LGBT Women Activists Who Break Through Glass Ceilings in South Florida

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Aryah Lester. Photo by Carina Mask.

In 2015, a United Nations working group, consisting of three delegates, investigated the status of women’s equality in the United States.

Their findings revealed that leadership and economic opportunities for women in the U.S. lag behind opportunities for women from many industrialized countries on the global spectrum. They found the low numbers of women who hold political, judicial, and executive positions. At the time of their report, the gender pay gap was at 21 percent. More recent studies show that the economic status of women hasn’t improved much since then.

Safety, access to healthcare, and reproductive health and rights were three other areas that presented a concerning portrait of women’s equality in America. The researchers also pointed out that the U.S. is the only country in the industrialized world that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

According to the U.N, this is a crucial factor since CEDAW is an international treaty that was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly. Established on Sept. 3, 1981, it is an international bill of rights for women and has been ratified by 189 countries, which by doing so, have confirmed their commitment to women’s equality. In failing to ratify CEDAW, the U.S. joins the ranks of six other countries: Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and Palua who have not ratified CEDAW.

Despite marginalization and inequality, women throughout the nation and all over the world take up the role of being activists just by living as women. Very few women can say that they have never, in some form, hit the proverbial “glass ceiling.”

For some women, there are layers to that glass ceiling when they belong to additional marginalized groups. Cases in point are the extra layers that women of color, disabled women, women with marginalized religious affiliations, senior women, transgender women, lesbian and bisexual women, economically marginalized women, or women whose bodies do not meet the standards assigned to them by society experience every day. In these cases, women have to fight even harder for visibility and inclusivity.

The following is an intersectional profi le of three South Florida women’s equality activists who are each breaking the glass ceiling:

 

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Photo: Lori Lynch (Center). Courtesy.

Lori Lynch

Executive Director, The Hub at the LGBT Visitors Center

A New York City native, Lori Lynch serves as the executive director for the Hub at the LGBT Visitors Center in Miami Beach.

She has a background in performance art and is also passionate about activism and sees the two as a coexisting force. “Art is a sanctuary to escape pain and teach you about discipline, work ethic and business,” Lynch said.

According to Lynch, to sustain a career in performance art, one must engage in “head to toe maintenance.” She said that this not only includes a disciplined health regiment and hard work, but also keeping an impeccable reputation and being true to your word so that people want you back.

Lynch said that she learned about the world and culture through performance art, saying, “I learned more about American history through music than I did history books.”

Lynch mixes her passion for performance art and social activism by programing a yearly dinner and performance extravaganza, the Pink Flamingo Awards, which serves as a key fundraiser for the Hub.

In 2016, Lynch rebranded the Hub from an LGBT Visitors Center to the Hub at the LGBT Visitor Center to better reflect its new mission to build a strong community by fostering social engagement and community wellness. In addition to the continued essential resources for LGBT tourists and the promotion of socioeconomic development and tourism, the Hub now also provides programming such as educational workshops, panel discussions, recovery groups, and support groups for transgender people, cancer, grief and loss, smoking cessation, and pet bereavement.

In addition, HIV testing and various social activities are provided at the Hub. Its women’s programming includes family planning, women’s health issues, financial planning for women, and many other relevant topics.

An advocate for gender equality, Lynch stated, “I believe gender equality is important in creating a healthy society. We need to change the conversation from women needing equal pay, which is just one of the many important factors, to how we can create institutional, economic, cultural and other conditions so that women can equally contribute a better society.”

She said that she has experienced hitting the glass ceiling as there is a problem with women’s visibility and inclusivity in the nonprofit sector, and every sector and industry for that matter. “Women are still not being treated as equals. As a woman in a top role, I've managed to beat the odds. However, I dream of a world where it isn’t such a big feat. Women should have an equal opportunity to lead,” stated Lynch.

In terms of the long standing fight for gender equality, Lynch added, “I believe the issue here in the United States is that there is very little overall commitment to gender equality. Imagine the impact if our government were to establish a clear commitment to gender equality and backed it up. What would the impact be on our schools? On our children and families? What if there were more women at the top of organizations or in positions of influence in the government?” She continued, “What matters most is that we all question inequality and set out to do something about it in our own ways, in our own communities and industries.”

 

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Aryah Lester. Photo by Carina Mask.

Aryah Lester

Founder and Director of Trans-Miami

Aryah Lester, also originally from New York, is the founder and director of Trans-Miami, National Alliance of Transgender Advocates and Leaders (NATAL).

