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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 10 - Not Quite Strangers: Safety And Acceptance In The LGBTQIA+ Community

Updated: Jul 2

Not Quite Strangers | LGBTQIA+

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Not Quite Strangers: Safety And Acceptance In The LGBTQIA+ Community

Bridget, welcome. What did you bring?


I brought my favorite quote by Maya Angelou. It goes something like this, “What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is to change the thing. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it.”


I like that. Thank you. Reba, what did you bring?


I brought a banner from years ago that says, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”


Looks like it's in good shape. We can't wait to hear more about that but first of all, welcome to the two of you. I’m so happy that I keep finding more and more people who are not quite strangers and don’t know each other but will meet on this show and have a meaningful conversation. The whole idea is to continue to build connections, inspire curiosity, and maybe even challenge the status quo if we're lucky.


More than anything, it gives you all an opportunity to experience and learn different lifestyles and points of view. The two of you get an opportunity to maybe even make a new friend. No pressure though. If you don't get along, there's no commitment after this. You're just here for the hour and then we're good and set. I do want to share that I've known the two of you for quite a while. Bridget you and I worked at the Grand Hyatt DFW years ago.


It's been a long time. We’re in and out of touch. Over 2020, we've connected a couple of times around some work that your organization was looking to do in diversity and inclusion. We've had a few conversations. It's been great to reconnect with you after all this time. You're also based here in Texas. Keep it weird.


Reba, you and I've known each other for a few years. You were my coach at the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute way back when I was getting certified. We've been close friends ever since and also colleagues. We work on some projects together. You and I had also very meaningful conversations. Reba, I’ve known that you're going to be on the list for a long time, although you were apprehensive about being on a show.


Bridget, when you and I connected, I was like, “I know exactly who I'm going to introduce to Reba.” We can get into a little bit more. Specifically, it’s this whole idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion that has always been there and has been amplified to almost a fever pitch in some cases. The two of you are in your ways committed to making a difference in your organizations or communities. I thought, “What better way to have a conversation that lands this?” At least in my world, the conversation has focused a lot on race like Black and White but both of you belong to the LGBTQ+ community.


We were not having many conversations around that. At least in my space, I haven't heard that much. I thought, “Maybe this is a good way to start and see what the DEI movement contributes to the LGBTQ+ community.” What's working and not working from your experience? That's one of the other reasons that I thought, “This might be an interesting conversation because I get to learn and also those who might be reading.” Is there anything you want to say to that or anything that comes to mind after I share that?


In terms of equity, diversity, and inclusion, you have to look through a lens that incorporates LGBTQIA+ because of intersectionality and how groups of different races and backgrounds have different barriers. That unconscious bias is there. It may not necessarily be something that everyone has the same experience. My experience and your experience at Hyatt might be slightly different because of intersectionality and how we approach different things or aspects of our lives. I do think that you have to incorporate LGBTQIA+ in that framework of DEI to ensure the equity and inclusion of all groups.

Not Quite Strangers | LGBTQIA+
LGBTQIA+: In terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, you may have to look through a lens that incorporates LGBTQIA+.

Before we start throwing around all the acronyms, we already know that DEI is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. LGBTQIA+, break it down for us. L, Lesbian. 


Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. I is Intersex and Q is Queer.


Q is Queer and Questioning. It’s those who are still exploring.


What is the IA? Intersectionality? No?


Intersex and A is Asexual.


That's a lot and it's important stuff but let's break it down in case people don't know. Before we get into the nitty-gritty because that will be the interesting part of this conversation, I'm curious about why you both said yes to being on a show. From what I understand, this is the first time that you've appeared on one. What had you said yes to this experiment and talked about a topic like this that could potentially be hefty? Reba?


I have to say I'm not always a fan of things being recorded forever and ever. I'm a shy Facebook user. I'm conscious of what you put out there lives until data goes away. I signed up for it because I trust Valerie Hope and I do think it's time. As I pull out this banner, “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” it's time for all of us to step up.


My quote is, “Life is very short and what we do has to be done in the now.” I feel this sense of urgency. I might feel it for my kids and the planet. We all need to step up. There's a history of racism and patriotism since the time immemorial so there's a long story. It's not just new on the scene. The LGBTQ+ community has a whole history, too. Finally, there's space to talk about this.


