Friday, December 7, 2012

My New Refrigerator Magnet

Written by Jenny G. 

I am really glad I participated in Communication Solutions™. The model that YES Institute is teaching youth and families is a wonderful solution to keep relationships working even when there’s confrontation and argument. The classes implement techniques to encourage peaceful interactions with others.

As a young adult, and even now, I struggled with accepting others beliefs or opinions, especially if they didn’t coincide with mine. This course helped me recognize that it is okay to simply meet people where they already are, even if I don’t agree.

The YES Institute model of communication has the ability to support anyone who is facing communication challenges in their family, workplace, or relationships. This course gave me a new choice other than the endless back and forth that characterizes so many of the arguments I’ve had in the past. Rather than wanting to scream, cry, or use violence to force the other person to understand, the model provides clear steps to create a different result that works for everyone.

I keep one of the handouts from the course on my refrigerator. I like to see it everyday. It reminds me to be calm and more patient with others. I can be very stubborn, and that hasn’t gone away, but it reminds me that I have some new tools when I feel like something isn’t working. Looking at the handout also reminds me that I went to YES Institute, and that I loved my experience with my new YES family.

Everyone in the class had a different story or underlying reason, whether personal or professional, for taking the course, but we all walked away with something new and valuable. By the end of the 2 days, what was once a room full of strangers turned into a group of close friends, and it was a truly memorable and educational experience.

YES Institute’s Communication Solutions™ is taking place over the MLK holiday weekend - Saturday, January 19 & Sunday, January 20. This course is also available to MDCPS faculty for Master Plan Points. Registration is open for this course and the entire weekend, Communicating Powerfully & ReVisioning Gender. The weekend also includes Parts 1 & 2 of the Gender & Orientation Series™ – Gender Continuum on Friday, January 18, and Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation on January 21. Call today 305-663-7195 to register, or email for more info.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Jumping Through Hoops for Gender

Rachel Sottile, Executive Director of YES Institute facilitates dialogue. 

Reading an article in The Miami Herald about Shawnice “Pepper” Wilson, a powerful center for the University of Miami’s women’s basketball team, Executive Director Rachel Sottile was inspired to write her a letter.  Moved by her story of growing up in a series of foster homes, Rachel invited Pepper to visit YES Institute and explore the possibility of becoming a volunteer speaker.

During her visit to YES Institute, Pepper learned that the first step to making a difference is communication. She registered for the next Communication Solutions™ and brought her teammate Maria “Moe” Brown. Moe later reflected, “I did not know how powerful and effective this course would be. Not only did I learn new communication skills, I learned life skills that will make my relationships with others even more peaceful and fulfilling.”

Moe contacted Rachel after the course with an idea to bring the whole team to YES Institute as a community project. Her idea led to an opportunity for the UM Women’s Basketball team to visit and participate in a community dialogue with foster care youth, parents, and mental health professionals. Both Moe and Pepper shared about how bullying, gender and orientation have touched their lives in some way.

“I learned that society’s expectations of what a man and woman should be pressures all of us to hide who we really are and how we feel about ourselves. I just want to feel free to express my true self in this world and have it be okay.” - Foster Care Youth

A participant asked the team, “When you were playing basketball in high school, did you talk about gender and orientation among your team?” Nearly every member on the team emphatically nodded their heads. One player said that her coach had very strong beliefs that homosexuality was wrong. Because her coach had a huge impact on her life and served as a kind of mentor, she adopted those beliefs for herself.

University of Miami Women's Basketball Team with Rachel Sottile.

“In high school if any of us had been out as gay, we all knew it would hurt how much time we would have on the court. We all wanted to play no matter what, so no one would take that chance. It just wasn’t something we could talk about.”
- UM Women’s Basketball player

After the dialogue, Pepper shared, “Speaking in front of my teammates was very challenging because as close as I am to all of them, they do not know about my past. After I was done speaking, I know they have a better understanding of who I am in the world, and why YES Institute is so important to me.”

A staff member from the Institute for Children and Family Health said, “The community is changing one person at a time. It’s inspiring to meet Pepper and Moe and hear their stories because I know these two will make a lasting difference.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

MAST Academy Invites YES Institute to “No Place for Hate” Symposium

Lauren, a MAST Academy Junior, courageously stood before her entire student body and took a bold stand on bullying.

“While physical violence is rare at MAST, that’s not the only type of bullying that can cause harm. Name calling, intentionally shunning someone, gossip, and rumors also hurt students. Last year, a girl was called ‘slut’ repeatedly because she declined a date with a male student. The verbal bullying got so bad, she saw no alternative other than to quit our school. It was her lifelong dream to work hard to get into MAST.”

The purpose of the school-wide conference was to raise awareness on bullying and invite MAST students to get involved with No Place for Hate, a program established by the Anti-Defamation League to address many forms of discrimination and harassment.

MAST Academy students during dialogue. 

YES Institute was invited to speak on bullying rooted in gender and orientation, one of the leading slurs prevalent in US schools today. Joseph Zolobczuk, Director of Education with YES Institute asked the audience, “How many of you hear slurs like 'gay' or 'faggot' used to harass other students?” Nearly the entire room raised their hands while uncomfortable laughter rippled across the auditorium.

Sky Guilbaud, Community Liaison with YES Institute shared, “When students would find out I was Haitian, they would say, ‘Do you eat cats? Do you practice Voodoo?’ When I was questioning my gender expression during high school, students would come up to me and say ‘So what are you, a he-she?’ What they didn’t see is how all those slurs tore at my heart, and made me feel like I just couldn’t be myself. I felt my voice was taken away from me. One day, I swallowed a bottle of pills because I thought I just wanted to end it all. After my suicide attempt, I started volunteering at YES Institute and found my voice again. This is why I’m speaking out today, so no student has to feel uncomfortable in their own skin.”

After Sky spoke, students erupted in lengthy applause while many faculty and students were visibly moved to tears by his story. A flurry of hands, questions, and dialogue ensued.

