Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Veteran’s Administration Makes History

by Brittney McCabe, Program Manager

YES Institute video conference with multiple VA sites. 

Multiple video screens connected Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospitals and clinics across Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico in the largest-scale dialogue on gender and orientation in the VA's history. The dialogue’s success inspired VA leaders to contact YES Institute about leading an unprecedented national training. 

“When I was in the military, nobody talked about orientation. As a man noticing my attraction to men, I struggled in silence.” - Jim, YES Institute speaker, US Veteran

At the dialogue, a Veteran and YES Institute speaker named Bree shared, “Growing up, I knew I was a girl, but I tried to bury those feelings and play along with everyone's expectation that I be masculine. Shame and hiding made me feel disconnected from my own life. In the Navy, I finally began expressing who I was in a secret journal.”

“My crew-mates were my family and only support. When they found my journal and discovered my secret, they didn't know how to react. They taunted me for weeks. In the end, I tried to kill myself.”- Bree, YES Institute speaker, US Navy Veteran

A VA staff member said, “My discomfort disappeared when I learned about the challenges transgender Veterans face.”

Bree shared with VA staff that she called the VA to access her healthcare and a phone representative repeatedly called her “Sir.” Bree said, “I was hurt and humiliated and I hung up.” It took her two years to regain the courage to claim her VA benefits. Bree said, “Pronouns and names are important. Being acknowledged with a preferred pronoun is healing."

By the time Bree contacted the VA a second time, the staff had participated in a number of YES Institute trainings. They walked Bree through the system with a commitment to ensuring her records were accurate and she had access to quality healthcare. 

“Enlightening! This empowers me to be proactive and learn more. I will share YES Institute's education with others.”— Staff member, Tampa VA

Connie Barden RN, MSN, CCRN, CCNS and Co-Founder of YES Institute.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sit Down With Our Interns

by Deanna Saunders, Communication Coordinator

Intern Niki H. works with Caro, YES Institute's Project Facilitator

University of Miami medical student Nikhil B. says, “Although I’ve done coursework on the doctor-client relationship, nothing prepared me for communicating with a diverse client base like my internship at YES Institute.”

Since 2007, over fifty interns worked with YES Institute staff toward the shared purpose of keeping all youth safe. The commitment of our interns made it possible for us to reach 4,425 people last year.

"I didn't expect to be so emotionally invested. I saw parents reconnect with their kids during YES Institute courses."-- Erin P., former YES Institute intern

Interns have the opportunity to learn and practice a new model of communication that can strengthen personal and professional relationships. One intern experienced a “break-through” with her father during her time with YES Institute. She said, “My dad believes it’s wrong to be gay and didn’t want me to intern at YES Institute. We used to fight about it a lot. With the new communication model, I can share my viewpoints and listen to his without reacting in anger. He stopped using gay slurs around me.”

YES Institute interns learn about gender and orientation through their experiences with youth and families.  Erin P. says, “My professor knows I worked closely with transgender youth as a YES Institute intern. Now he turns to me in class for information. He calls me ‘the gender expert’.”

"If I can learn this much in a month, I can only imagine what I'll know by December." - Natalie G., current YES Institute intern

Lauren, who interned after working on Wall Street, regained her sense of purpose sharing her personal story at YES Institute courses. She shares, “I saw that there was a reason for lonely moments in my past. My internship empowered me to use my experience to help others.”

To invest in the expansion of our internship program, click here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Four-Year-Old Says, 'I'm Not a Boy, I’m a Girl'

by Deanna Saunders, Communication Coordinator 

Eduardo, Patricia, and Manuela with YES Institute staff

“Enough!” Eduardo said to his four-year-old child, standing in the bathroom as they got ready for preschool. “We’re already letting you wear a dress. You need to wear your boys’ underwear!” His child looked up at him as he yelled. She said, “But dad, you need to understand. I’m a girl. Girls wear girl's underwear.”

Eduardo’s child was born male but had always seen herself as a girl, slipping t-shirts down to waist-level to make skirts and tying scarves like flowing hair. Eduardo and his wife, Patricia, tried to help their child fit in and act like a boy. Painfully, Patricia even began to spend less time with her toddler, blaming her “feminine influence” for her child’s behavior. After seeking out education in YES Institute’s Gender Continuum and bringing YES Institute resources to their child’s school, the couple chose to stop resisting their child. They now see her as their daughter.