Thank you for trusting me. With the sense of urgency that you feel, everybody thinks there's got to be something for us to do. I'm sure I've shared this when I talked to both of you individually. I feel like I need to contribute something to this conversation. I don't know what it is but I don't necessarily see it as everything that is already out there.


My lens is different. My experience living as an immigrant and a woman in this country is different. I don't want to diminish those conversations or the approach but I also thought one of the things that I feel so grateful, fortunate, and blessed to have is a community of people from all over the planet who I have meaningful conversations with, even conversations that I may not be comfortable or very well-versed in.


These are the kinds of platforms that I thought could support not only me but also anyone who might be reading who thinks, “It’s maybe not that bad. Maybe I could ask my neighbor a few questions. Maybe I can have a conversation with my uncle or nephew.” I feel like there's an opportunity to be curious, compassionate, and challenged. Thank you for saying yes to that. Bridget, what about you? You don't owe me anything but what had you said yes? 


It’s the same reason why Reba said yes. I said yes because I trust and respect you. I felt safe agreeing to this discussion. I knew that based on our previous work relationship, I could trust you with how you would deliver this on the platform that you have.


No pressure. Part of what makes me excited about these types of conversations is that there's been very little setup. I told the two of you to bring an item, object, quote, or something that represents how you are tied or connected to the topic, and then let's see where the conversation unfolds. Speaking of that, Bridget brought a quote. What is it about that quote that makes it so meaningful to you?


It reminds me of something my grandmother still says. “Complaining doesn't ease the pain.” I've heard her say that all my life. Maya Angelou's quote resonates with me because complaining doesn't make you feel better so why bother complaining? If you can't change the problem or that thing that you don't like, then change how you think about it. The one thing we have control over is our thoughts and how we feel about a thing. Control what you can, how you feel about it, and how you approach it.

Complaining doesn't make things better.

How does that tie to the subject when we're talking about LGBTQIA+ and DEI? Where do you stand on that?


In terms of DEI, we've got a lot of work to do. The thing that has to happen is we all have to approach it. It's an uncomfortable conversation but they need to be had. For too long, we've been told, “Don't talk about politics, religion, or race.” We're ill-equipped to have these conversations and they make us uncomfortable.


Continuing to complain about the inequities isn't going to change the inequities but doing some work and being vocal about pointing out examples for those who want to be allies and those who are also committed to the work of dismantling systemic racism and injustices. Reach across the table, have those conversations, and look for ways to change it because complaining about it isn't going to change it.


Reba, I see you nodding fervently. What's on your mind about that?


Let me see so many things. In the work world, it's not comfortable for people to be themselves. When you said to come on this and talk about what it's like to be a gay woman and lesbian in the business world, there's the urgency because so many people don't feel like they can be themselves or are profiled and life threatened on the street because of who they are.

So many people don't feel like they can be themselves or feel threatened on the street because of who they are.

I have Asian friends who are feeling walking on the street. Down a couple of miles from where I live, a woman is walking on the street. Part of it is maybe political correctness or talking appropriately to people, asking questions, creating space, and holding space for awkward conversations. Another part is life and death. We have to change these mindsets. People are dying. As we know, communities have died, gay women and men, lesbian women and men, Black women and men, and then Asian.


For many years, Asians, Native Americans, and all of these communities have lost their lives due to close-mindedness, lack of access, and not knowing anyone. I don't know any gay people and that's what I came up in. I had no cognizance of gay people. It wasn't until Ellen came out. I had to look it up. 1997 was one of the first times when there was a public acknowledgment that there was a gay person in TIME Magazine. “Yes, I'm gay.” If you don't even see it and know it, then that othering that happens, it's hateful. It's conversation and life and death. It's very dramatic.


There's something to be said about the awkward conversations. We've come a long way in the things that we are talking about primarily because there's so much access. Social media has democratized communication. It's not just controlled by the powers of people who have the dollars to spend. That's made a huge difference. To your point, Bridget, we're still ill-equipped to sometimes have the right kind of conversations in a way that's empowering to those who want the information but also those who might be creating a bit of a ruckus, let's say. Reba, you brought a banner and you had to unearth it after many years. What does that banner mean to you? What was it for?