Several students signed up to develop their own powerful voices by participating in YES Institute’s Communication Solutions™ taking place over the MLK holiday weekend - Saturday, January 19 & Sunday, January 20. This course is also available to MDCPS faculty for Master Plan Points.

Registration is open for this course and the entire weekend, Communicating Powerfully & ReVisioning Gender. The weekend also includes Parts 1 & 2 of the Gender & Orientation Series™ – Gender Continuum on Friday, January 18, and Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation on January 21. Call today 305-663-7195 to register, or email for more info.

MAST Academy students ask questions to YES Institute staff.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Four Pioneering Hotels Engage in Pink Flamingo Hospitality Training

From September 2011 to November 2012, over 155 hospitality industry professionals across Greater Miami and the Beaches have experienced the Pink Flamingo Hospitality training led by YES Institute. The Southern Florida Concierge Association, along with Dream Hotel, the W South Beach, and the Viceroy were among the first pioneers to support the vision of safe and welcoming hotel destinations for all customers including gay and transgender travelers.

Canyon Ranch executives with YES Institute staff.

The latest hotel to embark on the Pink Flamingo certification process is Canyon Ranch Miami Beach. Sixteen Canyon Ranch executive staff members participated in the educational dialogue conducted by YES Institute. Winner of the TripAdvisor 2012 Certificate of Excellence award, Canyon Ranch prides itself on their exquisite service. Their participation in Pink Flamingo is another indication of their commitment to an extraordinary customer experience. 

“I’ve learned that dialogue is most important in situations where sexual orientation or gender is in question. Honest inquiry goes a long way.”  - Canyon Ranch participant 

“I consider myself a pretty open person, but definitely this kind of training helped me to know more about this subject. Great job!”  - Canyon Ranch participant

Pink Flamingo Hospitality training for the Viceroy Miami hotel. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Education for Equity

Martha Fugate answers questions from Equity directors.

The Southeastern Equity Center (SEC) and the Florida Office of Equal Educational Opportunity held a training for Equity Directors from all over Florida’s school districts. Equity Directors assist schools in matters of legal compliance that create equal opportunities for all students. For years, racial conflicts dominated the issues that they faced. Today, more and more schools are facing challenges around the topics of gender and orientation.

SEC invited YES Institute to begin a conversation on these topics. Martha Fugate, the co-founder of YES Institute, and Joseph Zolobczuk, the Director of Education and Research, led the dialogue for over 55 Equity Coordinators in Orlando, Florida.

Martha began the dialogue with a question, “How many of you received phone calls five years ago from principals or trust counselors regarding transgender youth?” No one in the room raised their hand. She followed with “How many of you receive phone calls regarding that now?” About ten hands went up. Martha added, “I predict in five more years everyone in this room will be raising their hand.”

Brandon, a youth speaker with YES Institute, shared about his gender transition. A participant asked, “Why do you share your story, which is so personal, with us?” Brandon said, “Every time I hear about a kid who gets bullied in school or attempts suicide, it breaks my heart. I was lucky to have had a principal and counselor who reached out and got education on gender. I felt like my school cared about me, and it made all the difference. I can’t imagine what kids like me go through in other schools in Florida that don’t have education on gender.”

Some Equity Directors shared:

“I’m of the strong belief that hearing and seeing individuals share their stories educates in an extremely powerful manner. Thank you Brandon for your courage. Thank you for educating me, I am a better person for having been in your presence.”

“This was very informative! I was confused coming into this but have a better understanding of why students feel like a stranger in their own bodies.”

“Although I was trained to treat and respect everyone’s values and preferences, it has been invaluable to learn about the root and depth of gender and orientation.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fear Gone, Love Present

By Mark Lockwood, Intern

Mark Lockwood
Before taking Communication Solutions™, I hadn’t talked to my father in five years. For so long, I had been agonized by the fact that I had no relationship with my own father. Over the weekend at YES Institute, I met parents who supported and embraced their children regardless of their orientation. For the first time, I felt hope that I could rekindle love with my father.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that the reason I was sitting in this room was to heal the relationship with my father. For years it was my self-pride and bitterness that stopped me from reaching out to him, and now I knew that I could be the one to change it all. I began to practice everything I was learning to prepare for a conversation with my dad.
A few weeks after the course, my sister told me that my father wanted to invite me to dinner but he didn’t know how to reconnect. After taking the course, I finally knew how to talk to him, and this was the opportunity to do it. I picked up the phone and dialed his number. When he picked up and said “hello,” I felt a new sense of compassion. I was able to realize that there was love present, and I could finally be with him in that moment and not think about our past.
He apologized for hurting me and shared the guilt he carried for years. He was afraid how my coming out would impact me, him, and our family. When I came out as gay five years ago, I interpreted his anger as hatred and shame. I now see that my dad never hated me when I was fourteen, and he doesn’t hate me now...he was just afraid.
When I got off the phone, I felt like I could breathe again. After five years of silence, we finally reconnected. The communication model I learned at YES Institute gave me the tools I needed to make that phone call. I now feel comfortable talking to my dad, and most importantly, I feel free to be myself with him.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Questions Broaden Student Perspectives

By Jared Gorfinkel, Intern 

The Physician Assistant program at the Miami Dade College Medical Campus invited YES Institute to open a dialogue on gender and orientation with over 60 of their students. Much of the discussion centered on gender and gender transitioning as the students began to explore ways in which these topics could impact their workplaces: How should I provide care and interact with patients of varying gender identities? What is “intersex” and how is it different from “transgender”?

YES staff member Sky Guilbaud and volunteer speaker Krysta shared their experiences and answered questions, allowing the students to broaden their notions around gender and orientation.

"Very educational and informative. The dialogue opened up new ways to approach situations involving gender identity via illustrations and real life examples of hardships experienced by patients who went through a gender transition."