At YES Institute Speakers Night this August, Eduardo told his story, preparing to share it throughout South Florida and abroad in Colombia with our Community Dialogues program. He told his story in Spanish while a volunteer translated. Reaching the part where he yelled at his child, the Colombian business man’s voice broke. He said, “I forgive myself for my mistake. I love my beautiful daughter. I only want her to be happy.”

After Eduardo’s story, Patricia kneeled in front of his chair and put her head against him as they both cried. The couple said that a part of their struggle was feeling alone in their experience, with few people to turn to as role models. Patricia said, “Through sharing our story, we hope that less parents and children experience the pain of uncertainty we went through. We know it will not be an easy path for anyone yet, but to know that one is not alone is a great comfort.”

Eduardo and Patricia’s story was recently featured on the local Fox News affiliate WSVN Channel 7. Emmy Award winning news anchor Lynn Martinez interviewed Eduardo and Patricia’s family and the Executive Director of YES Institute, Rachel Sottile. Click here to watch the video.

To learn more about Gender Continuum and other YES Institute education please contact Caro Hernandez at caro@yesinstitute.org today.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Discovering my New Family

By Deanna S.

As a high school teacher fresh out of college, I felt afraid to share my orientation for the first time since 9th grade. I heard my students call each other “gay” and “booger,” and struggled to find the right way to address it. How could I create a positive classroom for them when even I felt uncomfortable?

I came to a course at YES Institute looking for answers; instead, I found a family. I took every course YES offered, excited each time by the freedom to be whomever I was that day, to ask new questions and to create my own solutions.

After a few courses, a friend who worked at YES Institute told me about YES Institute Young Professional Society (YIYPS). It creates opportunities to meet and network with a community of young professionals who care about YES Institute and are interested in financially investing in the work. Before she finished explaining it to me, I decided to become a Yipster - someone who donates $250.00 a year.

In the years before that conversation, I had always brushed off donation requests from other organizations. I used to think, “I’m a teacher in my early twenties; I can’t afford to fix the air-conditioning in my car, much less donate money!” Having seen the work of YES Institute, I was excited to contribute whatever I could.

At the courses, I had seen kids just like my students expanding as people and community members. During Communication Solutions™, I met a family that had been court-ordered to attend. On the first day, one of the teenage boys raised his hand and told the class, “I always thought I was OK with gay kids, but I realized that I don’t clap them up like I clap up the other kids. I don’t think that’s cool. I should clap everyone up the same.” His brother spent the first day of the course silent, slouched in the back and checking his phone. By the second day, he felt empowered to share his personal story. His surprised smile as he looked around at the other course members listening to his voice—that alone made the course worth it for me.

YES is the kind of place that helps you be your best, whether you’re a young person looking to develop your voice, a family member looking to support a child, or me, a confused young professional figuring out life and work. As a Yipster, I have the opportunity to contribute to my YES family in a new way. After some smart budgeting, I was even able to fix the air conditioning in my car!

Join us at Haven Lounge on South Beach, Thursday, August 29th at 6pm, for our third YIYPS event. 
Come ready to play games and win prizes-- and your first drink is free!  
Please RSVP to caro@yesinstitute.org or at 305-663-7195. 

Deanna shares her story with course participants. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Place To Call Home

By Carlo Zepeda

When I first entered the doors of YES Institute, I felt this kismet thing. YES Institute is the kind of place people come in with concerns, ideas, plans, issues, anything and everything. Some people are looking for guidance in dealing with a child who might be the target of bullies; other parents come in searching for solutions on how to deal with a transgender child and other folks come in to explore better ways to communicate.

I came to YES seeking more knowledge about gender and orientation. At one time or another, I thought I knew it all, but boy was I mistaken. I came to YES for the first time to gather information about becoming a summer intern. As a graduate student in Latin American Studies at the University of Miami, I’m very interested in learning about the perceptions and attitudes about orientation among young gay men in Latin America, most specifically in post civil war El Salvador. I want to be part of this great institution because I believe in their mission, which is “to prevent suicide and ensure the healthy development of all youth through powerful communication and education on gender and orientation.” 

Since being selected as one of the 2013 summer interns, I’ve been fortunate to attend some courses YES Institute offers. From Communications Solutions™ to Gender Continuum and Deciphering the Matrix of Orientation, all have enlightened me. I have been able to personally witness some extraordinary human experiences while attending these courses. I vividly remember listening to a Hispanic mother and father recount their experience with their transgender child.  What inspired me most about them was how their relatives, and their neighbors rallied around them. Some had even travelled from Colombia to be in the class to learn about gender, to support them, and to learn about how to use this training with their own family. I was amazed by the generosity of YES Institute and by the love everyone in the room shared with this family. Everyone had a tear, including me.