When you said an artifact, I had to think back and mine my memories. For this journey to be honest, I had to look up to Ellen in 1997. How long have I been comfortable being out? Not my whole life. No. The word closet means to go into a small space and close the door. However, I was blessed to be part of an activist community and still am. We came together and made this huge long banner with the rainbow, mind you. The rainbow in the LGBTQ+ community is a symbol that people didn't even understand necessarily was a symbol.


We put it together. We're learning and healing. It says Soul Sisters in the middle. These were people who could trust each other and be arrested together. These were people who could go out on the line. Back then, the San Francisco Police said, “Velvet glove, iron fist.” It was their framework. I don't know so much now but back in the day, they were smacking people down. She had to trust those people on both sides. This was a banner we would carry to create something.


Both of you are from different parts of this country. Is it different being gay in Texas as it is in California? If so, how? Does race play a part? What's been your experience?


Texas is part of that Bible Belt but I also grew up in a Christian home. When I think about intersectionality, it’s being a Christian woman as I am but also a queer woman and having to wrestle and deal with that myself. To your point Reba, there were some years when I wasn't comfortable being out. Only a select few of my coworkers knew. It may have been 2004 or 2005 before I was comfortable bringing my significant other to the holiday party with me as my plus one. That's what quite some time.


There is some concern about how that might impact my career and my opportunity to advance. Some of that may have been paranoia and may have been misplaced. I was afforded a lot of great opportunities along my career path. I don't think it held me back. I can remember as a young woman, I wear my hair short and sometimes I grow it out. Most of the time, it's been short.


I can remember in my 20s or early 30s having a cashier say, “Yes, sir,” to me and I look at them like, “Really?” Now, it doesn't bother me so much because I realize they're busy and working quickly. It is not meant to be disrespectful necessarily but it used to take me aback. I felt a bit of a punch in the gut. I did live in Newport Beach, California for a year and a half but I can't say that my experience there was any different from my experience in Texas necessarily. I've lived in Houston and Dallas. It depends on where you are. I'm very conscientious about when I'm in church. I'm a little more self-conscious in that environment.


What's Bridget at the supermarket compared to Bridget at church? What would we see if we were following you around with a video?


Not much different from what you see. I crawled into a little shell. I'm a little shyer and reserved in that church environment as opposed to anywhere else. I'm pretty fun, loving, and easygoing most of the time. I retreat a little more in a church environment to some degree until I feel that it's a comfortable safe space. That's not me walking in with my rainbow shirt on that I might wear to the grocery store. I'm not wearing that church. In some ways, I am in my little closet at church as opposed to showing up as my full self.


You're not necessarily demonstrating that physically but do people at church know you're gay?


I don't know. Some people may assume but they wouldn't know. You can't know a person unless they tell you who they are. I'm not naive enough to believe that people don't make assumptions based on my appearance.

You can't know a person unless they tell you who they are.

Reba, I want to get your reaction to that. You look concerned for a moment. You had a flash of I don't know if that was a concern or resonance. What was that expression?


It's interesting how interpretation around gender identity is a separate topic. I'm learning so much more about gender identity versus sexual preference or the whole pansexual. All that language there is new to me. My partner, who I have been married to for 29 years, was called “Sir” when she was eight months pregnant. We're talking a big round belly. She gets Sir a lot. I sometimes get Sir if I'm more in my chill gear out.


Bridget, you talk about church. The environment where I feel fear for my family, I have two teenagers, is when we’re camping or out of the Bay Area. We're women with kids. Sometimes there are some very conservative folks out camping with guns. I feel fearful for my family sometimes. When you ask what's it like to be gay in Oakland, one would assume, “Oakland Bay Area super safe. Gay Mecca.”


When we were looking for schools for my kids and said, “Do you have gay families here,” one principal staggered back and said, “We won't go there.” Another principal said, “We tolerate anyone.” It’s not my favorite language. It's based on people's experience but I'm so sure my privilege of being White and being able to hide my gayness when I've chosen to do that has been probably a very different experience than Bridget’s. I have friends and family I even know who are coming out as gay and don't yet feel safe to do that. I don't think it's over.


Safer is a loaded word. I'm curious about what would you consider safety. I can get in a church environment where maybe people are much more conservative or they're very, “The Bible says.” You can interpret it in a lot of different ways. How would you define safety?


For me, safety is acceptance. It's not tolerating a person but accepting a person without judgment. That would be safety.