"I was relieved to see that YES Institute does not assume that all church-goers are anti-gay or overly judgmental. As a person of faith, I find that this is automatically assumed when in fact it is a major stereotype. YES Institute is bigger than race, religion and gender. It's all about people. Incredible program. Keep doing what you do!"

"It was really important for me to hear all of this information, and now I think I have more compassion and understanding toward the transgender community. In the future I will know how to welcome a patient with this experience."

Joseph speaking with 60 Physician Assistants at Miami-Dade College

Friday, September 14, 2012

Lotus House Blossoms with YES Institute

YES Institute speakers and staff with Lotus House team.

Lotus House women’s shelter in Liberty City invited YES Institute to open a series of Community Dialogues with guests and staff about the topics of gender and orientation and their relationship to suicide prevention and healthy development. Many participants shared personal insights after the conversations:

“This dialogue gave me a better understanding of the gay and transgender community, of how they feel and what they go through in life, and the consequences of society’s actions and behaviors.”

“It didn’t hurt to speak up and share sensitive topics in my life, because today I realized that everybody has them.”

“There are so many labels, and I am going to try to not label myself anymore.”

“I now understand that cultural sensitivity requires time and more dialogue.”

Lotus House operates a stylish thrift store in Midtown, and is producing the acclaimed Art Live Festival in Wynwood coming up in October. Proceeds from the store and festival fund programming at the non-profit women’s shelter.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Partnership with Adrienne Arsht Center Spotlights Education & Culture

The Adrienne Arsht Center and Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project has invited YES Institute to partner in an initiative engaging the Greater Miami community in an ongoing conversation about issues of bigotry, bullying and intolerance.

From August 4th to November 4th, the Arsht Center will bring together organizations from all over Miami to participate in a county-wide calendar filled with performances, education programs, and public forums, all of which culminate with Ballet Austin. According to the Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project’s website, Ballet Austin is “a full-evening [of] contemporary ballet that turns the spotlight on discrimination and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.”

YES Institute is proud to be partnering with the Adrienne Arsht Center for this project and will be leading two courses on gender and orientation topics during this three month period: Gender Continuum™ on September 22, and Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation™ on September 23. Through our partnership with the Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project, YES Institute will bring conversations on these topics to the forefront through communication and education on gender and orientation.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Solutions That Last

Participants practice the model of communication.

Families, therapists, teachers, and students, came together this month for YES Institute’s signature course, Communication Solutions™. They shared about their communication breakdowns in their lives, and in particular when things get uncomfortable or too painful we disengage, even with those we are closest to. By the end of the weekend, participants were in action to use their voices, and signed up to be volunteer speakers for YES Institute community dialogues.

“I hope to utilize what I have learned this weekend to change the way I relate to people with opposing views. It really opened my eyes that arguing my point is a futile effort. I see that no matter how loud my argument or how well reasoned, my old methods are not the best way to create change. I can now see the humanity in people affording me the opportunity to add generosity to the communication.”
- Father of a Miami Dade County Public School Student

“Simplicity and depth are two main ingredients that made this a powerful course. Before there was no choice but to struggle and fight, now, I can move on."
- Graduate Counseling Student

“I don't see communication as challenging anymore, but as opportunities to invest in a real and intangible way with others no matter who it may be. We all have fears and realizing that others are often feeling similar to me helps me to connect.”
- Participant from North Carolina

Martha Fugate with participants in Communication Solutions™.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

South Florida Universities Discuss Openly

My name is Jared, and I recently joined the staff of YES Institute as an intern and volunteer speaker. While passionate about the topics of gender and orientation, and a dedicated intern, I had reservations about speaking in front of a group of people. Dr. Barbara Garcia-Lavin, Director of Division Internships & Training for Nova Southeastern University (NSU), invited YES Institute to converse with her psychology interns and postdoc residents, and I was asked to be on the YES speakers team.

Jared sharing his story at Barry University
This was the first time I’d ever publicly shared about my own orientation, and the impact it’s had on my family, friends and my life. I quickly felt the nerves leave my body and my voice grew more confident as I continued to speak. As I became more comfortable, so did the room, and they were engaged with what I had to say, asking me more questions. I felt at that moment that my voice and my story was making a difference.

“This was an extremely necessary discussion for us to have as therapists. I liked how we were given the personal side of these issues rather than just facts and statistics. The speakers were very powerful and moving. ”

“Today was very informative! I wasn’t aware of how high the suicide rate is for this population. The presentation really helped change my thinking on this topic.”

I also spoke with YES Institute during a Community Dialogue at Barry University, a Catholic college in Miami Shores. Michael Fountain, a Residence Hall Coordinator, invited YES Institute to present to 40 Barry resident advisors.

Emily addressing the interns at NSU
Throughout the conversation, the audience became more expressive, sharing their personal and cultural struggles with gender and orientation. I found myself more nervous than the first time I’d shared; the audience was nearly double in size, and they had been asking more in-depth questions. I felt vulnerable as I shared about my own orientation, but the more I spoke, the more my fear diminished. I was now able to be authentic with the audience, no longer afraid to look them in the eye and tell my story. And when I was finished, I was met with genuine questions about my happiness and future goals. I was shocked, and yet grateful to see that they actually cared. I felt like my story and the stories of other YES Institute speakers had shifted us all in a positive way.

Some of the students said:

“The YES dialogue was an intense but eyeopening experience for me. It was my first time meeting and listening to people who identify as gay and transgender. I now understand more about what they go through on a daily basis.”

“I now feel like I can better handle a situation relating to these topics in my residence hall.”

“All of the guest speakers made a huge impact on me. I was very touched and driven to become more involved.”

If you are interested in getting involved as a Community Dialogues speaker with YES Institute, contact us today!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Honeybee Campers Have a Dialogue on Gender

Sky Guilbaud facilitates honeybee community dialogue.

Camp Honeyshine, a program that “encourages the balance of mind, body and soul in girls and women”, invited YES Institute to have a community dialogue with seventy middle to high school "honeybee" campers.

