Growing up in Virginia, my momma used to say to me that I sometimes “run around like a chicken with its head off.” That’s as perfect a depiction of any of my chaotic life as the month of June slips away. Duly noted.
You see, amid traveling, speaking engagements, fawning over a newborn grandson, greeting guests in my wife’s restaurant (and sometimes, yes, getting on her last nerve) and yard work, I failed to write something pertaining to Gay Pride Month. I really wanted to but never got around to it.
So while being confronted with the dual realities of the month coming to an end and the unrelated surge in hate mongering spilling into violence against LGBTQQI people, I decided to “go high.”
Women’s History Month has often focused on gender equality in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and the lack thereof. The issues that result in low numbers begin early in life and continue into higher education. By the time students reach college, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM majors. Only around 19% of computer and information science majors are women. And only 38% of women who major in computers end up working work in computer fields.
Sport plays a significant role in creating communities as common bond is formed when individuals and teams compete celebrating their successes and failures with others.The Olympics is as much a peace movement as a sporting event with the Olympic flame a symbol of harmony, cultural plurality and togetherness. Athletes have been practitioners of Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) for decades meeting and connecting with people from other countries and backgrounds setting aside differences and developing a sense of fair play for all. Nicknamed “The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali is one of the most celebrated sporting figures of the 20th Century and he brought the whole world together when an estimated global audience of 1 billion viewers watched his famous “The Rumble in the Jungle” fight with George Foreman. In the 21st Century, major sporting apparel companies understand the ubiquitous commercial benefits of I&D as evidenced in the World Economic Forum article titled: The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming which stated:
“It is important for corporations to step up and advocate for diversity and tolerance on a public platform. A great example of this is Nike’s support of American football quarterback and rights campaigner Colin ` Kaerpenick. More than a marketing exercise, it showed the world that one of America’s best-known corporations was willing to stand aside one man in his battel against racial injustice and intolerance.”
As my 65th birthday approached my transgender personality had become desperate and demanded attention. Decades of self-deception did not bury my feminine self. She had in fact grown, despite isolation, neglect, and denial. I discovered a private dressing room, a place to give her a chance to breathe. I sought the aid of a therapist. Though I believed that I already had the answer, I asked whether I was, in her professional opinion, truly a transgender person. A dozen sessions later she affirmed my suspicion. Indeed I was transgender.
For decades my family had attended an orthodox synagogue. It was an exercise in cognitive dissonance for my hidden identity. Leviticus was at best conflicted about gender. I saw no possibility for reconciliation for Transgender vs. Judaism. Shortly after my therapist confirmed my identity, I heard breakingtransgender news that stole my attention.
At the tender age of 70, I have come out to the world as a transgender woman. Plagued by intractable anxiety and preoccupied with all things feminine I was surprised by the inescapableintersectionality conferred upon me involuntarily – that not only am I transgender, but I am a transgender Jew.
Judaism always seemed the right fit for me. Its implicit refutation of our dominant theology appealed to me. Personified by modern folk heroes like Einstein, Dylan (Zimmerman), and Koufax, it seduced me with inspiration. With teleological certitude Jewish Messianism offers the promise of a just revolution in our time and a profound endorsement of the counter-cultural impulse. It encouraged our rage against Nazis. It made us as one with all of America’s rejected minorities from the original Native Americans to the most recently-arrived Syrian refugees.
I embrace this rare classification with enthusiasm. I’ve discovered that transgender Jewry features an elite element that could not possibly include me. Or could it?
During my highly visible role as diversity and inclusion director at two Fortune 500 companies, I wrote internal articles, often when bias was a factor, read by people across the globe. I also had to make difficult decisions, sometimes with potentially significant financial consequences, for the organization. Following is a major decision I made and the national fallout in one company. That’s followed by a few responses I received in response to internal articles I wrote. Note that topics of sexual orientation or Islam/Muslims seemed to generate these messages to me:
Over the years, I’ve attended press conferences, graduations, receptions, and concerts at Volkswagen Chattanooga’s conference center, but I’ve never before seen it decorated entirely in pink. The event was the first ever Volkswagen Women Who Rock Awards Brunch. After having my picture taken in the photo booth wearing a pink Volkswagen hard hat, I meandered through the crowd waiting to hear from the keynote speaker, Julie Baumgardner, CEO and Founder of Chattanooga’s family oriented nonprofit, First Things First.
We watched profiles of the award nominees on the overhead screens as we listened to each of their favorite songs. It was a musical lesson in diversity. True to Volkswagen’s techie mindset, the playlist could be downloaded on Spotify. After much munching and brunching, we were brought to attention by Shireena Avery, the Volkswagen Diversity Sponsor to the featured Employee Resource Groups (ERG). The Women Who Rock program got underway with Megan Herndon, President of Volkswagen’s Women in Motion ERG.
(Artwork by Jonathan Lyndon Chase – Pulpit)
Kohn Gallery presents Engender, a group exhibition featuring contemporary artists who are revolutionizing the way we visualize conventional gender as exclusively male or female. Established in 1985, the Kohn Gallery has presented historically significant exhibitions in Los Angeles alongside exciting contemporary artists, creating meaningful contexts to establish links to a greater art historical continuum.
Through painting, a medium that has traditionally embraced this binary, these artists are pushing the genre in new, unprecedented directions, challenging the ways in which paintings can be used to deconstruct and rewrite conventional notions of personal identity. The exhibition highlights the inter-blending of traditional and figurative abstraction as the foundation for more fluid and inclusive expressions of identity, engendering a new visual pronoun. Engender is beyond the binary.
“If the show can expose people to questions about gender, questions that they may have never known to ask, that would be a success in my book. I want people to be exposed to this topic first and foremost. I think awareness is what will lead to further conversation. When you have something so tethered to a long history of cultural categorizations such as gender, assumptions occurs. Assumptions that negate proper exposure, discussion, and education on a very complex and multilayered component of all our lives. The artists in the exhibition are reclaiming that narrative, visually crafting languages that speak to their own unique experience, and yet can very much be understood by all.”
~ Joshua Friedman, Curator and Associate Director of Kohn Gallery Continue reading Engender Exhibit Goes Beyond the Binary→