Not Quite Strangers | LGBTQIA+
LGBTQIA+: Safety is acceptance.

Can you give an example, Bridget, of where you feel safe or what gives you the impression of safety? When you introduced your partner at a work event, what was it that you experienced then? What did you notice or hear that made it safe or appropriate for you to share that part of your life?


I don't know if there was so much of what I'd seen or heard but I had gotten to a point in my career where I didn't feel like it was going to hold me back. I felt like I was around people who respected my work ethic and understood what my talents were and what I brought to the table. I felt comfortable that my colleagues would be accepting of who I was and who I showed up at work, as well as who I was outside of work. The two came together when I was able to bring my significant other and introduce her that way. That felt safe. Maybe part of it was that I've been promoted to this position so they must trust me enough to give me this opportunity that I'm safe to be who I am.


I have no idea you're going through all that stuff. The process is interesting. Reba, you mentioned going camping and you're more concerned about your children, too. For you, what does safety look like? Give us an example of when or how you felt safe.


I appreciate what Bridget said in terms of whether it is safe to take a risk to out yourself at work. Will you lose status or a promotion? I was part of a consulting firm that nobody any of you know. I went on a business trip. I came out of business time and then that was the last time I worked for them. I was pretty clear it was because I came out. Somebody else confirmed that for me. This was many years ago. I doubt that would happen now to be honest but there is this thing around losing something because of your identity. You guys know more about that than I do, I assume.


I'm not talking about safety when we talked before safety to awkwardness because having a difficult conversation may be uncomfortable. We overuse the word safe in terms of conversation. For instance, I'm learning how to transform White racism work. A White woman said, “I don't feel safe.” I'm like, “People of color don't feel safe in most conversations because of the microaggressions.” The safety I'm talking about is physical safety. If I'm camping and don't have four walls, and I wear a T-shirt that outs me, is this other group of people going to harass me? That's certainly not unheard of. You get it on the street.


It doesn't necessarily compare but I can draw a thread here. I'm from Panama originally. You guys know that. I immigrated to the US when I was nine. I've always grown up in a very multicultural, multi-ethnic environment, even when my dad joined the US military. We lived on military bases which was normal. I remember my first crush was Mark Inouye.


I don't know if you're reading this, Mark, but you were cute. He's Japanese. We were living in Hawaii at the time. I never thought that it was odd for a Black girl from Panama to have a crush on a Japanese guy. I didn't think it was weird or anything until we moved to Alabama. I lived in a very small community where there was much more social segregation.


I've always been attracted to foreign men. I don't know if it is a foreign piece of it but my ex-husband was Argentinian. The last guy I dated was Egyptian. I dated a guy from India. That's been my world. This does not compare to the level of safety, which maybe the bar is very low for what I'm talking about. I remember there was a point in time, especially in high school, when I didn't feel comfortable telling people whom I had a crush on because they were not African-American men.


At the time, it wasn't exclusive like, “No, I don't want to,” but it was not who I was typically attracted to. I remember feeling embarrassed about that. I was like, “That's probably not appropriate.” We're in the South. What does that say about me being Black? I was called Oreo a lot, white on the inside, black on the outside, in high school several times. I didn't know what to do with it.


As I've grown up, our borders are not necessarily more open but the lines have blurred quite a bit in my family alone. I don't know what this is about my family but my dad's remarried to a woman from Serbia. My older brother is married to a woman from Spain. My younger brother is married to a woman from Vermont. We have three interracial relationships. When I was married, there were four.


For us, that's quite normal. It seems not normal for more people more often. For you, what's felt normal? From your youth until now, can you share times when you've felt a sense of belonging or acceptance? Reba mentioned seeing Ellen's cover and feeling represented as a gay person. What have been some moments in your life that you can say, “This feels normal. I feel like I belong here. I don't have to pretend,” or something to that acceptance?


I'll throw in two areas. One is I live on this cool street with biracial couples, young couples, people who lived here forever, and people from all over. We have Street days where whoever shows up. The gay couples show up and the straight couples show up. It is a “no” thing. Acceptance is no different. There's no startling in the way I got from the principles years ago. I'm just another family.


What moved me forward was having kids. I'd never related to heterosexual couples as much as I did when the kids came because suddenly with the commonality and being accepted. That was a big transition for me, as well as working at places with other gay people versus being the only gay person. Working in places where there were plenty of gay people was no big deal then. You're one of many.