“Camp Honey Shine provides an environment for young girls to learn how to develop their own voice and sense of direction in life by bringing them in contact with people, resources, and messages that are life changing.”

Some of the honeybee campers said:

“I specifically learned today that everyone is a human, whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender.”

“Today I learned that boys and girls shouldn’t be bullied just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender because that can affect them. They could commit suicide or hate themselves. You can have a friendship with someone gay, lesbian, bisexual, and still feel safe around them.”

“I’ve learned how hard it is for girls who like girls. Also for girls that change to boys. It made me sad, because to this day people don’t understand how harsh their words are.”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

WVUM The Voice Interviews YES Institute

Hyan Frietas (center) with Virgin Vandervlugt, RN and Joseph Zolobczuk, MS Ed., Director of Education. 

WVUM The Voice features a talk show called “Not For Profit” which highlights the work of non-profit organizations in Miami every Saturday at 2:00pm on local 90.5 FM. 

In July, Joseph Zolobczuk was interviewed about the work of YES Institute, and Sky Guilbaud and Virgin Vandervlugt shared how they and their families were impacted by the topics of gender and orientation, and how getting involved in YES Institute made a positive difference in their lives. 

Click on the following links to download and listen to the pre-recorded show broadcast: 

Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Monday, July 16, 2012

The DREAM Hotel is a Pioneer on South Beach

By Joseph Zolobczuk, MS Ed., Director of Education & Research

This week, the Dream Hotel became the first luxury destination on South Beach to train their entire front office staff and concierges as part of the Pink Flamingo Certification Program. Conceived by Steve Adkins of the MDGLCC and in collaboration with YES Institute, the Pink Flamingo program gives access to creating a welcoming experience for gay, transgender, and all Miami Beach visitors, residents, employees, and families.

YES Institute was invited by Dream Hotel to provide an educational dialogue focusing on gender and orientation as part of Pink Flamingo Certification Program. The Dream Hotel staff had the opportunity to be open and honest about these topics and sharpen communication skills to create a greater relatedness with guests. Committed to making a shift as an entire hotel, staff reflected on ways they could bring customer service to a whole new level.

After the dialogue, the staff shared: 

“I gained knowledge on language which will help me better address guests.”

“It definitely had an impact on me. Sky's story is very touching.”

“I found it very important for the type of work I do, and for human rights in general.”

The professionalism and ease with which staff can learn to deal with various situations can make all the difference in a customers experience. The Dream Hotel is taking the lead to achieve extraordinary standards for all of their guests.

Dream Hotel staff with YES Institute.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Miami VA Healthcare System Takes On Inclusive and Welcoming Healthcare for All Veterans

By Joseph Zolobczuk, MS Ed., Director of Education & Research 

Rachel Sottile, Executive Director, facilitates dialogue.

The Veterans Education Committee at the Miami VA Healthcare System is committed to leading the way in providing inclusive and competent care for all Veterans. As part of this initiative, they invited YES Institute to facilitate a two-hour dialogue on gender and orientation. More than 30 personnel including physicians, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and heads of departments participated.

Two YES Institute volunteer speakers, both of whom are Veterans, shared how their experiences around gender and orientation impacted their service and took questions from the hospital staff.

On September 20, 2011, the armed forces mandate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was overturned. Months before on June 9, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) had already issued a directive providing for “respectful delivery of health care to transgender and intersex Veterans”.

Even though military and public opinion is shifting, these changes are only a starting point in addressing barriers to care. Considering a recent JAMA article, 75% of medical schools surveyed in the US and Canada rated themselves "fair," "poor," or "very poor" on the integration of gender and orientation content in undergraduate medical school training.

Comments from the staff included:

“I learned the importance of open dialogue with those who hold rigid beliefs even if they are different from mine.”

“One of the most important things I can do is use the pronoun and name the person wants to be known by.”

“I’m going to share what I learned today. We need more seminars like this if we’re going to make a real difference for our Veterans.”

YES Institute looks forward to supporting the efforts of the Veterans Education Committee as they work to meet the needs of all Veterans and their families.

Jim Gross, a US Veteran and YES Institute volunteer, shares his story.

Monday, July 2, 2012

US Customs & Border Protection Officers Commemorate Pride Month with YES Institute

By Joseph Zolobczuk, MS Ed., Director of Education & Research 

Port of Miami CBP officers with YES Institute staff.

The topics of gender and orientation impact relationships everywhere, and the Department of Customs & Border Protection (CBP) is no exception. Comprising the largest law enforcement agency in the US, over 45,000 sworn federal agents and officers are tasked with overseeing 300 ports of entry.

This June, both the Miami International Airport (MIA) and the Port of Miami invited YES Institute to open a dialogue with staff as part of their diversity initiative. In addition to hearing first hand experiences from people who identify as gay and transgender, specific instances of fear and confusion around gender were also shared in the dialogue.

At MIA, all the officers expressed how beginning the conversation was a worthwhile experience for them. “I learned more about how different gender is from sexual orientation. It was extremely educational and a moving dialogue.”

At the Port of Miami, some of the officers shared their discomfort when the gender presentation of a US citizen didn’t match their ID. One officer recalled, “I was so worried about getting it right–I wanted to be politically correct and not offend, but what if I accidentally said the ‘wrong’ gender to them?” Rachel Sottile, Executive Director of YES Institute offered, “One thing you could do is ask, ‘How do you want to be known? What pronoun do you prefer?’ For many who are in the process of a gender transition, the ID checking process can be fearful and threatening. If you come from a willingness to acknowledge people how they want to be known, you can make a huge difference.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

A New Model of Communication

Last weekend many members of our Miami community came together for YES Institute’s signature course, Communication Solutions™. Every person in attendance shared a commitment to keeping youth safe.

