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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pioneering Physicians Engage with Gender Transitioning in Healthcare Community

by Joseph Zolobczuk

I was a little apprehensive (and very excited) to present to the Pediatric Endocrinology department at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital (JDCH) in Hollywood, Florida this July. YES Institute was asked to conduct a talk for healthcare personnel on "Patient Care of Gender Transitioning Adolescents." I never thought in a million years I would have something to present to medical doctors that would be new and novel. I was acculturated to relate to physicians as these really smart folks who have the most scholastic education and expertise. This is the most fascinating thing for me with gender today (or rather what we are calling "gender") - that bodies and expression conceived as a binary, instead of our authentic experience of gender as a continuum, is a revelatory conversation, regardless of how much education or schooling one might have.

History has shown we tend to resist and wrestle with paradigm shifts before new views of looking at the world are embraced as common sense. YES Institute explores this notion of gender as a continuum, in both the biological as well as personal and cultural contexts, in our Gender Continuum and Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation interactive courses.

Me (left) with our amazing guest speakers.

When I returned to the office, I was pleasantly surprised and warmed by the comments left by participants. A physician wrote, "I gained a greater insight into the personal struggles and journey that people who are transitioning have to go through. I see things differently now." Another colleague reported, "I thought it was excellent, it really created an opportunity for me to look at the topic in a more in depth way. My heart was touched."
The effusive evaluation comments clearly came in part from our very amazing speakers Evan B. and Sabrine J., who brought all the gender theory home to the personal and real-life level. Their powerful sharing about the choices they've had to navigate – both with and without the medical community – stunned the participants and deeply moved all of us. I also want to give a shout out to Tori G., for her relentless commitment and love as a mother, and who initially introduced YES Institute to the pioneering doctors at JDCH. 
Our amazing speakers Sabrine and Evan!