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