“I had no idea that this course would change the way that I think and feel about the way  I communicate. I’m looking forward to putting in action the “new” model of communication rather than the old yes/no, right/wrong way.”
Miriam Torres, Teacher in Miami-Dade County

“With every word, Martha showed me a new way to look at myself and others. So many moments were “ah-ha” moments. We are all the same no matter what package we came wrapped up in. This course reaffirmed we are all one.”
- Josie Alvarez, Miami-Dade County Public School employee

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Inheritance Of Fear, But Is It Really Mine?

By Erin Pelletier, YES Institute Intern

I just finished my second year at UM and decided to move off-campus for the summer while I intern at YES Institute and work my restaurant job. When I found out I would have my own house, I was excited by the level of freedom, fun, and privacy this would bring to my life. Now, however, I notice how the responsibility of living on my own extends far beyond household chores. Because I am a woman, living on my own seems to necessitate constant vigilance and anxiety. I’ve always noticed that my gender seems to limit the activities, times of day, and areas of town available to me, but living alone has presented a new level of restriction.

People around me seem to be very concerned for my safety when I take the bus to YES Institute and walk home from work. “You should really get pepper spray,” says my dad. “Where’s your boyfriend? Maybe one of the guys can walk you home,” says my boss at the restaurant. I think about the “safety” lessons I’ve learned--to look behind me every block, have my key out in case I need to use it as a weapon, never smile at strange men, cross the street when a man approaches--and the pressure and responsibility become overwhelming. In some ways, I’m sure this endless fear and suspicion has probably protected me, but in other ways it has mainly served to make me feel weak and dependent on men for “protection.”

I thought about this during Gender Continuum at YES Institute. The rigid rules regarding femininity and masculinity we are taught from birth have profound, lifelong consequences. Each person is unique and has different experiences of gender, and so how can we all be expected to fit into two opposite and polarizing categories? Until we can think about gender beyond fixed and unforgiving notions of masculinity and femininity and live accordingly, these categories will continue to haunt us, and set men against women in a way that arouses fear, distrust, and resentment.

During my time at YES Institute, both as an intern and as a participant in courses, I have acquired the tools and knowledge to expand my own ideas about gender. I no longer think of gender as an oppressive binary structure in which my own sex always loses, but rather as a complex social concept which occurs differently for everyone. I have learned ways to create a world in which we do not allow gender to govern us.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Barry Nursing Students Caring for All

by Caro Hernandez, Project Facilitator

Barry University Nurse Practitioner students. 

The medical community continues to request YES Institute’s Community Dialogues to educate healthcare students on topics of gender and orientation. Dr. Janis Donahue was first introduced to YES Institute through a Community Dialogue at Children's Diagnostic & Treatment Center (CDTC) last year. Seeing the impact the dialogue created at CDTC, Dr. Donahue invited us to speak with her nurse practitioner students at Barry University.

The students reported they never get the opportunity to talk openly about these topics, particularly at their workplace. One nurse shared she had been treating a patient for a few days before she heard her supervisor whisper "your patient is a he-she.” Uncertainty about gender and fear of saying the wrong thing prevented open dialogue about her patient's needs.

Virgin Vandervlugt, RN. 
Some of the nurses remarked that there is not enough education on bodies and gender in the medical community. “I teach a class on sexual development, and our textbook has only one small paragraph on intersex bodies,” remarked a practitioner student.

Another added, “I see now how complicated life can be if someone challenges society’s norms when it comes to bodies and gender. I never had to think about it before today.”

A special thanks to YES Institute volunteers Virgin Vandervlugt, RN, and Krysta for sharing their heartfelt personal and professional experiences for the class.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Goodwill, Great Heart

By Caro Hernandez, Project Facilitator

This past week, Goodwill Industries of South Florida invited YES Institute to engage in community dialogue about how gender and orientation topics show up in their workplace environment. Over 50 staff members including managers, nurses, job placement professionals and client service personnel from the Miami-Dade and Broward County locations were in attendance.

Miami Goodwill staff packed the room

Once the conversation began, we heard how profoundly these topics impacted the personal and professional lives of many of the people in the room. One employee shared that among her family of eight brothers and sisters, her parents and siblings rejected one of her brothers because he identifies as gay. Speaking through her tears, she relayed how she is the only family member that speaks to him and how heavy this conflict weighs on her heart.

Staff had many questions for Sky about employment

A job placement specialist inquired about resources for their clients who might identify as transgender. They said, “I was so embarrassed to ask one client, ‘Are you a he or she?’ We don’t have a lot of education on transgender,” even though several employees are noticing a rise in the number of clients with this experience. Others noted that while Goodwill strives to be understanding and welcome, the workplaces they refer their job placement clients to have little understanding of gender transitioning.

“I’ve learned that I need a group like this. Being a veteran, my beliefs have evolved and I hope for the better. Meeting people who are gay and transgender has changed my life.”      –Goodwill participant

The dialogue was a powerful new beginning in empowering the Miami Goodwill community towards an even more inclusive and welcoming workplace. We look forward to continued conversations and collaborative efforts.

“I have been a very open person in all respects, but now I know that not everybody is as open as I am. I learned today that I shouldn't disregard people that do not have my same point of view.”       –Goodwill participant

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pink Flamingo Continues Education

By Caro Hernandez, Project Facilitator, YES Institute

Hotel managers, concierges, and staff came together last week for another YES Institute Community Dialogue at the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MDGLCC) for the Pink Flamingo Certification Program.

Steve Adkins, the President and CEO of MDGLCC, and Rachel Sottile the Executive Director of YES Institute, created a unique approach for the pioneering Pink Flamingo Certification Program - a program designed for the hospitality and tourism industry committed to creating a welcoming environment for Miami Beach visitors, residents, employees, and families.

Businesses and hotels that become Pink Flamingo certified have their entire staff participate in an educational dialogue on gender and orientation by YES Institute.  Participants, many for the first time, have an opportunity to converse with speakers who identify as gay and/or transgender and learn about their travel-related experiences.

