 Featured Fellow

The Purpose Prize®, now in its sixth year, is the nation's only large-scale acknowledgement of people over 60 who are combining their passion and experience for social good. The Purpose Prize® awards up to $100,000 each to five people in encore careers creating new ways to solve tough social problems. The Prize was created to showcase the value of experience and disprove notions that innovation is the sole province of the young.

Eva Leivas-Andino.
Eva Leivas-Andino, YES Institute's Chief Financial Officer and Director of Programs in Spanish, became a finalist on the Encore Careers website and is one of their Featured Fellows for the 2011 year:

Twenty-one years ago, Eva Leivas-Andino, a political refugee from Cuba, was devastated when her son Paolo came out as gay. Terrified of what her family and friends would say she kept her son’s sexual orientation secret.  
Faced with his pain, Leivas-Andino decided it was time to “transform people's hearts.” An insecure volunteer at first, today Leivas-Andino is the Miami-based organization’s chief financial officer and director of programs in Spanish, working in partnership with religious communities, schools, social service agencies, hospitals and police departments throughout the country and Latin America. YES Institute reached more than 4,000 people in 2010 alone.
You can visit Eva's page on the Encore Careers website. And to our very own Abuela Evita, gracias con todo nuestro corazón por todo su amor y trabajo. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Anderson Cooper and Dr. Phil Interview YES Institute Board Member and Volunteer

On the Anderson Cooper talk show, YES Institute Board Member Dr. John J. Martin, Jr., and volunteer speaker Rajee spoke about the dangers of cosmetic procedures conducted outside of licensed, mainstream medical providers (air date Dec. 5). Those seeking physical procedures as part of a gender transition are a particularly vulnerable population, as many transgender people cannot afford transitioning expenses which are also typically not covered by insurance. Stigma and lack of awareness and education from mainstream providers further compels individuals to seek medical care elsewhere, often at their own peril.

Rajee and Dr. John J. Martin were also featured guests on the Dr. Phil talk show (air date Dec. 8).

The American Medical AssociationAmerican Psychological AssociationAmerican Congress for Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Endocrine Society all have policy statements and/or clinical guidelines calling for greater awareness, education and proper care for clients seeking a gender transition.

Health care organizations such as Children's Diagnostic & Treatment CenterCommunity Youth Services at Memorial RegionalJoe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Pediatric EndocrinologyMDC's Physician Assistant ProgramMiami Children's Hospital and Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical Fraternity are some of the places that have received training from YES Institute. Contact us today to explore how your medical or mental health services team can schedule a YES Institute presentation on gender transitioning patients and client care at 305-663-7195.

On January 15, 16 and 17, YES Institute will be conducting our entire Gender/Orientation Series™, three days of courses providing an in-depth, research-based exploration of these and many other consequences facing youth, families and communities resulting from binary concepts of gender. Contact Brittney McCabe at 305-663-7195 or email to register and reserve your seat today. CE credits are available for Florida licensed nurses, therapists and teachers.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A High Price to Pay to Belong

For youth and adults pursuing a gender transition today, social stigma, lack of education for medical providers, high costs and insurance difficulties lead many to seek support and medical care elsewhere.

Medical transitioning sought outside of mainstream and licensed channels carries serious risks. CBS 4 Miami and the Miami Herald have both reported on victims of an alleged person posing as a doctor and injecting unsuspecting clients with cement and toxic substances instead of silicone.

Raj, a South Florida resident and a volunteer speaker with YES Institute for the past seven years, said she did not have the financial means to afford a licensed plastic surgeon and sought ought the alleged suspect after hearing of word-of-mouth referrals.

Raj at a YES Institute presentation for Florida Atlantic University graduate counseling students. 

"It becomes so dire that you want to match your outside with your inside that you’re willing to roll the dice and take your chances," Raj said of her decision. "As a transgender person, you’re thinking ‘Oh, my God, I can start to look like, I want to look like and I don’t have to spend a lot of money.'"

Dr. John J. Martin, Jr. 
Longtime Kiaora Society Donor and newly installed YES Institute Board Member, Dr. John J. Martin, Jr., has been treating Raj to correct and restore the botched and unlicensed procedures.
Dr. Martin has been giving Raj therapeutic injections in the the hopes to eventually soften the hard nodules formed in her skin and return her to a more normal appearance. "There is not an easy solution to this nightmare," says Martin. 
Dr. Martin has been treating Raj for the past three years. He says Raj thought she was getting silicone, and he doesn't know what the composition of the substance is now in her skin.

More and more leaders within various healthcare professions and specialties are recognizing the need for increased education and awareness about gender transitioning patients. For example, the American Congress for Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently released a policy statement that "opposes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and urges public and private health insurance plans to cover the treatment of gender identity disorder."

On January 15, 16 and 17, YES Institute will be conducting our entire Gender/Orientation Series™, three days of courses providing an in-depth, research-based exploration of these and many other consequences facing youth, families and communities resulting from binary concepts of gender.

The Gender/Orientation Series™takes place during Communicating Powerfully & ReVisioning Gender, our annual education weekend held in January. YES' two-day signature Communication Solutions™ course will be conducted on Friday and Saturday, January 13 & 14.

Contact Brittney McCabe at 305-663-7195 or email to register and reserve your seat today. CE credits are available for licensed nurses, therapists and teachers.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Authenticity, Being and Belonging: Transforming Self and Community

Dear YES Institute, the following talk I delivered as a community activist and candidate for New York City Council on October 19, 2011. It was addressed to representatives of major corporations that offer the most comprehensive benefits to people of all genders and orientations. - Mel Wymore 

Mel Wymore.
I was asked to speak tonight because of my vast experience. When I was born, the doctor proclaimed me female and gave me an "F". Shortly thereafter, I began to "Q". Eventually, and for a number of years, I identified as "L". After no small amount of struggle, I found "T". And recently, I earned an "M" from the Department of Motor Vehicles. I know, I’m missing the "G", but believe me, at this point, I’m not ruling it out.

