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.