Community Spotlight: Persephone Webb

WE SPENT TIME WITH PERSEPHONE WEBB TO DISCUSS ACTIVISM AND WOMANHOOD.

Electric guitarist, Director of PFLAG Maryville, wife, software engineer, transgender woman, rescue dog owner, activist. These are just a few words that could be used to describe Persephone Webb. According to Persephone, she writes software by day and tries to make the world better by night. This modern-day superhero approach is one of many reasons we decided to chat with Persephone for our second community spotlight of #WomensHistoryMonth. 

Since coming out about a year ago, Persephone has become increasingly active in the LGBTQ+ community and stays busy spreading awareness, educating others, and advocating for trans rights, especially on behalf of transgender youth. Just last week she attended the meet and greet for Knox County School Board Superintendent candidates where she asked tough questions about how they planned to treat trans students. Although Webb was dissatisfied with their answers, she “wants to make sure our youngest and most vulnerable are protected.”

Persephone currently serves as the Vice President for both the Foothills LGBT Center and the Trans Empowerment Project (TEP). Webb highly recommends both of those resources as well as Knoxville’s Planned Parenthood to other trans people in our community. All three are warm, welcoming environments where trans people can find the support they need in addition to getting to “sit down face to face with other folks in the community to share experiences or just generally talk through what is going on in our lives.”

“We’re in this together. I’m trans, I’m also a lesbian…I don’t like to call [being transgender] an identity per se.  I am just a woman. I don’t ‘identify’ as a woman; I am one.”

In the spirit of strong women and activism, Persephone considers Zinnia Jones to be the person who has influenced her most. As a blogger with a heavy online following, Jones writes about in-depth trans research and creates videos to explore the unique struggle trans folks face, including legislation specifically targeted at their community. Persephone credits Jones and other trans women visible on social media for giving her the confidence to come out last year.

Two local (s)heroes Persephone admires are Dr. Leticia Flores of the Tennessee Equality Project (see previous blog) and Maggie Farley of Planned Parenthood. “I hope that someday I can contribute half as much as these two amazing women.” Dr. Flores is a tireless advocate and voice for the trans community, especially through her work at the Tennessee Equality Project; Maggie Farley’s work at Planned Parenthood provides for the health and wellbeing of local trans folks.

Persephone is passionate about learning the stories of transgender women who have paved the way many years ago. During Women’s History Month she has realized how important it is to study the history of transgender women. “So much of our life is spent focused on the present that we forget to reflect on the past. Taking some time to learn about the lives of those that paved the way for us is crucial to shaping a better future,” says Webb. Persephone wants to specifically spend some time reading about and exploring the lives of Christine Jorgensen and Lili Elbe, two of the first women to ever undergo gender confirmation surgery.

As present day transgender women are pursuing equal rights, Persephone notes that it is important to remember womanism. “Womanism is needed to fill the gaps often left by feminism. If we ever want to have true equality we have to think about intersectionality.” Trans women of color as so overlooked in conversations about pursuing rights for trans women. Therefore, it is necessary to remember “the most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities” [regarding trans advocacy]. According to the Human Rights Campaign, eight trans women of color have been murdered in less than three months this year.  

Persephone believes the best way to define womanhood is by allowing women to define it through their everyday lived experiences, and we at AOK couldn’t put it in better words if we tried.

“Womanhood is whatever you say it is. If you’re a woman, there’s your womanhood…and that’s the end of the story. It shouldn’t be defined by anyone.”

 

Persephone Webb outside the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College.

Community Spotlight: Dr. Leticia Flores

For our first Community Spotlight for #WomensHistoryMonth, we sat down with clinical psychologist Dr. Leticia Flores to speak with her about the LGBT+ advocacy work she does as a member of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) and Positively Living. If you were to take a trip down to Dr. Flores’ downtown office in the UT Convention Center, you would find a warm and welcoming environment in the company of someone who is willing to help you with whatever you need. Leticia Flores has been in Knoxville since 2013, but her advocacy work and passion to help the LGBT+ community goes all the way back to her beginnings as an undergraduate student at Duke University in the late 1980s. 

It wasn’t until she saw that a homophobic slur had been written on the campus bridge that she wrote her first letter to the editor of the school newspaper concerning the issue. From there, she started on a path to learn more about the problems members of the LGBT+ community were facing.

After finishing undergrad, Leticia moved to Dallas to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology, and there she quickly found a larger and more visible LGBT community to work with. While she was there, she worked on a group research project concerning the shortened lifespans of gay men with HIV, due in part to the fact that many of them had been kicked out of their homes. Following this research, she pursued a postdoctoral position at the University of Seattle-Washington for two years. She simultaneously worked with a lesbian youth group and began to become more conscious about transgender issues through first time interactions with members of the trans community.