I have a close friend (and ally) who calls us "the giblets," (GLBTQs). It’s kind of funny, but she makes a rather stirring point. Sometimes we work so hard to identify ourselves, we end up in a box more isolating than where we started. I’m not going to talk about the labels we often confuse and misuse; I’m going to talk about what it means to be and to belong.

First, I want to begin by thanking all of you for being here, for taking the time on a Wednesday night to acknowledge your commitment to justice and equality in the workplace. You are leaders in industry who have fought and won righteous battles. You have my admiration and also my deep gratitude.

When I was a baby tomboy, my parents didn’t tell me anything was wrong. In fact, they didn’t really tell me I was a girl. Mrs. Parker did that. On my first day of pre-school, she insisted that I go play dolls with the other girls (blech!) while the “boys” frolicked outside in the mud. I remember watching them through the window longingly, achingly.

But the message was clear. I would have to learn how to “be” a girl... So I dropped out of pre-school. Thanks to understanding parents, I got a glorious extra year without Mrs. Parker, or Mrs. Peacock, or Mrs. DeVault, or Susy Sanderson, the smartest, sparkliest, prettiest girly girl in school. But I never shook the feeling that I just didn’t belong.

In our culture, belonging is a binary proposition. One is either black or white, masculine or feminine, straight or gay, liberal or conservative. Yes, there is a vast middle ground, and an infinite number of clubs to join, but belonging seems to be given more by what we are not by who we are. If you want to belong to the norm, simply disavow that you are different. Just bury it.

By middle school, I had learned to fit in. On a minimum acceptable number of days (one was always photo day), I sacrificed my striped pants and matching polo shirt for a plaid dress. Life became largely a matter of appearance, performance, and compromise. Fitting in was all that mattered. I appeared to be a happy camper, and I actually believed it myself.

When we strive to belong to any group, we often park a part of ourselves at the door like an inconvenient younger sibling. Rather than risk exclusion, we turn our backs on what makes us whole and complete, sometimes without even noticing.

Strangely, between the ages of 16 and 24, I had 10 car accidents and totaled 6 cars. They were all blindsides. I was so far removed from myself, I thought there was a problem with my peripheral vision. The notion that I was engaged in reckless, death-wish­-type driving never crossed my mind. I went to driving school, moved from Arizona to New York, married a successful banker, spawned two beautiful kids, and became an entrepreneur and PTA mom. I was a paragon of fitting in, living out the American Dream.

It wasn’t until I was 35, and mysteriously depressed, that I began experiencing another series of blindsides. This time, they came from the inside out, like a chick emerging from its egg one crack at a time. When I finally sprung the shell, my perfect life crumbled around me. That’s when my real journey began.

As a newly hatched lesbian mom, I challenged myself to prize authenticity over social agreement. It was not easy. I could reliably count on people asking why I would jeopardize the well-­being of my children for the sake of my own self-­indulgent self-expression. I became acutely aware of how afraid we are, all of us, of being other, of showing ourselves. It’s time to break the chain.

I came out a second time 3 years ago. We tend to confuse sexual orientation with gender identity. As it turned out for me, same sex relationships only exacerbated the deep discomfort I had always felt with my body. So I began to transition. This time, however, I went big. I literally moved physically across the gender spectrum in front of the world, narrating along the way, not to embellish my own story, but as an invitation for everyone to break through their own barriers to full self-­expression.

Ernst & Young building, Times Square.
For this same reason, I’d like to speak to you as agents of change in your respective institutions. It’s imperative to have policies that safeguard all of us from discrimination. But equal benefits and diversity recruitment will not change the culture that give rise to inequity. Our challenge is to create an alternative future, one in which everyone feels invested in and cared for by the whole of their communities. I invite you to join me in three specific quests:

1. Challenge the mental models that shape our world. 
From the get-go, we are born into a paradigm that separates us. What’s most often the first question asked of any expecting mother? ["Is it a boy or girl?"] As we grow up, we continue collecting and identifying the two-­sided coins of life and how they define us: are we smart vs. “social,” rich vs. poor, fast or slow? Our default frame of reference is almost always us vs. them. The simple, conscious act of replacing our jar of two-­sided coins with a jar of multicolored marbles will make room for new conversations, engage who we actually are, and ultimately change the world.

2. Build authentic and inclusive community.
Community is the antidote to the isolation and disconnection we all increasingly feel. Inclusive community does not happen by accident, it happens by design. First, honor and encourage authentic interactions. Occasionally, break from explanations, analysis, or goals to ask ambiguous questions that encourage engagement and self-expression, questions like:
• What possibility can you proclaim for our company that would have the power to inspire you?
• What gifts or perspectives do you still hold in exile?
• What gratitude do you feel that has yet gone unexpressed?

Make sure open answers carry no cost. Safe space is essential. Form small groups, comprised of people across departments and organizational layers, focused on specific projects that serve the well-­being of the whole. Start by developing a set of principles that reflect the deep commitments of the group, principles like freedom, equality, unity, or transparency. Allow them to shape and motivate on-­going discussion.

George Washington bridge, NYC.
Small, cross-­disciplinary groups are the unit of organizational transformation. They create what are called “bridging” relationships that would not happen otherwise. These are distinct from bonding relationships, which occur naturally among colleagues. Invest in small group projects over big events or diversity trainings. They produce some important benefits, but they don’t transform communities.