The benefits of being a summer intern are great and plenty. The best part about being an intern at YES is that I really feel at home. It is my sweet summer home. A peaceful place where I matter, and where I feel appreciated. A home built (not just figurative) for everyone to feel safe, to feel loved, to feel appreciated and to be oneself.

Carlo Zepeda

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A New Formula

By Deanna S. volunteer at YES Institute 

“Come here, faggot.” It was my first year teaching Algebra II at Miami Central Senior High School, and a security guard was calling for a student in my classroom.  Afterwards, I talked to my students about how words like “faggot” can hurt people and were not acceptable in my classroom. However, the incident left me worried for my students. I wanted to do more to protect them from harassment around gender and orientation; it took me a year to figure out how.

Miami Central, a low-income high school with textbook shortages and class sizes of up to forty-five, can be a challenging place for students. Compounding the lack of resources, students face frequent bullying around gender and orientation. Every day I hear students call each other “fag,” “booger” (a term for gay), and “shone” (a term for a promiscuous girl.)  One of my students told me that after he got into an argument with a teacher, she called him “gay boy” to the other students.

Gender and orientation slurs contribute to the larger problems of violence, school absences, and teen pregnancy that stand in the way of Miami Central students’ success. Male students feel pressure to prove their masculinity by fighting, resulting in suspension and lost learning time. At least five of my female students this year are pregnant or already have a child.

My students have big dreams and plan to be obstetricians, accountants, and lawyers. Some of them take three buses or walk an hour to get to school. Some of them work full-time jobs after school. I am committed to creating a school environment where they feel safe to be themselves and can concentrate on learning.

My second year at Miami Central, I decided to address bullying by inviting YES Institute to Central. After a month of persistence, and with the help of the assistant principal and the TRUST Counselor, I arranged for YES Institute to present to six Algebra II classes. The speaker, Ebony, shared that hearing orientation slurs as a teenager made her afraid to come out and contributed to her drug problems later in life. I wasn’t sure how my students would react to the presentation, but they were moved by Ebony’s story and asked thoughtful questions about gender and orientation.

These presentations are just the beginning of a new conversation at Miami Central. I’m excited for students and staff to engage in more dialogue about gender and orientation. Through opening communication on these topics, students and staff can work together to make the school a safer place that fosters student achievement and well-being.

Joseph and Ebony share about YES Institute with Miami Central students

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Pursuit of Purpose

By Nikhill B. Intern

Rachel Sottile, Executive Director
of YES Institute 
As a student at the University of Miami, I am a member of the Delta Lambda Phi Fraternity for Gay, Bisexual, and Progressive Men (DLP). The organization was recently founded on our campus and requires all of our brothers to be leaders in creating our presence on the campus. Some of my fraternity brothers and I had the opportunity to take YES Institute’s Leadership in Action™ course.

We used what we learned from the course to start a new conversation with the rest of our fraternity - a conversation about how we present ourselves and enroll others in our organization.  What we learned helped inspire our brotherhood to take action and share about our organization with other people on our campus and in our community.  These actions have already proven integral in getting sponsors and students to participate in our upcoming fundraiser. One of my brothers said,“I feel like I can solve so many more problems and really make things happen for DLP because of today.”  These leadership skills opened up my eyes to so many more possibilities for my fraternity to make a difference on campus.

Another powerful moment in the course was learning from Athena, an intern at YES Institute.  Athena is working on a project to bring the work of YES Institute to her home in Cyprus.  In the course, we discussed the importance of language when creating a mission statement and applied those insights to the mission statement for her specific project. We dissected it word by word, looking up definitions and synonyms for words that would make a more powerful impact. What started off feeling like an exercise in semantics helped me realize how vital language is when establishing your organization, project or business strategy.

Lauren, a YES Institute intern and course participant, shared:  “I realize that my thoughts create my reality, and I want to lead with certainty and commitment.”  For me, Leadership in Action™ helped me understand how I can become my own leader and be purposeful in anything I pursue.

Rachel Sottile, leading Leadership In Action™ course

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Things That Make You Go Hmm..."