However, it wasn’t until she relocated to Richmond, Virginia in 2007 that she found a passion for working with the transgender community, particularly focusing on providing psychological care to transgender patients.

I started to realize that if I didn’t see them, then no one would, she explained.

Because of her willingness to offer her support and services to the trans community, word traveled, and she quickly saw a major increase in LGBT+ clients. She became a major public advocate for her clients when past Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli began to publicly speak out against the LGBT community and LGBT rights because she knew she could be a voice for them.

Here in Knoxville, Dr. Flores continues her advocacy as committee chair for TEP of Knox, Anderson, and Blount counties. She feels her credibility as a licensed psychologist and her ample experience with the community helps her speak out about LGBT+ rights. She also serves a board member for the organization Positively Living, a nonprofit seeking to help members of the community suffering with HIV/AIDs, homelessness, mental illnesses, and addiction. She helps connect her graduate students in the psychology program with LGBT+ clients, and was the 2016 recipient of the University of Tennessee’s Chancellor’s Honors’ LGBT Advocate Award as well as recipient of the College of Arts and Sciences’ 2016 Diversity Leadership Award . Through both her professional and advocacy work, Flores has a larger mission to provide quality mental healthcare to everyone who needs it in the Knoxville community. Concerning students of the university, she wants it to be known that “despite all that has happened [on campus], the university is still working to assist the LGBT community.”

Community Spotlight: Avery G. Howard

On Being Gay & Black:

We sat down with Avery G. Howard to discuss the intersectionality of identifying with more than one marginalized population.


You might have to take a couple of water breaks climbing to his office on the top floor of the Office of Alumni Affairs at the University of Tennessee, but once you get there, a warm smile greets you with a palpable energy, and a desk fan serves to cool you down from your trek. In his position as Assistant Director for Stewardship, Avery enhances donor experiences, making sure donors finish their donation process feeling wholesome.

Avery is a proud Black, gay man, and his personal ties to both communities have contributed to his sociable personality and incredibly kind demeanor. The thing he loves about Black culture, just like with the LGBT+ community, is the sense of family. “I can see someone, another person of color, recognize that we might have grown up thousands of miles away from each other, and know that we probably had some of the same experiences. Right off the bat, we have a common bond.” Avery is proud of his Black identity because although it’s not his sole defining characteristic, it’s still an integral part of who he is.

As a member of the LGBT+ community, he also recognizes the same family aspect. He said, “I think 90% of my LGBT+ friends, no matter their background, have had the same struggle coming out.” We veered off into a conversation about our own coming out stories, and I quickly realized the merit behind his words as our stories were almost identical. 

“I love hearing people’s coming out stories,” he declared, “because my journey and story shaped me in such a way by taking me through an extensive process of self-discovery.”
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Avery has been in Knoxville for almost ten years, and in his opinion, the LGBT+ community has grown a lot since he first arrived. People seem to be more comfortable and open with their identities; he notes a rise in the number of out undergraduate and graduate students on campus as compared to when he attended this university. He graduated in 2013. “Our Pride festival has really grown since I first got here, especially in the past few years.” When asked about the climate amongst LGBT+ people in Knoxville, he said, “We still have some ways to go [with general acceptance of the community], but personally, I don’t receive harsh words or actions because of my identity, mostly because I surround myself with people who share my same interests and beliefs.”


Intersectionality between identities and communities is a hard road to travel, simply because it’s difficult to understand experiences of unlike people. You may not understand, but you can always empathize. “I think it’s hard at times,” Avery said about being Black and gay, “especially if you don’t have a support system. Being LGBT+ is hard by itself, and so is being Black. Putting them together is definitely tough, but if you can find your support system, it makes it easier to navigate those intersections.” To practice self-love and care, he’s learned that happiness isn’t dependent on other people. Despite having a family away from family, loving his authenticity is what allows him to open his heart and love on others.

Like RuPaul says, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love somebody else?’” LGBT+ people get to choose their family, and maintaining relationships and growing in them is of the utmost importance to Avery.

To end with words of advice, he advocates for those struggling with their identity to come out of the closet when they’re ready because “it’s so important for your happiness and mental health when you start being true to who you are.” We at AOK echo his sentiments. It may be a scary process, but we’ll be waiting on the other side of the closet door with open arms ready to welcome to you a community of unconditional love and acceptance.


Community Spotlight: Danny Glassmann


We chatted with University of Tennessee’s Associate Dean of Students, Danny Glassmann, on the importance being an ally.


One of the first things about Danny Glassmann that you may notice is his warm spirit and his ability to make anyone at The University of Tennessee feel welcome. However, he has much more on his plate than you may think.