Your kids were the commonality with heterosexual couples but that sounds like several years ago. That seemed to be the main connection point but what about now? Do children make the difference in the connection or can you relate as couples in love, building a family, or owning property?


The whole thing has gone away. The whole of gay couples and straight couples disappeared. We live in the Bay Area. We’re this and that. We're interested. We came together right here in the neighborhood when Trump was elected. Before, we had a lot of support for communities coming. We have a family who's arrived from Honduras that everybody’s supporting. This coming together with commonality is not about anything. That's what's normal. I'm a member of a community of people who are taking care of each other. Hallelujah.


Bridget, are you married?


No. I’m single.


For you, what's a moment that you felt or experienced what Reba expressed? It’s you hanging out at church or wherever.


I was going to share when my best friend and I went on a cruise. I don't want to endorse any specific cruise line. Olivia Cruises is a company that arranged and organized vacations for queer and lesbian women. In 2016, my best friend and I went on one of the cruises. It was the first time I was going on one of their cruises. It was so much fun because you're surrounded by your people. You're safe to show up as who you are. I could be the complete goofball that I am.


Everybody was partying together like your old friends. It was such a freeing environment because you know you're in a safe space. As I was listening to Reba talk about her neighbors and how they came up together, Texas had a big freeze. We're calling it Snow Apocalypse. My entire street had 10 to 12 inches of snow and we were out of power for 4 days.


I have the most remarkable neighbors. The guy next door knows that I'm a single woman living here. He shoveled my entire sidewalk so I could bring the puppy out for a walk. The puppy didn't want to go out for a walk but I was appreciative nonetheless. My neighbor Sheila across the street cooked and brought me food. I cooked the gumbo and brought it to an Irish next door.


All of the neighbors were taking care of each other pretty much all week and looking out for one another. That felt good. It’s these neighbors who I talk to regularly so it didn't take that event for us to engage with one another. It still felt like family and community the way everyone was coming together and helping out.


This idea of community and family is no different. This is the part that I struggle with a little bit. My dad sent me an article. I graduated from college and got my first job. In this small town where I went to high school, they were highlighting high school graduates from the area so they put this article on the paper or maybe my mom did. My mom loves to do that kind of stuff.


This was ‘95 or ‘96. The first line in the newspaper said something about how Valerie Hope is a very self-assured young woman who was 24 years old or something like that. This is the weirdest thing. I'm misquoting here a little bit but the gist was, “She doesn't think that she has a handicap because she's Black.” I was like, “What?” I do not remember giving the interview. I'm sure I had a conversation. Back then, it was this thing that there was somehow a disadvantage to being Black.


I imagine I was not projecting that and the reporter's White at least from the little picture I saw. It was interesting. Maybe back then, I didn't care as much but then I thought, “Why do you keep finding these different levels of microaggressions?” I never considered it a disadvantage to be anything. I grew up with three brothers so I was always very tomboyish. I'm sure some women thought I was gay but I was, “No, just kind of tomboy,” but at the same time, “Great. We can still be friends.”


Travel also opened my eyes to a lot of different countries, cultures, and languages. I find myself adapting to where I am and being curious about people and connecting with people. You tell me if I'm off here but in this country especially, at least in my experience in observing, there seems to be a need to have a little bit of definition about who you are, where you belong, what's appropriate, and what is not. In some cases, it's an advantage. Sometimes, it's a disadvantage.


There's always some fairness conversation, which is why diversity, equity, and inclusion have been tied as one of the large topics to address in the workplace. It sounds so trite like, “Can we all get along,” and feel the kind of belonging that you two described as being with your neighbors. What do you think about that? I am having a hard time having a conversation about this without it being about this.


I've been pulled over many times usually for speeding and I was speeding. I've not had the kind of interactions with police officers that result in someone getting hurt but that doesn't diminish the fact that it's happening. It's not my experience so I can't say all police are bad nor do I think all police are bad but we do have an issue when people of color are pulled over more frequently for traffic citations or suspicion and wind up dead or incarcerated. They're not even sure why they're there.


I agree with your point. Can't we all get along? In terms of frame of reference, sometimes you look at the world through the experiences that you've had. When I look back across everything that I've seen happen and unfold on the news in my lifetime, going back to Rodney King and coming forward to what we have seen of late, it's not that it's happening anymore frequently but it's just getting recorded. We get to see it. It's been happening all along. Even though that's not been my experience, it's happened.