The dialogue also covers practical situations that can arise for tourism personnel. A key component of the presentation explores how language can either foster relatedness or create disconnection. Instead of saying, “Is your husband/wife joining you at the lounge today?” concierges learn the benefits of asking, “Is someone special joining you at the lounge today?” Also, participants explore situations when someone's name on their drivers license doesn't match the name on the hotel booking. This conversation supports a more friendly and less awkward experience for transgender patrons.

Many hotels across Miami-Dade are participating in the program. 

One participant said, “I love that there’s movement toward education on gender and orientation in the hospitality world - it’s a huge need.” Another participant said, “The training was very informative. It will help me communicate better with my staff and create an environment where all of my guests feel comfortable.”

For more information about the Pink Flamingo program, please contact Cindy at 305-397-8914 or email

Thursday, May 24, 2012

UM Undergrads Connect With YES Institute

By Caro Hernandez, Project Facilitator, YES Institute

Joseph Zolobczuk presenting to UM students

Joseph Zolobczuk and Jowharah Sanders addressed Laura Kohn-Wood’s Community Psychology class at University of Miami this Spring. Community Psychology is a branch of social science that analyses challenges in social environments and works to bring about meaningful change in partnership with people in communities.

YES Institute’s dialogue allowed students to uncover how misinformation on gender and orientation contributes to bullying and harassment of all young people. One student said, “I learned about the importance of dialogue and education, not just policy, in changing people’s lives and views.” Another student added, “I’m never going to use anti-gay slurs again.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation

By Caro Hernandez, Project Facilitator,  YES Institute

This past Saturday YES Institute held Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation, the second part of our three-part Gender and Orientation™ series. This was the first time many participants had an informed conversation about orientation. One participant said “The most interesting thing I learned today is the meaning of orientation and what it is not.”

Brittney McCabe leading Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation

Other participants began to understand how language shapes our understanding of gender and orientation. One of the many Miami-Dade County Public School employees in the room said, “I will be more sensitive to not put labels on people inadvertently through the use of language.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Students Inspire Me

By Caro Hernandez, Project Facilitator, YES Institute

Students from Mater Academy Lakes Middle School understand the impact of gender and orientation bullying on a visceral level. During our community dialogue, I was astonished to hear the questions and responses these students were giving us.  When asked about the gender expectations for boys they yelled “Boys don’t cry!” and for girls they yelled “Look pretty!” Their insights about gender expectations were unfiltered and honest.

Immediately they understood that orientation slurs are about gender. They also understood that when we use slurs like “That’s so gay,” they can make others depressed, and even commit suicide. When asked how often they hear anti-gay slurs, most of the students raised their hands and said, “Everyday.”

It reminded me of when I was in middle school. I couldn’t conceive of going one day without hearing an anti-gay slur in school.  What if all the students at my middle school had this education presented to us? I can only imagine we would have grown up less fearful and with a new way to talk about gender and orientation that doesn’t put others down.

One student wrote, "I used to be homophobic so I never liked gay or transgender people, but after the dialogue I have changed the way I think of gay and transgender people."    - 13 year old male student

Friday, May 11, 2012

Linking Forces and Strengthening Communities

We thank ICFH for inviting YES Institute to present today at Linking Forces 2012, Miami’s foremost children’s mental health conference. Rachel Sottile and staff led a groundbreaking discussion about gender and orientation topics for parents, therapists and school liaisons.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gender on a Continuum

by Caro Hernandez, Project Facilitator, YES Institute

Teachers, doctors, parents, therapists, youth and many others came together this past Saturday for Gender Continuum, the first part of our three-part Gender & Orientation Series™. For many participants this was a new conversation about gender that would prove life changing.

Brian, a high school speaker, and Joseph Zolobczuk, Director of Education.

My mom was in the course this weekend and had new insights about gender that effect her everyday; from negotiations at work to family dinners, gender plays a role in her relationships and interactions. For example, she often complains that I don’t wear bright enough colors, and she now sees that this was her gender expectation for me (thanks YES Institute!!). She can distinguish between my sense of style and her expectations of how a woman should dress. Now, if she asks me to go shopping, I can expect authentic communication rather than arguments and misunderstandings. Because gender is pervasive throughout all of our lives, my mom’s new understanding of gender has already helped our relationship.

It was inspiring for me to see so many teachers and students in the room. Jhan, a Miami-Dade County Public School student, shared that she was grateful to see so many teachers in the room who cared to learn more about gender, a topic that affected her in school. Arlene, a teacher with Miami-Dade County said, “the course made me aware that there is a great need for education on gender so young people can be safe and succeed.” Another teacher, Kay, said “I see myself as a part of the gender continuum and not just as ‘female.’ I realize that as individuals we are too complex to fit into two labels, male or female.”

Brittney McCabe, Program Manager leading the Gender Continuum. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Gift of Leadership

by Joseph Zolobczuk

About once a year, YES Institute offers Leadership in Action to the community. This is a course that delves into the background principles of YES Institute as a community organization – the how of our work. We share a handful of core principles that have made a difference in our continued success so that others can learn and use them.

Rachel Sottile with course participants. 

This course is a gift we give to our community. When other human service and nonprofit organizations are better at what they we do, we all win. More bold leaders and stronger nonprofits means more people, families and communities are also strengthened and healed.

It's also a gift for us to be joined by some amazing leaders this afternoon. With us is Terri Cooper, Founder of 305 Yoga; Marisol Tamez, Director of Yoga Gangsters; Amy Garcia, Coordinator of Miami Mollies; Jowharah Sanders, Director of N.V.E.E.E.; and Erin Healy, Director of Youth L.E.A.D.  Each of these women are taking bold new actions with their organizations and are up to making a difference.

Here are a few of the key principles we've been discussing today:

When it's "about you," it's hard to be bold. When people say "yes" or "no", they are not saying no to you. But often, we make rejection and failure about us and take it to a personal level. With purpose as our focus, we are unstoppable.

