Trans Teens Captivate Latest Courageous Conversations

Monday, July 8, 2019

John Ettelson, Brent Gledhill, founders of GenderCool Jennifer Grosshandler and Gearah Goldstein (image) 
From left William Blair CEO John Ettelson, William Blair Head of Investment Banking Brent Gledhill, founders of GenderCool Jennifer Grosshandler and Gearah Goldstein

Five transgender teenagers captured the hearts and minds of an overflow audience at Chicago headquarters on June 28 in the latest lunch-time talk for William Blair's Courageous Conversations.

The series offers thoughtful and at times emotional looks at our behavior and attitudes as professionals.

"Being transgender is not a defining factor of who we are nor does it undermine our work or pricelessness," Landon, a teenage musician and political advocate, told the crowd. "When we are accepted and supported for who we are, we're allowed to thrive and excel," he added, drawing wide applause.

Morgan, a 13-year-old award winning photographer, added: "For me, being trans is something like the fact that I have my hair dyed or I like soup. It's one of those little things that is a part of who I am but it doesn't define who I am. You don't look at someone and say: 'Oh look that person likes soup!'"

Morgan, Landon, and the other guest speakers—Daniel, Stella, and Gia—are champions of The GenderCool Project, a nation-wide nonprofit educational campaign that spotlights remarkable stories of courage, pride, and perseverance among young Americans who identify as transgender.

The June 28 event was the sixth talk in the Courageous Conversations series, which was launched in 2018 and is sponsored by the firm's Alliance Board. The goal is to nurture an inclusive and diverse workplace. Previous speakers have featured renowned social scientists from Harvard, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, Northwestern, and University College London.

Brent Gledhill, William Blair's global head of investment banking welcomed GenderCool as a powerful voice in the effort to embrace diversity of thought, opinion, and background.

"It speaks to what really underpins great cultures," Gledhill told the audience. "I think two elements found in great cultures are trust and relationships. A big component of trust is knowing someone—and often a big part of it is giving someone a chance."

Jennifer Grosshandler with GenderCool champions (image) 
Jennifer Grosshandler with GenderCool champions

GenderCool buzz

GenderCool was co-founded in 2018 by Jennifer Grosshandler, the mother of a transgender daughter, and Gearah Goldstein, a nationally recognized LGBTQ expert and diversity and inclusion consultant, who also spoke at the event.

"We saw a gaping hole in the national conversation … a tsunami of negative and often times inaccurate, sensational information about our children," said Grosshandler. "So we created a story-telling campaign of who these incredible young people are—awarding winning writers, budding politicians, entrepreneurs, musicians, athletes, the list goes on."

GenderCool's first-person tales of their youthful experience coping and growing are helping to change misconceptions. The Today Show, ABC News, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and People have all featured GenderCool champions.

The impact was clear on June 28. The courageous stories of the five youths describing their coming out as preteens, their school and community achievements, and their career ambitions drew appreciative reactions from the audience.  

Gia, a fun-loving high school honor student and human rights advocate, is part of an ad campaign by clothing retailer GAP featuring a diverse group of young artists, musicians, and activists.

"The day before my eighth grade year started I sent a letter to my entire middle school saying I would be called Gia now and my pronouns are she, her," she told the gathering. "This was one of the scariest things in my life because I didn't know if my friends or family would support me anymore. However, everyone supported me—I've been able to thrive and have an amazing life."

Daniel, an aspiring actor and singer who will enter high school in the fall, started a camp for transgender kids at the age of 8.

"I have always known that something was definitely different about my gender from a very young age—not wanting to wear girl's clothes, always playing with boy's toys," said Daniel. "I expressed to my parents that I felt very uncomfortable in my own body. I publically transitioned early in second grade when I was seven. My whole community was supportive of me. I know that I'm privileged to have that support."

Stella is a high school musician and a social justice activist fighting for the rights of kids on the state and federal level. She led an initiative to expand her elementary school—a place known for nurturing inclusion and diversity—to K-8.

"Kids like me were so supported in this school. It was so important to make sure we continued that," Stella said.

William Blair CEO John Ettelson also spoke at the event, thanking GenderCool champions for their advocacy.

"Your stories are remarkable and inspiring," Ettelson said. "I'm very impressed with your candor and courage. It's a great message for us in building a culture of inclusivity here at William Blair."

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