I can be a part of the solution by speaking up and saying that things have got to change. We need better laws on the local city level to address police brutality and excessive force. Also, getting resources reallocated so that people with mental illnesses are being addressed and handled by people who are better equipped to handle those situations. A police officer with a taser and a gun is not the person who should be showing up when someone's having a mental crisis. That's what's happening. I don't know if that addressed your question but that's along the lines that I was thinking.


I haven't had a traumatic experience around that.


You sound like you've been well-traveled, had a lot of exposure to a lot of different cultures, and had great experiences in those situations. That's great.


To your point, that's something I want to be mindful of saying. It’s not about diminishing anyone else's trauma. I get that. There are a lot of experiences in life that I have not had that I would hope at the moment and even people reading this don't think that I'm any less compassionate. “That does not exist because I've not experienced it.” That’d be extremely naive and insensitive. “What can we each bring?” This is the question I keep asking myself even in conversations through the show.


“What can I bring to the conversation that’s a different facet and perspective that maybe people connect to?” Maybe people are like, “She's crazy. What is she talking about?” Some people might say, “I feel the same way but I've not been able to articulate, express, or explore it.” I want to give voice to that. I feel like it's not necessarily clear to me either. I appreciate the two of you being so generous. I feel like part of it is exploring. What is the experience? How can we honor experiences and yet elevate the conversation so that is empowering to all? Reba, what do you think about all this?


The words frame of reference is pivotal to me. I have known for my lifetime that I bought into True North, which is maybe not the right thing, that success looks like this. White middle class, education, middle-of-the-road thing, that's how you're supposed to live. I feel like many people and I have bought into what success looks like. The reality is if we can throw off that construct and that kind of blinders or that narrow focus, there is an outrageously, diverse vibrant community like the whole gender fluidity thing.


I'm learning from my teenagers and the way Generation Z sees gender, 1 in 6 identifies as gender fluid or non-binary compared to what it might have been back in the day. I feel like we have to stop looking at this Corporate America thing as success and define it for ourselves, even DEI, the fact that it's put in this bucket as a thing to do versus a lens. I keep doing this because let's crack open.


I had this experience with a dear friend of mine or a soul playmate. We push each other. He happens to be an African-American gay man. I'm like, “I've bought into the White male construct.” He's like, “Take it off.” What does that mean? How would we live? How do we define it? Rather than trying to fix this, why don't we create that? It's almost like we're trying to fix this old paradigm.


Cast it off. Create something new. Look at us. We have a whole world where trying to fit into something. Even Corporate America is shedding its skin. On some level, we've all got to find a new way to define this. I don't know how to define True North because again North is a construct. What's the language that we take on? That's me on a soapbox around getting rid of the old paradigm. Let's create something new. It's way beyond DEI. It's a new way of celebrating every human for every nuance and facet that they are.

Not Quite Strangers | LGBTQIA+
LGBTQIA+: It's way beyond DEI. It's a new way of celebrating every human for every new one that they are.

This generation has a whole different relationship to identity. I have five nieces and nephews who live here in the area. I can't remember what we were talking about but it's so natural for my niece to say the pronouns like, “It depends on the pronoun.” I'm like, “You're fifteen. How are you having these conversations? I'm just having these conversations and it's only been a couple of years.”


They have a different lived experience. It's fascinating to see how quickly we're evolving. That's the key. I'm getting that in having those conversations. Part of my job is to open it up and normalize those conversations, ideas, or perspectives so that this generation that's coming up has an unencumbered and there's no hindrance. They have an opportunity to express, lead, engage, and innovate in ways.


I have reading glasses, contacts, and regular glasses. Those are the three frames that I have for sight. There's another frame I'm sure. There's something that's beyond frames that I don't even know how to manage. I have to get bifocals, trifocals, or something. That's the way to get to the vision. There's probably a lot more freedom but I don't even know because I've only had this and other glasses. That was very abstract but it made sense in my head.


Maybe part of that is removing the frame. If there is no frame, then we're not boxed in. We spread out without a frame. To your point about your niece and this younger generation, my niece has friends who have 2 moms and 2 dads. That's how she's going to grow up understanding that that is an option for a family. A family is not just mommy and daddy. They can be 2 moms or 2 dads. That's her or his parents, and I love that.