Give your word, and keep it. What would our community look like if we all kept our word to everyone (or at least cleaned up the mess when we broke our word)? Can people count on you?

Communication is the problem. Communication is also the solution. MIT researchers on team effectiveness report, "How we communicate turns out to be the most important predictor of team success, and as important as all other factors combined, including intelligence, personality, skill, and content of discussions. The old adage that it's not what you say, but how you say it, turns out to be mathematically correct." What does communication look like in your community? Are there things not being spoken? Is there resentment or conflict? Who will go first and be the one to break the ice?

If you would like to request Leadership in Action for your organization or program, please contact YES Institute at 305-663-7195 or

Friday, April 6, 2012

“Bully” Movie: Thoughts and Reflections

by Caro Hernandez

YES Institute staff and volunteers attended a screening of the new movie Bully before its nationwide release on April 13. The new documentary film, directed by Lee Hirsch, looks at the effects of bullying on children and their families. With over 13 million children in America reporting instances of bullying each year, it is safe to say this is a problem facing all schools. 

The film was shot from 2009 to 2010 and chronicles the lives of students who have been physically and emotionally bullied. This is coupled with the perspective of parents who have lost their children due to suicide brought on by bullying. Supporters of the movie are hoping to ignite much needed attention about the very real dangers of student harassment. 

One of the problems the film highlighted is that both teachers and parents don’t know what the solution is. Jowharah Sanders, the founder of NVEEE and host of last night's screening, held a Q&A session after the Miami premier. She said, “There is no ‘quick fix’ answer that will work for all schools. It will take the whole community to change hostile environments in schools today.” 
There were many public high school students in the audience. I was lucky enough to be sitting next them. Getting to hear their whispers and insights was eye-opening for me. Jowharah asked the audience, “What is the number one slur students are taunted with when they’re being bullied?” Instantly, every student around me yelled out, “that’s gay”, and “faggot”. 

While the question was not about gender and orientation, the answers made it clear–these topics impact everyone, especially youth. Expectations and fears surrounding gender and orientation are among the main roots of bullying. This is why we see education on these topics is so necessary. As we continue our work, providing community dialogues and courses for teachers, parents, and students, we also hope this movie inspires more people to join and learn together and become a part of finding solutions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How Communication Can Reach the Heart

Sarah Carawan
by Sarah Carawan, North Carolina 

I traveled from Asheville to attend the Communicating Powerfully & ReVisioning Gender weekend at YES Institute recently, and am still reeling from the outpouring of love and commitment of the people I met.

After my marriage and the birth of my daughter, I was floored when I fell in love with a woman. There have been many ups and downs in the 35 years since I identified with the label “gay.” I now realize after being at YES Institute, that I have only just begin my own education on gender and orientation and see the power in examining my experience beyond labels.

In the Gender & Orientation Series™, I began to see the feminine / masculine binary concept is impressed upon us all throughout our lives. After nearly 60 years, I realized for the first time that my parents didn’t enforce narrow gender expectations on me. At home growing up, I recall I was always more boyish and interested in all things masculine. Thankfully, they let me explore who I was, and after participating in these courses I see this was a real gift.

Watching all the parents with their children, who were in varying stages of coming to terms with their child’s gender or orientation, was very moving. Some days, the course would begin and end with tears.

On the one hand, I didn’t understand the sadness because their intelligent, courageous and amazing children were living and breathing right next to them. Their loss was not a physical one, but rather a loss of expectations set into motion by a concept of body, gender, and orientation that was binary.

Many of these parents began to see that when it comes to gender and orientation for young people this is a conversation about life and death. Before these courses, I used to think un-accepting parents were narrow minded and bad parents. Now, I see nothing but good parents who received bad information. By the end of each day, I saw families become less afraid to allow each other to just be.

Sarah Carawan interacting with Star and Jim at YES Institute. 

There is no place like YES Institute. YES Institute is a beacon in the world for people who are struggling with gender or orientation, sometimes at the cost of their aliveness, or even their very lives. The level of welcoming, depth of knowledge, and outpouring of love I experienced at YES Institute will forever be a part of me. You cannot walk out of YES Institute without feeling bigger on the inside.

YES Institute's signature Communication Solutions™ course is taking place Saturday & Sunday, March 24 & 25 from Noon-6pm each day. Parents, teachers, students and medical doctors are participating in the course, as well as Spanish-language participants (full simultaneous bilingual translation will be provided). Call today to register at 305-663-7195 or 

Monday, March 12, 2012

In The Lives of Youth

Last week, CBS4 Miami News & Views aired an exceptional 2-part investigative story on homeless gay youth and the process of parental acceptance. While the impact on parents is often great, the consequences of bullying and rejection for young people can also be equally devastating. 

"Creating a Safer World", a mini-documentary produced by In The Life Media, captures the realities of youth impacted by gender and orientation. It also highlights the work of YES Institute and the innovative ways we are working to bring community-wide educational resources on these topics. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Eva Leivas-Andino on CBS4 News & Views

For over 14 years, Eva Leivas-Andino, CFO of YES Institute, has been a champion for youth and families torn apart by fear and conflicting viewpoints over gender and orientation. She is—first and foremost—a mother and grandmother. Her passion for making communities safer and more inclusive is fueled by the love she has for her own family.

When her son, Paolo, came out as gay at age 20, Eva was extremely fearful of what people would say, of being rejected, and of facing accusations of being a bad mother. Her focus changed when Paolo opened up to her about the pain and isolation he experienced while growing up. From that moment forward, Eva devoted her life to education on gender and orientation, and is now a valuable resource for both English- and Spanish-speaking parents and youth.

Though Eva did not expel her child from their home, often many parents do. Available research reveals somewhere between 20–40% of America's homeless youth population comprise young people kicked out of their homes due to parental rejection of orientation or gender expression.

