June is Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month*, and the Network celebrated by offering a program on June 22 featuring three panelists from the organization SpeakOUT. SpeakOUT volunteers are committed to “working to create a world free of homo-bi-trans-phobia and other forms of prejudice by telling the truths of our lives.”

Kaye Nash welcomed the audience of more than 40 people and gave an overview of history as it relates to LGBT issues. She noted that Massachusetts has been a leader in the movement to ensure rights for LGBT people and spoke of her own experience going to a conference in 1993, organized by then-Governor Bill Weld. There she was deeply moved when she learned that so many young people who identified as LGBT were at risk for suicide because of harassment and violence.

Kaye told the story of an elderly mother who told her daughter, “‘It’s impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.’ The daughter is the writer Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgender woman. In Boylan’s memoir, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, Boylan writes, ‘I was born in 1958, on June 22, the second day of summer. It is also the birthday of Kris Kristofferson and Meryl Streep, both of whom I later resembled, although not at the same time.’”

Lisa, a trans woman spoke of her emotional, social, and medical transition from being male to becoming female in her forties; Bo, who lived as a lesbian woman for many years, made the medical transition at the age of 47 and now lives happily as a man. He is married to the woman he lived with in a lesbian relationship for many years. Kay, the third panelist who is 26, identifies as “gender queer” and wore a t-shirt with the saying “Break the Binary,” referring to our culture’s traditional binary roles as men or women/male or female—roles which get defined even as a baby is in utero.

Kay stated at the outset that each person represents themselves, not the group, or whole category of people. Everyone’s story is unique.
After each panelist told their story, there were many questions from the audience. Some important points were made:

  • There is a difference between sexual orientation (to whom one is attracted) and gender identity (how one defines gender and aligns with woman-ness or man-ness). There is a broad spectrum.
  • For trans persons, the dissonance between the gender they identify with and their biological sex creates a sense of dysphoria.
  • Legislation to add transgender to the category of protected groups is important to protect trans people who are at risk for prejudice and violence.

At the conclusion of the program an audience member thanked the panel for their courage, authenticity, and generosity in sharing their lives with everyone in the room. In critiquing the program, someone wrote, “The program had a huge impact and I won’t anymore be so quick to make assumptions on appearances about people I don’t know,” adding that “the speakers were informative, clear about their choices, and their journeys were compelling and heartwarming.”

*Pride month is celebrated in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots that took place in New York City. The Stonewall riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the U.S. The Network has a handout that includes basic information about LGBT issues, some definitions of commonly used terminology, and some basic suggestions for being an ally.