Glassmann currently serves as the Associate Dean of Students at UT. He oversees The Center for Leadership and Service, The Center for Student Engagement, The Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, and The Office of Student Media. He also responds to student concerns, carries the Ombudsman role, oversees the Chancellor's Citation Awards, and serves as a Pride Center Liason.

Glassmann has been a relentless advocate for the LGBT+ community. He works with the student assistants in the Pride Center, which stays open 57 hours a week. He helps to address any facility issues, goes to campus programs, and takes part in several committees and boards within that role.

We live in a world where allies are crucial to the support and advocacy to marginalized communities, so we sat down with Glassmann to figure out what the ideal ally looks like today.

According to him, there are three critical steps in being an ally to the LGBT+ community – education, putting yourself out there, and doing something about it.

“Allies are very critical to the movement of rights and support. There are hopefully and ideally more allies out there than people in the LGBTQ community,” says Glassmann. “We’re not that large.”

The first step for anyone wanting to become an ally is to educate themselves. Often in a marginalized community, members feel they are left with the burden of educating others. If becoming an ally is something that you feel passionate about, there are many ways to take this upon yourself. Doing your own research and having meaningful conversations with people different than yourself can help you learn what is wanted and needed by a community.

“The next level of allies that I see is those who really put themselves out there,” says Glassmann. “It sounds really weird, but the ones that really come out about it.”

Depending on the community or family that you’re in, he believes that this can even be a challenge for allies sometimes. However, to stand up and say that you are a strong ally to group and that you support them can really make an impact.

“I think the last step is actually doing something,” he says. “So you’ve educated yourself, you’ve come out about it, and now you actually do something. You’re a part of an organization like AOK. You write your legislator. You actually do something and move from good intentions to purposeful action.”

We can look at people throughout history and see examples of the allies we want to be like. For example, Judy Shepard became an advocate for the LGBT+ community after the tragic death of her son Matthew in 1998. Shepard has co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation and is known as a diligent advocate for gay rights. “I think it’s people like that who really take it from ‘Wow, this may effect me personally or I might identify as an ally,’ and they actually do some incredible work around it,” says Glassmann.

“For allies, especially when it’s not a part of who your identity is, that is so amazing that you care enough about this community different than yourself that you’re going to go and do this work for them. Not only are you doing this work on behalf of them, but with them.” he says.

Glassmann believes that we have to focus on all communities, not just the LGBT+ community. After all, if we’re asking allies to assist us, we must be willing to be allies to them. “It’s really a two-way street,” he believes. “You have to give it to receive it, and vice versa.”

 

A Year In Review

2016 was such an amazing--and busy--year at All Out Knox! We've come so far since our Launch Party back in April (pictured above), and I can't wait to see where 2017 takes us! Take a look back at some of the highlights from the past year at AOK below!


Our first event was "The Exchange" at the River + Rail Theatre Company in the Emporium Center! The Exchange is a time to share our unique stories and broaden the spectrum of visible and accessible LGBTQ+ individuals in our community.

We heard from four community members: Shane Bierma, Ernie Hoskins, Lindsey Richesin, and Bleu Copas about the amazing work they're doing in Knoxville!  


Our official launch party was in April at the Central Collective in North Knox! It was such a great opportunity to meet and talk with members of the Knoxville LGBTQ+ Community about the next steps for our organization.  Check out the slideshow above for a few pictures from the event.


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Who doesn't love brunch?  After our launch party, we wanted a chance to relax--and what better way than spending the afternoon at Ijams Nature Center (complete with mimosas and sun hats, of course).


Our team expanded! We welcomed six new staff members in August through the Leadership Knoxville Scholars program at the University of Tennessee (shown here wearing purple on GLAAD Spirit Day to stand up against bullying and to support LGBTQ+ youth).  They will be working with All Out Knox for the next two years.  Find out more about them HERE.


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We had the amazing opportunity to work with the Center for Career Development to host an LGBT+ Career Networking Mixer following the 2016 OUTstanding Conference at UT in October! Students and community members had the opportunity to network with several local and national companies who are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in their workplaces.


In November, we partnered with the Chancellor's Commission for LGBT People, the Pride Center, and the Tennessee Equality Project to host the inaugural LGBT+ Alumni Homecoming Tailgate to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Homecoming at the University of Tennessee! 


Our final event for the year was LGBT Trivia: From RuPaul to Stonewall where 8 teams competed for the chance to win tickets to the Knoxville Gay Men's Chorus' Holiday Concert! The second and third place teams went home with giftcards to Dale's Fried Pies and Makers Donuts.  A huge thank you to Remedy Coffee for hosting us!


Thank you to everyone who made 2016 such a great year for All Out Knox! We can't wait to continue serving the Knoxville community in 2017!

Happy Holidays!