Lester said that upon her arrival to Miami in 2005, she was surprised to find a scarcity of services for the transgender community, especially among women of color. She devoted much of her time and energy towards education, advocacy, and implementation of programming for a disenfranchised population. In the midst of her work, she developed business relationships with universities, local nonprofit organizations, and federal agencies such as the Department of Justice, Florida Health Department, Homeland Security, and the Department of State. 

On gender equality, Lester stated, “Gender equality is important because it is not existent during our current times. Income disparities and standard of living inequality permeates our modern society in a bewildering matter. No matter who you are, how you identify, or what your background is, we should all be allowed to maintain an equal status with those equal to us as human beings.”

When discussing the glass ceiling that women often speak of having to break through to achieve income equality or other states of equality in society, race presents an additional layer, as does being a transgender woman.

“As a transgender woman of color, I experience a three-layered glass ceiling in many situations. A racial pane of glass prevents me from 'taking a seat' in many environments led by mostly white cisgender individuals,” Lester said. “I then encounter barriers with gender equality by being both a woman and more specifically a transgender woman. I have utilized both my presentation and intellect to navigate these spaces, and break through the glass ceilings to some extent, although I realize there is much work to still accomplish.”

Lester said that she lets her work speak for her.

“The core of everything I do is to address equality for my community in the aspects of health, housing, employment, and with figures of authority,” she said. “I worked to instate the first transgender organization for Miami-Dade County, and worked as a consultant for most of the programs and organizations we have today that address issues in the transgender community.”

When asked her opinion on what steps would be needed for communities across the nation to foster gender equality, Lester said, “We as a people need to take a deep look at the influence of femininity in our world, the power and respect we have for our mothers, daughters, sisters, and female friends. We need to personalize our struggles and fight, and take our struggles straight to the face of our oppressors. We have to realize empathy towards the individual, and their self-identities. We must not be silent, and call-out stigma and discrimination at every turn.”

She elaborated that a good indicator of accomplishment in gender equality will come with the numbers. “Equal pay in income, approximate 50/50 split in gender for leadership positions (both locally and nationally), and lesser numbers of women being assaulted, raped, or lacking access to resources.” 

 

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Photo: Amy Bloom. Courtesy.

Amy Bloom

Director of Outreach and Engagement, National Council of Jewish Women's Miami Section

Chair, MDGLCC Women's Council

Hailing from the Highland Park suburb of Chicago, Amy Bloom grew up in a Jewish family and community. Her alma matter is Emory University, where her concentrations were political science and French.

Bloom stated, “I love learning about languages, cultures, people, politics, and equal rights. “I am a connector. I love planning and organizing, as well as supporting causes and informing people about them.”

In Chicago, she worked with organizations in the LGBTQ community to engage and educate women about philanthropy. Upon moving to Miami several years ago, Bloom began to collaborate with organizations and causes. As the chair of a newly formed Women’s Council at the Miami Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MDGLCC), she helps facilitate networking and educational opportunities for women and allies who are members of the MDGLCC.

Bloom said that through constantly meeting new people, traveling, and learning about companies and organizations, she connects with others who she thinks could benefit from collaboration. Bloom recently began a new role as the director of Outreach and Engagement at the National Council of Jewish Women's Miami Section.

Bloom stated, “My role and goal is to re-engage its 1,000 members and introduce the organization to new people. We are a grassroots organization supporting women, children, and families through advocacy and social justice, based on the Jewish value of ‘Tikkun Olam,’ which means to repair the world.”

When asked if she has ever hit the glass ceiling, Bloom explained that she has had two additional barriers involved with the glass ceiling that women encounter

“Yes, I have. I am a woman, I am a lesbian and I am Jewish. I grew up noticing and therefore feeling that men were superior. I also felt ‘less than’ while growing up for loving women. I felt that I would never be accepted. I grew up thinking that neither a woman, nor a Jew, could ever be the president,” she said. “As a Jew, compared to other religions, people and cultures, I was lucky to grow up in a time and place in which I was accepted and could fit in. I grew up in a community with a lot of people who were like me regarding religion. I learned about the Holocaust, and the years of persecution of Jews, but never witnessed it up close. Now I read almost daily about temples being desecrated and destroyed, and people being the target of hate crimes for being Jewish.”

Bloom said she tends to gravitate to causes that involve gender equality, LGBTQ equality, Jewish social programs, and religious pluralism.

On the steps needed to eliminate sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism, Bloom said that learning about each other’s struggles, collaboration, and supporting one another is key.

“I found strength when I became more sure of myself as an honest, loving person, and learned that there was a community of people and activists who stood up and spoke out for themselves and others,” she said. “I knew I wanted to help and be a part of it. Getting involved, learning about differences, and finding ways to collaborate, is what is going to help women from all walks of life overcome those glass ceilings.”


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