When a Miami-Dade couple decided to accept their child’s psychologically-tested and apparent gender identification, son Manuel became daughter Manuela.
But the journey to acceptance wasn’t easy and it didn’t involve just the parents of the transgender child. An entire community must come to terms with the realities of Manuela’s gender identity, and entire communities tend to be less than informed on such topics.
Enter the YES Institute, a source for information and education on gender and sexual orientation for the community in South Florida — a source that actively pushes and condones open dialogues. When Manuela’s parents were trying to figure out with a son who insisted on being a princess for Halloween, they turned to a YES board member, who initiated the kind of education that led the parents to accept their son becoming their daughter.
“That’s one of our number one requests,” says Roxy Sora, the chair of the YES Institute board, speaking about parents who approach the group and shrugs their shoulders about sons and daughters who identify as opposite genders. “It’s an opportunity for people in the community to express whatever they need to express, whether it’s fear or concern.”
YES gets together experts on people who can intimately discuss the issues at hand. Education and information are the group’s mainstay, enforcing their philosophy.
“What we usually do is bring a speaker into the community who’s going through the same experience,” Sora told SFGN. And what was the result for kids like Manuela? “They realize this person is another human being. The school is now working with the family to create a safe space for this child.”
YES began as a community-based initiative in 1996 to address the high rates of teenage suicide impacting young people who identified or were labeled as gay. In 2003, YES Institute added cutting-edge education courses on gender. The curriculum is accredited by the Florida Department of Health and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the 4th largest school district in the U.S. Courses and presentations are available in both English and Spanish.
The group’s biggest shift recently is that it’s hitting large systems of care, from foster care facilities hiring them for educating to hospitals seeking to be more culturally competent. Since YES doesn’t do direct service, it’s not implicitly working on suicide prevention, but its work surely aids people who may end up in such contemplations. Within the framework of the group’s agenda, there’s a different way of communicating and going along with life — a lot of the group’s speakers are children.
“They become really strong in believing in themselves. It stops outside environments from affecting them. The work does away with many of their fears, and they go out and make a difference,” Sora said. “That feeling of acceptance, where people are rooting for you, provides a shift from the thinking that there may be no way out other than taking one’s life.”
Back in the early to mid nineties, YES cofounder Connie Barden and a colleague were bothered by the high percentage of youths that considered or committed suicide were LGBT.
“We really decided that was something we wanted to be involved with and we wanted to do something about that,” Barden told SFGN.
The first obstacle was reaching people. They figured having conversations was the way to start, and that’s been part of YES’s philosophy ever since. A long-time nurse, Barden had the background of medical care and was familiar of the issues plaguing the community.
“The idea is education. That’s the basis of YES.” Barden told SFGN. “If we educate the people who create the environment in which kids grow up, that environment will be better.”
For more information, go to YESinstitute.org.