Shift the context of discussion: rather than building community defined by its problems, focus on building community defined by its possibilities. You will be amazed by how the conversations change.

Finally, leave no person behind. Invite everyone to participate, observe, or not. Make sure there’s no cost to opting out.

3. Expand your accountability. 
Engage everyone in their ownership of the whole, not only within your institution, but in the immediate community around you. So often we ask our corporations to give charity to lands far away, to feed the poor in Bangladesh or cure the ill in the Congo. These are great causes, but shifting our systems of association at home will bring far more to the world. The us/them paradigm disappears through interpersonal connections, not by shipping money overseas.

These all sound like simple suggestions, but they are not easy. Conventional wisdom will resist “touchy feely” engagements. It will require personal risk, courage, and perseverance to make it happen. But it will be worth the effort. I guarantee it will empower your employees, enliven your company, and impact all three of your bottom lines: people, planet, and profit.

Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

School Therapists Requesting Education and Training on Gender and Orientation

Ever hear of the term "E/BD"?  Emotional/Behavioral Disorder is a diagnosis or label applied to students who exhibit acting out behaviors or mood imbalances that impact their ability to learn, relate and perform in the classroom. Most school districts in the US and Canada have specialized programs with dedicated teachers and counselors to address the needs of these students.

Ms. Nadyne Floyd-Grubbs, Chairperson for Miami-Dade County Public Schools E/BD Clinical Services, noticed continuing education requests on gender transitioning, orientation and student well-being on a recent team survey. She contacted YES Institute, and this November we conducted a two-hour workshop with 60 social workers, art therapists and counselors from the E/BD program.

Ms. Nadyne Floyd-Grubbs, second from the left, with MDCPS E/BD counseling team members. 

Students dealing with emotional and behavioral challenges can also simultaneously be struggling with questions surrounding gender and orientation. Given the prevalent 'anti-gay' school bullying climate that many students endure, some E/BD students are more sensitive and therefore more affected by these types of slurs and harassment. A popular E/BD blog featured a resource post for parents and families earlier this year for students confronting emotional well-being and gender and orientation concerns.

"The personal experiences were very powerful. It shows us how this topic needs to be handled with sensitivity. It is our responsibility to be knowledgeable about gender and transgender." –E/BD Counselor 

At the workshop, Barbara Byrne, LCSW, shared about several cases on gender and orientation she manages in her private practice, and highlighted key clinical strategies when working with schools and parents. We also provided counselors with community resource and referrals in addition to educational courses available to parents, teachers and therapists with YES Institute.

"This session was extremely important. I feel better equipped to assist young adults with orientation." –E/BD Counselor 

Over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in January 2012, YES Institute will be hosting our annual winter education weekend, "Communicating Powerfully & ReVisioning Gender," conducting five days of the most popular courses at YES Institute. To register for the entire event, or attend one of the courses offered in the series, please contact us today. CE units and Master Plan Points are available for licensed Florida professionals.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Miami-Dade College Faculty Broadens Awareness and Education on Gender

Out of 130 presentation engagements conducted by the YES Institute's Speakers Bureau this year, fourteen dialogues were requested by professors from Miami-Dade College. Psychology, sociology, and medical teachers, including faculty from Hialeah, Homestead, Kendall, Medical and North campuses, have all hosted YES Institute.

Instructors who invite YES Institute to their class are providing students with access to the latest research, critical thinking, and first-hand life experiences on gender and orientation, greatly enhancing 'book learning'. Engaging with YES Institute speakers also has a profound impact, not only for students self-knowledge and awareness, but also how they relate to friends and their families on these topics.

Sky Guilbaud engaging with MDC North campus students. 

165 students at Miami-Dade North campus attended a talk today exploring the topics of gender and orientation in our culture. Students reflected:

"I learned the value of supporting someone, no matter what their orientation. Supporting them might mean the difference between a suicide attempt or not." 
"Gender transitioning is not as creepy as I thought. I didn't know how I would react if someone around me transitioned, but after being here with Sky, I realized it would have no affect on me."  
"Awesome presentation, great knowledge. I now see an approach to talk to my own children about this." 

Caro, a guest speaker with YES Institute, addressing students at Miami-Dade Kendall. 

A student from Miami-Dade Kendall also shared about the impact of a YES Institute presentation this morning:
"Before this presentation, I always call my friends 'queer faggots', basically being a bully. I was blind to the harm I caused to my friend that did come out as gay. The YES dialogue taught me that my actions affect people deeply." 
If you would like to invite YES Institute facilitators and speakers to present to your South Florida university class, please contact us today. Upcoming engagements that are currently scheduled are available on our website calendar.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Health Care Centers Leading the Way

by Joseph Zolobczuk

75% of medical schools surveyed in the United States and Canada rated themselves "fair," "poor," or "very poor" on the integration of gender and orientation content in undergraduate medical school training, according to a November 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Of 132 medical schools in the JAMA report, 33% devoted no clinical training hours to covering the particular health concerns of patients who identify as gay or transgender, as reported in a recent US News & Word Report article. The average time medical schools who integrate topics is about 5 hours of instruction, however the JAMA report found, "the quantity, content covered, and perceived quality of instruction varied substantially." This lack of awareness and education could be contributing to Lambda Legal's survey findings that 56% of respondents experienced discrimination based on gender and orientation in US health care.

Tori G. addressing the Physician Assistants at Miami-Dade College

In South Florida, two notable health centers who are taking steps to increase awareness and education include Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital (JDCH) Community Youth Services at Memorial, and Miami-Dade College (MDC) Physician Assistant Program. 