CBS4 Miami's Michelle Gillen and Eliott Rodriguez explore this topic and interview Eva in a two-part series that aired on Sunday, February 19th. If you are a parent that would like to speak with Eva, contact her at

Part 1 of "Not In My House" explores the topic of gay homeless youth. Part 2 is an interview with Eva Levias-Andino with YES Institute.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

'Real' Men Wear Dresses

by Allison Yaffe, Intern 

Allison in NYC.
The concept of what constitutes 'real' masculinity is so prevalent today, it permeates every fiber of our social experience. We regard physical size, strength, independence, subordination of women, and liking the color blue, among other things, as proscribed necessities. That's not to say this ubiquity isn't true for femininity as well, especially since they exist in tandem with one another--substantiating meaning through their oppositions, according to the male/female gender binary in which they're situated. 

Before I attended Masculinity Distinguished, I felt that I already had a great understanding of masculinity--being the well-read women's studies major that I am. What this course provided me was the possibility of a world where each of us could express oursevles authentically to our hearts content. Unfortunately, the reality in which we find ourselves is all people, especially those wishing to express themselves as masculine, must constantly worry about how they will be perceived, sometimes with life or death consequences. 

After completing the course, I began to really notice the amount of times people assume I'm a lesbian because I have really short hair and sometimes wear "boyish" clothing, so I'm told. Why should men get to hold all the bow-tie rights? Why does having short hair mean that I'm either a boy or a lesbian? And what really really frustrates me is everyone's immediate need to have me label my sexual orientation. It's like, hello, we're meeting for the first time, so before we have a conversation and get to know one another, I am commanded to identify the direction of my attraction?! I just don't understand how that's even remotely relevant. 

This past weekend I went on a hash run–which is pretty much like a pub crawl, but for runners. This specific one was the "red dress hash", where everyone runs in a red dress, women and men alike. About 130 of us, all decked out in our red skirts, ran through the streets of South Beach on Saturday night. People around us stopped dead in their tracks, yelling things like, "You disgusting cross dressers," "Look at all these tranny freaks," and spewing other obscenities that I won't reiterate. When we arrived at the pubs and got a chance to chat with people, they would ask if we were part of "some gay organization" before they inquired about why a hundred people were running in red dresses. Some of the people from the hash run spoke about how their friends wouldn't come out of fear for running into anyone they knew while in a dress. 

Red dress hash run, February 2012. 

The next day, I told my mother about my evening's adventures. She was dumfounded that "men, actual men, wore red dresses in public," immediately followed by, "Well, were they gay?" None of this was expressed in a negative or judgmental way, my mom was simply going along our cultural notions that she never sees men wearing dresses, and that men in dresses must be feminine and therefore gay. 

We are still a long way from seeing liberated men in dresses, however. This month in Atlanta, a group of males targeted a 20-year old shouting, "No faggots in Jack City," followed by brutal physical attacks. The YouTube video went viral, which set off a local community movement calling for hate crimes protection in Georgia. I really wish the attackers could come and experience the Masculinity Distinguished course, so they themselves can be more freed up around masculinity, no longer feeling the need to target other defenseless males in order to prove their illusory 'manliness'.

Masculinity Distinguished, YES Institute's newest course, will be held on Saturday, February 25, 2012 from 9am to 5pm at our education center in South Miami. To register, please contact Brittney McCabe at 305-663-7195 or email her at

Friday, February 10, 2012

New Partnership Increases Mental Health Resources across Miami-Dade

Open discussion on gender and orientation was a novel experience for more than 40 family therapy and substance abuse providers within the South Florida Behavioral Health Network (SFBHN). The first of three presentations for the SFBHN system of care took place in January, which coordinates counseling services across several Miami public agencies.

“How do I tell if my daughter is really bisexual, or if it’s only a phase?” was the opening question from a counselor.

Martha Fugate.
“Yes, that’s a great question. How can we know if it is a phase, and that’s what every parent wants to know,” said Martha Fugate, co-founder of YES Institute. “But before we answer that, I have a question for you. What difference would it make if it was a phase, or not?"

“Oh wow, I never thought about it like that,” responded the counselor. After this exchange, a flurry of hands went up, and the dialogue began.

The open and free flowing conversation gave the providers a chance to explore these topics and share their experiences. Not only did they feel better prepared to respond, but they learned of a great resource and partner in the community.

“This was an eye opening presentation, and gives me a way to better serve young people and their families.” - Community provider

One counselor related how her 8-year old nephew is repeatedly teased in elementary school with anti-gay slurs. When the school was unable to stop the bulling, the families only resort was to teach him to fight to defend himself. Physical violence soon led to bloody noses and cafeteria rumbles, but the insults and harassment continued. Both boys were suspended, with solutions far from sight.

“Violence is the last resort of the powerless. Schools, principals, teachers, and parents all want to stop bullying, and none of them know how. This leaves everyone feeling powerless and turning a finger to blame others for the failure. Real answers take time and a new ways of thinking and approaching the problem,” Fugate responded.

“I want and need to attend the courses so I can learn tools for communicating with parents about gay and transgender children.” - Community provider

Emily, a parent speaker. 
Emily, a YES Institute speaker and mother of a gay son, soon had tears rolling as she spoke about how lost she felt when her son came out to her. Her greatest love was this son who was now relaying something fearful and incomprehensible. Emily said, “How could I understand? I didn’t know where to turn to for help, even our therapist didn’t know what to do.”

The next speaker was Sky, who told the struggle of transitioning from a female birth assignment through his emerging male identity. As he spoke, those most unfamiliar with the topic of gender transitioning were riveted to his every word as he recounted his courageous journey.

“I learned that there is a difference between transgender and sexual orientation. I now see YES Institute as a resource that I can reach out to for further consultation and referral.” - Community provider

Sky (middle), a youth speaker. 
YES Institute is scheduled for two more sessions with the network, one in English and one in Spanish language. Stayed tuned for updates as our work progresses with the Miami-Dade system of care.

“Something I am going to do differently is to listen more closely and become more understanding.” - Community provider