As an educational organization, we are thirsty for knowledge. We are always searching for new ideas and insights that will keep our work at the cutting-edge. Sometimes we discover a video to use in a course. Sometimes we discover a video that inspires us to ask new questions and challenges us to think critically about our work - and these don’t end up in our courses. The latter is what this blog post is all about. These videos, specifically TED talks, have sparked new conversations around our office, and we want to share them with the you! 


“It’s about knowing you’re not alone. It’s about understanding our neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It’s about making space for reflection and contemplation and remembering what really matters most to us as we grow and change.” - Candy Chang

“They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable nor did they really talk about it being excruciating...They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say I love you first. The willingness to do something when there are no guarantees.” - Brene Brown

“Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. And I have come to the belief...that vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage; To be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest.” - Brene Brown

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Young Professional With a Purpose

By Lauren S., YES Institute Intern 

I came to YES Institute earlier this year after having been in residential treatment for an eating disorder. I left my life, my career, my family, and my friends in NYC and came down here to seek treatment. I had the opportunity to take a step back, to breathe, and to connect with myself in a deeper and more spiritual way. Then I found YES Institute, a place that fills me with love every time I step through their doors. A place that is making a difference in the lives of our community day in and day out. A place that is preventing suicide on a constant basis. YES Institute has changed my life. I am proud and honored to call myself a ‘Yuppie,’ a member of the YES Institute Young Professionals Society, a supporter of professionalism with a purpose and an investor in the future of YES Institute.

Through my involvement in YES Institute, I have been able to establish a new sense of peace and comfort. I am a gay woman, and for many years this felt ‘wrong,’ and I could not escape the constant shame and guilt cycle associated with this aspect of myself. I hid my true identity for many years and covered it up with destructive behaviors. YES Institute has been instrumental in showing me that I can accept and be true to myself just the way I am. I have found a home here.

Being surrounded by people that are comfortable, confident, passionate, and connected with who they are has ignited something special inside of me. In addition, sharing my story and connecting with others that have gone through similar struggles gives my life new meaning and I am able to step outside of myself and make a difference in ways that only 6 months ago seemed impossible. I am filling myself with a newfound sense of love and compassion.

Becoming a ‘Yuppie,’ ignites a sense of excitement, hope, and passion in me. Making a financial commitment to this organization means more to me than I can describe. It goes far beyond the money. It is another outlet for me and my voice. I have the ability to contribute to a cause and vision that I am passionate about and allow for my voice and enthusiasm to be heard. It means that through my commitment, someone’s life can be changed and I can continue spreading the message of YES Institute and contribute in transforming the future. It is so important for me to give back especially to those places that give so much to me. And YES Institute has done just that. I am excited and grateful to continue on the journey of life and carry my commitment as a 'Yuppie' with me as I do.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Listening Creates a Win/Win On and Off the Court

By Shawnice "Pepper" Wilson, Intern

Shawnice sharing her story at Communication Solutions™

Growing up I was never taught how to communicate effectively with others, especially if their views or opinions conflicted with my own. Whenever a conflict arose in communication, I learned to respond with anger. If that didn’t work, I would keep my mouth shut. I attended the University of Pittsburgh for my first two years of college and was a member of the women’s basketball team. I was named a captain my sophomore year. At 19 years of age, I was expected to lead and unite my teammates, some of whom were several years older than I was. My coaches recognized my potential to lead the team powerfully before I could see it myself. Unfortunately, during that time I was unsure how to lead the team and meet the demands of my coaches. My coaches wanted me to step up and deal with issues that were holding back the team from winning. I was frustrated because I lacked confidence in my ability to improve our team chemistry.

As a captain for a major program, I found it very challenging to lead my fellow teammates. I felt pressure from my coaches to be this perfect leader, and I didn’t think I could do it. I was involved in several conflicts with my teammates and felt like I didn’t receive respect as a captain.  Our frustrations as a team were reflected in our performance on the court. I was not equipped with the communication skills I needed to unite my team, and it was difficult to build the sisterhood needed to be successful.

Three years later I find myself in a similar situation. As a senior member of the University of Miami Women’s basketball team, I was named 1 of 3 captains for the 2012-2013 basketball season. The only difference between now and then is my ability to effectively communicate with my teammates, and I credit my new communication skills to YES Institute. Fall of 2012, I was given the opportunity to participate in their signature course, Communication Solutions™. I realized the importance of communication, and I finally learned tools to communicate effectively.