Community Youth Services (CYS) has distinguished itself as a quality provider of youth and family prevention, early intervention, and substance abuse outpatient services, serving thousands of Broward residents each year. In October, YES Institute provided training to 50 CYS social workers in a two-hour workshop and open floor dialogue with three guest speakers. Some of the participants shared:  
“I have learned that in order to prevent suicide and ensure healthy development there has to be proper communication. The YES dialogue was very informative and I was moved by the stories of people who really shared their experience.” –CYS participant 
“It helped me understand others' experiences and cultural perspectives. The information was useful because of the population I work with. There are a lot of misconceptions and today's training cleared many of these for me.” –CYS participant 
JDCH Department of Pediatric Endocrinology hosted a YES Institute presentation earlier this summer at Memorial Regional Hospital.

Joseph Zolobczuk(center) and Sky Guilbaud with social workers at Community Youth Services

MDC's Physician Assistant Program invites YES Institute to provide a 1½ hour presentations on orientation, gender transitioning, and medical management of intersex births for each new cohort of medical students for the past several years. Students from the Fall 2011 cohort remarked,
"This is very important information for life and my profession." –MDC PA student 
"Asking if a patient prefers to be called a name other than listed could have huge benefits in care/treatment." –MDC PA student
YES Institute courses are accredited for continuing education by the Florida Board of Nursing and Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling [BAP #50-1652] on gender and orientation topics. The January 2012 Winter Education Weekend is an ideal opportunity participate in all of the primary YES Institue communication and education courses, conducted Friday through Tuesday, January 13–17, 2012, at the YES Institute offices in Miami, Florida.

If you would like to schedule an introductory presentation or training workshop at your health center or facility, please call YES Institute at 305-663-7195 or 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Unlearning Masculinity

by Adrian Fernandez-Morrell

As a child in elementary school, I was blissfully unaware that indoctrination into my “correct” gender role was already well on its way. My father, who took on the role of teacher, was determined to transform me into the same image of a “real man” he was given by his father - one of toughness, force, and stoicism. 

A “real man” would strike anyone in the mouth for the slightest sign of disrespect. “Punch ‘em” was my father’s go-to advice whenever I had a problem with someone. “When I was your age,” he explained, “and some kid did that to me, I gave them a bloody nose. You better believe he never messed with me again.” 

Adrian (right) at YES Institute's Masculinity Distinguished course.

I continued to play, oblivious to the meanings the world attached to my actions. I bear-hugged my best friends, because they were my best friends. One time, I walked an imaginary runway in my mother’s high heels to which she said, “You’re really good at walking in those. Just don’t let your father ever see you wearing them.” I put on my grandmother’s clip-on earrings and was scolded by my father, “Take those off! Ladies wear earrings.” The lessons seemed never ending: Don’t be a fairy, don’t be a sissy, don’t be a little girl, suck it up, be a man, stop whining. “My father used to hit me, and you’d never see me cry," my father would say. According to my father, I was going about the business of manhood all wrong. 

Despite my resistance, the “boys don’t do that” lessons of my childhood began to take root. I wanted to be a man. My father was strong, so I wanted to be strong. I took pride in his strength, punching him in the stomach (only with his permission) to see how his mighty abdomen could absorb the blow, but also to see if I had become strong enough to inflict some degree of pain. 

In college, my father felt it necessary to continue my tutorials to prepare me for the real world. On one of his visits, he noticed a thin layer of pink nail polish on a few of my fingers. His patience had already been exhausted, and a lecture ensued. He swiftly procured nail polish remover, took my hand, and gruffly removed the paint himself. “Do you walk around in public like that? What do people think when they see that? I’ll tell you what I’d think. I’d think that person’s a gay.” 

This was not a new phenomenon. I was called gay frequently growing up. Much to my chagrin, quite a few acquaintances called me by the unwarranted sobriquet, “Gaydrian.” This was a recycled pestering used on any and every victim - I wasn’t bullied or ridiculed, because people actually thought I was gay; it was just the insult of choice. Not every kid sees it this way. For kids like Carl Joseph Walker Hoover and Jamey Rodemeyer, relentless bullying was a death blow.

Even as an adult, people still assume I’m gay. I don’t think I exhibit characteristics that would make others think this of me, and yet, it happens. After taking Masculinity Distinguished, I see how all of those lessons about masculinity my father tried so hard to bestow are at the root of it all. I’m still processing the impact of this course, but I know that I left YES Institute that day feeling lighter, freer. I get it. 

Brittney McCabe and Joseph Zolobczuk (right) in November's Masculinity Distinguished course.

We invite you to Masculinity Distinguished to look beyond what is assumed and examine the constraints and expectations for the illusive "ideal male". YES Institute begins a fresh inquiry into the meanings of relating in a polarized gender equation. Register for the Saturday, February 25, 2012 class with Brittney McCabe, by calling 305 663-7195. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

YES Institute in México for 1st Latin American Summit on Gender & Communication

by Roxy Sora, YES Institute Board Member
Being a part of the YES Institute team traveling to México has been an inspiration and a blessing. Bishop James Ottley (biography), Interim Bishop of the Diocese of Cuernavaca and a longtime friend and supporter of YES Institue, inspired many with the launch of the 1st Latin America Summit on Gender & Communication. People from all corners of the 11th most populous country were invited to attend, conducted by our YES Institute team in the town of Cuernavaca, roughly 85 kilometers south of México City. Bishop Ottley’s commitment to bring the work of YES Institute to the worldwide Anglican Communion is coming to fruition. His vision to shift communication from fear to conversations of powerful relatedness resounded among the 50 participants during the four days of the Summit.

Dr. Luis Ottley and Martha Fugate, left, addressing the people of Cuernavaca.

This was my first time leading the Gender Continuum course, Part 1 of the YES Institute Gender/Orientation Series™. Once I created the possibility of everyone getting "the main point" of the whole course, my self-doubts I had about leading the course were put aside. It flowed in Spanish, and Martha transitioned in and out seamlessly. They totally "got it" and it was rewarding to me as a new course leader to see I can effectively deliver this course.

The Communication Solutions™ course was powerful... Ivan, who is a priest in the Diocese of Cuernavaca, occurred to me as having a confrontational communication style, and always having "the answer" to everything. Today, in our small group exercise he said, "I've been a priest for 13 years and I noticed that people would come to me for advice, I would tell them what to do, and they wouldn't do it.  I've learned that I need to listen, see what's at the root of what they are saying, and empower them towards finding their own solutions." 

Partipants in the Communication Solutions™ course.

An email from Lilla, one of the participants, arrived in our inbox when we returned:
"Thanks once more to YES Institute. Not only did this broaden my knowledge about gender, sexual orientation and biology, it also made me realize the connection between intolerance against homosexuals and the ever-growing aggressiveness, violence, suicide and outright murder at schools. If I ever wished to make these facts "disappear", I now would like to do something about it. And this is where my real gain from the communication course comes in: the method that makes it possible to calmly address ignorance on this important topic. This method will help me convey ideas in other conflicting realms of life, too. I am looking forward to the first opportunity to put my new "tools" into action. I love you all - stay in touch... Your friend, Lilla."  
Bryan, a junior in high school, came with his mother to Wednesday night's course a very shy looking child. He had this awesome transformation, and he noticed his own transformation as expressed in today's completion circle, with a big smile.  He was now coming out of his shell and spoke in front of the room with his head held high. He declared he wants to volunteer to be a youth speaker in his community and to write his experience for our ReVision news.

Eva Leivas-Andino (far left) and Roxy Sora (far right) from YES Institute. 

Gregorio, a reverend with Congregación San Pablo, remarked about his experience of the course:
"I was amazed at how much I learned about gender and about YES Institute’s effective communication model in such a short time. The analysis of the model of communication and discovering new ways to truly listen and speak from the heart with generosity will serve me in my community and in my clinical work as a drug rehab counselor. The ability to speak more powerfully to people increased my self-confidence and improved my manner of addressing groups. I believe I have overcome a number of stumbling blocks that were impeding effective communication." 
Bishop Ottley has plans for us to return and he would love for more people to join us next time. He is an inspiration. I admire his commitment to his vocation and community. The people's respect for him was evident. I look forward to our continued partnership with our new amigos en México! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pink Flamingo Hospitality Program: A Personal Reflection

Sky Guilbaud.
The Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MDGLCC) invited YES Institute to conduct a training for members of Miami’s hotel and tourism industry as part of their new “Pink Flamingo Hospitality Program.”

When I was invited to be one of the YES Institute Speakers at the Pink Flamingo workshops, a rush of excitement came over me, and at the same time, I began to reflect on my own experience around gender in the workplace. Why would I be so jazzed about training employers and human relations professionals in the hospitality industry on the impact of gender and orientation? I know the difference communication and education can make, and I know first hand what it’s like to undergo a gender transition and not have the support of my employer.

I was born and assigned female, and my gender expression is male. I used to work at a fast food restaurant, and it was difficult to share my transition with my bosses and coworkers. For a year, I never corrected anyone when they called me “she.” I already had an overwhelming amount of rejection at home, and I didn’t think I could bare it at work, too. I was scared that my coworkers - people who really didn’t know me - could possibly hurt me physically.

I recalled the time I was taking orders in the drive-thru and a customer said, “Thank you sir!” The excitement was instantaneous and a smile spread across my face. For the first time, someone used my preferred pronoun and it felt amazing. It was a huge shift compared to the unsettling feeling when people would call me “ma’am.” My smile vanished when a co-worker overheard the exchange over the P.A. system and starting laughing. She screamed, “He thinks you’re a man!” My heart grew sad and confused, and I felt like crawling into a dark corner to disappear.
Sky addressing Miami hospitality industry managers and executives.
I really felt stuck when it came to using the bathroom. I thought everyone in the restaurant felt conflicted or confused about my transition, so I thought it would be uncomfortable (for them and for me) if they saw me walking in or out of the men’s bathroom. Most of the time, I would just “hold it” until I got home, to avoid the awkward tension or confrontation. When it came to my job, I always showed up, but I was never really there.

At YES Institute, my experience is a complete contrast to my previous work experience, and shows me what’s possible when communication and education are present. My coworkers acknowledge me the way I see myself, using my preferred pronoun and chosen name. I feel like I have so much more space to be who I am, and I’m actually excited to come to work!

Rachel Sottile, YES Institute Executive Director and Joseph Zolobczuk, Director of Education.
When I shared this story with the participants at MDGLCC’s Pink Flamingo Hospitality training, their questions revealed their commitment to creating safe and supportive workplaces for customers and co-workers. Eager for solutions, the audience listened intently as Rachel Sottile, the Executive Director of YES Institute, shared how a simple inquiry about preferred pronouns, or an employee’s preferred name, could impact the entire experience for their clients and employees.

I see the world shifting around gender, and the continued need for communication and education. As YES Institute gets set to provide training on gender and orientation to the hospitality industry, I see the opportunity for the corporate leaders I met at the Pink Flamingo Hospitality Program to take action and make a difference in their industry, not only for their customers, but also their employees. 