Recently, I was in a situation with my team where I was able to apply the communication model taught in the course. There was a disagreement between some of the teammates. The following day we met as a team to diffuse the situation. For the first time as a captain, I decided to listen to what my teammates were dealing with instead of coming from a place of who was right and who was wrong. This gave my teammates the space to apologize and forgive each other. As a team, we grew closer from this experience.

I learned so much from the course. Most importantly, I learned how to be with myself and accept the individual staring back at me in the mirror. Accepting who I am allowed me to be with others, thus improving how I communicate with them. I am extremely grateful for my experience at YES Institute and the lessons I took from the course. I can now proudly say I am a better leader and person simply because I learned the importance of communication.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Haiti, Latin America, India... Or Just People?

by Nikhill Bhardwaj, YES Institute Intern 

Before participating in YES Institute education, I thought I had a good grasp of gender and orientation.  From my first Communication Solutions™ to each succeeding course I’ve taken, I’ve been floored with what I’ve learned and the sense of community fostered by YES Institute.  

Most recently, I participated in Gender Continuum.  The question of “What is gender?” quickly travelled down the rabbit hole to “How do notions of biology and bodies frame how we gender ourselves and others?”, “How do ideas around masculinity and femininity influence my behavior?” and a slew of equally complex thoughts.  Brian, a YES Institute volunteer speaker, shared about his gender transition and contextualized these ideas.  Hearing how it seemed impossible to express his authentic self helped me understand how pervasive gender is and how it has a real impact on my own life. 

The fact that this was the first YES Institute course simultaneously translated into both Kreyól and Spanish was especially impactful for me.  The intersections of generational and cultural ideas of gender were given a new depth by the personal experiences shared. For some, these topics are rarely discussed and seen as inappropriate.  To hear about gender first-hand at this course spoke to the diversity of perceptions around this topic.

Being a second generation Indian-American, the discussion of gender roles cross-culturally gave me insight into how they play out in my own family.  I used to feel that my family was confined to very rigid roles and expectations because of gender.  Did I only know my mother as the family-raising matriarch or did I know her as a person?  From this course, I better appreciate that gender is not just a “role” but frames how we relate to one another.  I can understand how my parents’ fear of me acting “too flamboyant” or “feminine” affect how they relate to me.  Now I can relate to my family, not despite their view of gender roles, but with new insights into where these views come from.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Finding My Voice

by Mark Lockwood 

Yesterday I did something I swore I would never do - go back to the school where I was beaten up for being gay. YES Institute was invited to Miami Carol City High School for Bullying Prevention Week. As a speaker for YES Institute, I decided to go.

Bullying was the norm when I attended Carol City. Most of the bullying I saw and heard had something to do with gender and orientation. Wearing skinny jeans made you the target of slurs like “faggot” and “homo”; and if you were openly gay, you were beat up. It was as simple as that. Teachers who were aware of this school-wide issue did everything they could to help the situation, but nobody really knew how to make it stop.

A group of students picked a day to beat up all of the openly gay students on campus. Text messages were sent out that this group of kids was going to jump all of “them.” I was afraid to tell my mom about this, so I pretended to be sick so that I could stay home from school. In the end, it didn’t make a difference because, a week later, I was attacked.

I remember the attack vividly...

I am walking to the closest corner store to get snacks before catching the bus home from school. I see two guys in our school’s uniform, and they nod at me as I walk into the store. As soon as I come outside, one of the guys approaches me and asks for money. I tell him no and he immediately punches me in the face and calls me a “faggot.” Quickly, one attacker turns into four. I am knocked in the head with a stick and fall unconscious. The next thing I know, I wake up in the hospital with a bloody nose, a lacerated lip and a black eye.

Returning to Carol City was bittersweet. Walking back on the school’s campus made my stomach cringe. All those memories of being bullied, and feeling like I didn’t have a voice, began to creep back into my consciousness. I held on to my purpose - to create a safe space for all youth by using my voice and sharing my story. When I shared about being bullied at Carol City, students showed a lot of different emotions. Some were angry, others said how bullying is still an issue, and many remained uncomfortable even talking about gender and orientation.

I know my story touched a lot of hearts and minds, and maybe even reached a kid who is too afraid to be themselves because they could become the next target. I know because I was that kid. Today, I have found my voice, and I am proud to use it to make a difference, even when I’m afraid.

Mark shares his story at Miami Carol City High School