Pink Flamingo™ logo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

YES Institute Executive Director Interviewed on School Bullying

A middle school student from
Lauderhill, Florida was hospitalized after he threatened to commit suicide on Tuesday. According to the sixth grader’s family, bullying pushed him to the breaking point.

Latorya Hampton says her son wrote “Kill me kill me I want to kill myself” last Friday afternoon. He is now undergoing a mental evaluation after news broke out of the student’s alarming words. 

CBS 4 Miami News covered the story of the student and asked Rachel Sottile, the Executive Director at YES Institute to comment:

Rachel Sottile, YES Institute
We’re seeing young kids - sixth, seventh, eighth, grades - the incidence of suicides is increasing, but what I am surprised that he actually said something and there was intervention, immediate intervention, soon enough because many times there isn’t. These kids just go home one day and take their own  lives,” said Sottile.

According to Sottile, communication and education is the key to end bullying.

It’s not just the teacher’s responsibility, it’s not just the parent’s responsibility and ultimately, the kids are part of the solution too,” she said. 

You can view the video broadcast here, and the transcript here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I Am Not My Label

By Annie Liu

Gender and orientation can be tricky subjects — especially in the already confusing world I know to be high school. All the hype seems to surround the use of labels: individuals are Black or Asian or Hispanic; folks are either “in a relationship” or “keeping it casual”; we are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, pansexual — even asexual! Teenagers, like the rest of society, resort to labeling every facet of their lives. It is no wonder that so many people are stuck on the puzzling endeavor of creating — let’s face it — a single term that can define the true essence of who we are.

As the co-president of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, I have witnessed firsthand the widespread confusion that comes as a consequence of associating with a label. A nationally recognized network of student clubs, GSA’s own namesake is misleading. When students hear “gay” and “straight,” they automatically assume that the group is only for those who identify as gay or straight. In reality, the alliance welcomes all identities and works to raise awareness and erase the stereotypes around LGBTQ (another label). The club is also a safe space where everyone is viewed equally and can bring up new ideas without worrying about being discriminated against. Our name, however, serves only as an obstacle and often isolates and excludes students.

Just last week, my fellow YES Institute intern Caro was discussing why she tells people that she’s a “lesbian.” Although she would prefer to not identify with the label, it is a shortcut to expressing her orientation. For Caro, it is simply easier in daily social interactions to eliminate any misunderstandings that may arise. For her purposes, labels actually help diminish confusion. Nevertheless, calling herself a lesbian has its downside - with her label arrives the distorted idea that all lesbians are tough and “butch.” Because Caro has long hair and is not what people would perceive as overtly masculine, she deals with wayward glances and remarks from peers who simply do not believe her. Our culture’s deep-seated stereotypes get buried in the collapse of gender and orientation. Labels themselves are just words, but what people do with them can create painfully unnecessary experiences that dramatically impact a multitude of lives.

In terms of my own orientation, I have opted for no label. Often enough, I am asked the question “What is your sexual orientation?” Accustomed to these inquiries, I declare that I like people based on who they are, not what sex they were assigned at birth. Out of convenience, pansexuality is my chosen response on surveys and conditions in which there is no “other” option. The label is the closest I can get to describing my interests. Aligning with this term, however, is something I find disheartening. What can a single word really say about me? A label cannot encompass the various depths and layers of who I am and what I prefer. This label doesn’t say anything about my Chinese heritage, love of electronic music, and connection to nature. Nor does it share that I’m an avid reader and am fascinated with the human mind. I am not my label. Why let a little word distract from what I’m really about? In the end, only the investment of time will make way for an understanding of Annie Liu.

I’m eager to further explore the impact of labeling in our culture in Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation during YES Institute’s week long series of educational courses in January - Communicating Powerfully & ReVisioning Gender.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A New View of Gender

by Dustin Doing, YES Institute Intern

Dustin Doing
Before starting my practicum for my University of Miami Human & Social Development undergraduate program at YES Institute, I rode my bicycle across the unrelenting traffic of US-1 to join the YES Institute team for lunch, a time they use to socialize and hash out anything they have on their minds. I was surprised and impressed at how inviting everyone was. Since meeting me that day, they have made more of an effort to get to know me than colleagues at any of my previous jobs and internships.

Lunch with the staff of YES Institute on that fateful Thursday afternoon only gave me a brief glimpse of the unique and enthusiastic people I would be working with in the coming months. Then, I decided to take the Gender Continuum course, part one of a series of lectures and discussions about various contexts that inform the way that we understand ourselves, others and the world. 

"The Gender Continuum linked fragmented pieces of understanding, knowledge and perceptions into a coherent package. It provided me with valuable statistics and research to better advocate this expanded perspective of gender." –Rachel Becker, University of Miami Graduate Counseling Student 
After another bike ride from my apartment, I felt anxious to start and a bit scared to participate in an 8-hour workshop. Did I mention it was on a Saturday... at 9am? Despite my worries, we all settled in at YES Institute and introduced ourselves. The group shared a wide range of viewpoints in a setting that valued honesty and respect to the rare extent that complete strangers got excited about opening up to one another.

Dusty posing a question to the Gender Continuum participants.
While I have participated in seminars about gender and orientation in the past, I did not anticipate the impact that my first YES Institute course would have on me. I was moved by the guest speaker and engaged in critical thinking throughout the day. Not only was I questioning my own views on gender, but I felt I had a lot to contribute to the overall discussion. This creative environment served as a space to hear and think about a diversity of human perceptions and stories.

"Not only did I reflect and find insights about my own experience of gender, but I heard stories from the group and speakers that have inspired me to look at the world differently and become a stronger advocate for change."  –Dusty Doing
I will continue to ride my bike across US-1 and intern at YES Institute through the School of Education at the University of Miami. As someone who believes that all people take on roles as teachers and learners in everyday life, I share YES Institute’s passion for transparency in science and communication as vital tools for the future of education.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Act Highlights YES Institute with 'Generation MTV'

Act, an MTV blog fusing pop culture with the socially conscious, published three different articles exploring the work of YES Institute. Last week, in light of New Jersey Public Schools recent anti-bullying legislation, Act journalist Caroline Walker included a quote from YES Institute Executive Director Rachel Sottile, stating:

"Unfortunately, once we have a law, people think the job is done. Laws are the last ditch stop-gap; when all else fails, we turn to them. Real change happens when people who are knowingly or unwittingly participating in unsafe conditions change their hearts, minds and ultimately their actions."

Rachel Sottile, MS.
Two days later, Act posted a feature article about the importance of the work of YES Institute, including a quote from co-founder Martha Fugate on bullying prevention:

"Give people the tools to handle the situation and deal with it, not feel helpless and powerless about how they feel now...mirroring the fear that they pick up in the culture."

This week, Act also published an interview with YES Institute volunteer speaker Evan, a transgender male youth who started his transition in his Junior year of high school. When asked how his grandmother was able to turn from “adversary” to “ally”, Evan said:                             
“During a gender course at YES, one of the participants told my [grandmother] how she saw me not only as male, but naturally having that "male presence." My grandma, who is like a mother to me, began to cry. She said she felt the exact same way, but she couldn't bear the thought of having to lose [her] little girl... I was able to hold her and cry with her as she told me all the things she had been feeling about it.”

Later he stated: “I strongly believe that community education is the best way to help reduce and eventually eliminate teen suicide surrounding these topics, and to help stop the hate and ignorance surrounding it.”

Check out all the MTV Act articles about YES Institute by clicking on the first post, the second feature article about the work of YES Institute, or the third article about YES Institute volunteer speaker Evan.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer of Service: YES Institute’s Internship Program

by Adrian Fernandez-Morrell

YES Institute has an uncanny ability to draw people to the organization. There are many people who become part of the YES community and freely volunteer their time because they believe in the mission, and none are more passionate than the YES Institute interns.

Summer interns Mariana, Adrian, and Christopher hard at work!

I am proud to be on the YES Institute team of summer interns. We enter through the white double-doors two or three times a week, ready to take on whatever task is at hand. We are challenged, motivated, and empowered to be responsible for various jobs.  We are Christopher Morello, Mariana Ochoa, and myself, Adrian Fernandez-Morrell.

I sat down with our team to ask them about their reasons for choosing YES for their internships. Christopher, from Miami Palmetto Senior High, replied, “I admire how YES educates the community rather than being extreme and judgmental. I am really inspired by the mission and this approach to making a difference.” Christopher’s answer proved to be the consensus among all the interns.

Mariana shared, “My favorite moments are watching a course participant really letting the course sink in. It is amazing how much of an impact these courses have on people, and how every person gets different things out of the education. Witnessing these breakthroughs is always powerful for me.”

Chris enjoys “every staff meeting and lunch, because I feel so welcomed and a part of the team when we all get together. I also like how everyone shares and really listens.” In agreement with Christopher, I interject about the time the gentleman traveled from México to Miami to learn more about the work of YES. And the day we all arrived for Intern Orientation. And then there was the presentation at the Non-Violence Project USA that was really great, and the... well, you get the idea.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to be a part of YES Institute. We appreciate all we have learned, particularly what we discovered in Communication Solutions™. Mariana shares, “ I got so many insights. I can’t help but share with my family and friends. I now want all of the people in my life to come to YES and take these courses.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

YES Training Aims to Prevent Substance Abuse

by Mariana Ochoa

Current studies suggest that people who identify or are labeled as gay, lesbian or transgender are at higher risk for turning to substance abuse, often as a mechanism of escape from cultural shaming, family rejection and internalized loathing. The Village South (WestCare), a substance abuse treatment center in Miami, hosted YES Institute to provide the latest education on gender and orientation to their clinical staff.

The star of the day was YES Institute speaker Sky, who shared about his journey with gender among his Catholic peers and Haitian family. His moving and frank testimony won over their hearts. Thank you Sky for your amazing sharing!

Sky (center) with new Village South (WestCare) friends.
33 year old female said: "I learned that it is important to find out how someone sees themselves in terms of gender instead of just assuming their gender by how they look on the outside."
Working with Village South (WestCare) treatment providers, YES Institute is exploring the possibility of providing additional educational sessions to the center for their clients. Increasing consciousness and acculturation of gender and orientation topics can serve to prevent future youth and adults from having to turn to substance abuse to cope with misunderstanding, alienation, and fear.
49 year old participant said: "The YES dialogue gave me education that I will use in my practice with my clients, and it has made me feel like I will be more open minded."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Resident Advisors Opening Hearts & Welcoming Students

by Brittney McCabe

I remember my freshman orientation at Smith College like it was yesterday. I was in a small living room with about 30 other students - all of us anxious, slightly awkward, and perhaps more than a little scared. My Resident Advisor (RA) came into the room with a warm smile and casual demeanor, and began sharing about her experiences at Smith. She was so welcoming and approachable that my anxieties slowly began to quiet themselves. For a moment, I felt like I was in a circle of friends, and by the end of the evening, my RA had created exactly that...

This is all to say that RAs have a big job to do. They're tasked with responsibilities ranging from policy enforcer, house mother, friend, and counselor. At Florida Atlantic University, staff members make sure that incoming RAs get the training they need to create a welcoming and safe environment for all students. 

Following the tragic 2010 suicide of a Rutgers freshman who was "outed" as gay by his roommate on the Internet, we had a noticeable increase in phone calls at YES Institute from college and university housing administrators. Among those universities reaching out to YES was FAU. They wanted their incoming RAs to have access to cutting-edge curriculum on gender and orientation to prepare them to identify and respond effectively to any incidents of gender-based bullying and harassment in the dorms.

This August, I received an invitation from Lindsey, one of the coordinators for RA training at Florida Atlantic University. She requested we provide a workshop for their 85 student RAs at the FAU Boca Raton campus.

I walked into a dimly lit room full of students who had already been put through days of slideshow presentations and hours-long trainings on a cornucopia of topics. Some students had given into the exhaustion, their heads down on the table for a quick nap. But when I started introducing the work of YES Institute, and sharing about the impact gender slurs and bullying continue to have on youth, it became very clear that they were eager to have this conversation. 

Hands started to rise and students began to share their personal horror stories of bullying and harassment. They asked questions about how to act, or what to say, if they did not know which pronoun to use for a student resident. They took my business cards, asked for YES course registration forms, requested our South Florida Resource & Referral Guides to have on hand in case a student needed counseling or peer support. 
"I honestly learned a lot today. I now have a much greater knowledge of what gender and orientation really mean, and how they effect all of us. I also have a basic understanding of how to deal with situations revolving around gender. I wish more people on campus could see this presentation." –19-year-old student participant

Bottom line, I got that this group really cared. They wanted to create environments where students would flourish rather than fail. A student commented,
"This presentation opened my mind and gave me the resources to respect my residents for who they are and build a better learning community for everyone."
The presentation ended up going 20 minutes over the scheduled time as the questions just kept coming. When I finally started to pack up my things, the security guard who had been silent and sitting in the back of the room, approached me at the door. He asked for my card and, fighting back tears, thanked me and YES Institute for the work that we do. 
"My daughter is gay, and she's had a lot of tough times. It makes me really happy to know that there are people like you out there."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Volusia County Public Schools host YES Institute Workshops

by Joseph Zolobczuk

“You’re going where to do training on transgender children–Volusia? Well...I wish you luck,” quipped a pediatrician after wrapping up a training for medical providers last week. Florida’s geography has its own unique logic, where the farther North you travel, the more Southern you find yourself. “I hope you all make it back alright,” she said to us half jokingly, and to my vexation, half frankly. 

Our team from YES Institute traversed the flat-pan Turnpike landscape the afternoon prior to our arrival, our journey interrupted by periodic tropical storm bands and lightning. I pondered if the squalls were a portent of the clashes about to come. Arriving in Volusia as the sun started to set, we drove past the Daytona International Speedway, along with ammunition shops wedged between churches, fast food restaurants and abandoned storefronts. I said to myself, “Most certainly Toto, we’re not in Miami anymore.”

Teachers and counselors in Volusia County.

The first day of our two-day visit began with the YES Institute Communication Solutions™ course, conducted at Mainland High School. The stereotypes and notions I was told or imagined about the people of Volusia quickly disintegrated. Over 65 teachers, guidance counselors, university students, professors and therapists from across the community welcomed us and began the day eager to engage.

During the introductions, I was inspired about what was possible with such a committed group of teachers and education professionals. Several said they had been in the school system for over 25 years or more. Many started to open up about gay and transgender students - not only in their schools, but in their own families. This was a conversation whose time had clearly come for their community.

Role playing exercises during Communication Solutions™ Course.

In addition to their earnestness, hesitation and fears were also expressed. One principal asked, “Why do I need to have this conversation at my elementary school?” Other teachers inquired, “What exactly are we allowed to teach about in public education? I’m afraid I’ll be accused of saying the wrong thing and lose my job.” Their questions and concerns made clear the need to begin with the YES Institute model of communication, where divergent points of view can be included when authentically working toward a purpose of safety and well-being for all students.

Principal Mary Cool sharing about participating in YES courses in Miami.

On the second day, the Gender Continuum course created some “ah-hah” moments for the faculty and counselors. Many expressed revelations about gender–not only about their students–but for themselves. All of us bump up against expectations of femininity and masculinity in our society, and the impact on our psyches is most often unexamined because, “that’s just the way it is.”
“This course was incredibly interesting. I learned so much that has impacted my view on the world and will have an impact on my role as an educator.” –Volusia teacher
“I have gained so much knowledge that I don’t even know where to begin. My opinions before this workshop were so misinformed that I really didn’t understand gender issues.” –Volusia teacher
Ashley courageously shared her journey with gender.

Four courageous speakers, Jennifer and her husband, their daughter Ashley, and a college student also named Ashley, movingly shared about their experiences with gender and brought misty eyes to some of the faculty. Jennifer, a mother with three children in Volusia County schools said to me, “I used to feel like it was an uphill battle with the school system. After these two days, I now feel like I have a whole team of friends who are supporting my family and children.”

An education reporter from the local Daytona Beach News-Journal attended the later half of the second day. A reprint from the story is currently available here.

Two days prior, I wasn't sure how our visit to Volusia schools would all turn out. After Jennifer's comment and all the feedback we received at the end of the second day, my own expectations were well exceeded. It is an honor to be a part of bringing this education beyond Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
“I cannot begin to explain all that I have learned! I can say that this information has changed my life. I feel that I have gained knowledge that will make me a better parent. I am going  to go home, hug my son, and assure him that I love him unconditionally!” –Volusia teacher.
 A new day dawns on Volusia County. Main entrance to Daytona Beach, Florida.