If you can see it, you can believe it and be it. That representation matters. They were able to see this. Reba mentioned gender fluidity, which probably existed many years ago but we didn't see it because of fear of judgment. We all live with some fear of judgment on some level. Valerie, it sounds like your fear of judgment was admitting that you had an attraction to this certain boy when you lived in Hawaii. It's a fear of judgment by our peers, community, and family. That's what prevents us from being our true selves, removing the mask, and living our lives free and clear of a frame or box.


Frameless existence, yes. Not because I want to make this an even more serious conversation but Reba, you've been doing a lot of work around trauma. Bridget, you and I had a conversation about some of the things that you had explored or discussed in the workplace where people were experiencing trauma, especially after everything that was happening in 2020.


At least in my experience in conversation with you, you are going beyond the frame in your life, especially sorting through some of the things that are happening in the collective, Reba with the trauma, learning, and engaging in, and Bridget with conversations that you're starting up in the workplace or that you've been mindful of supporting or bringing resources in the workplace. What have you worked so hard for? What have you want to make that effort? Reba, we'll start with you.


I am no expert in trauma on any level. I took a four-month course on Collective Trauma Healing. I've always been fascinated by things that are esoteric and understanding the field of collective pain. To be honest, I've had several coachees who are women of color like African-American women. I'm like, “Do I understand their experience?” The other people I worked with, how do I not make assumptions? How do I look beyond what I'm seeing here?


It was self-knowledge and wanting to understand. I also teach mindfulness. I'm a martial artist. I study qigong. Collective Healing Trauma is also where trauma lives in your body and how you get stuck in emotions. We get fixated on our trauma and don't move beyond it. It’s an outrageously simplistic description. As somebody who does somatic coaching, I'm interested in understanding how to help people realize the ways.


We all have this collective trauma of COVID. Bridget, you mentioned how we're all in our little box. When we go out and connect with people, we're exhausted. We've all shrunk into this frame. Talk about a frame, how many hours have you spent in a box? My input to educate myself is to understand people different than me and how Jewish people, lesbian people, Muslim people, and people of all races are carrying trauma, not just for this moment but for my family and the entire community.


It’s a lot of self-knowledge and in service of the people that you connect with. Bridget, what about you? Your role is not necessarily to bring that type of education or those conversations to the workplace but what motivated or inspired you to take on that role or initiate some of that?


I got involved in the DEI committee at work. As we started this conversation, you can complain or do something to make a change. You could be a part of the change you want to see. Rather than sit on the sideline and say, “Let's see how we're going to fix this,” I wanted to be a part of the conversation. I've worked with people from all over the world and that's the beauty of Hospitality Tourism.


I've had very diverse groups of colleagues as well as customers and people who believe differently than I believe. I learned something from them. They taught me something about them and their life but also something about myself. We have to remain open and curious. That's how we have to approach this work with DEI.

We have to remain open and remain curious.

It's uncomfortable but we can approach it from a position of no judgment and just curiosity like, “Help me understand why you feel this way or why you have this perception.” We all have our frame of reference and it has to do with our life experiences. I wanted to be a part of the conversation as opposed to sitting on the sidelines and being frustrated and upset about it. Be part of the solution.


Your grandmother would be proud. I have more questions but we're coming to the end of our time together. I want to zoom out like I typically do in these conversations to find out how are you feeling knowing that you were going to have this conversation with somebody who was not quite a stranger but a complete stranger to you. What are you feeling?


I feel good. This discussion has proved that two people can come together and have a conversation. Some points connect. We may not have a dozen things in common but we may have 1 or 2 things in common. It's finding those commonalities or ways that we can make uncomfortable conversations a little more comfortable, get to know our neighbors, and expand our community.


Reba, how about you?


I appreciate Bridget bringing in how you show up in different communities, where you feel embraced in the work you're doing, and how you're willing to push, not complain but act. I feel connected to that. I too feel an urgency and deep desire to shed these old pictures and find a frameless space. I'm so happy you're out there doing that. Austin's a cool place to be. It's exciting to think you're over there pushing a more expansive way of bringing people together so that there's fun, community, and ease.


First time on a show, what are you taking from this experience? I got the topic but you have been on a show for a whole hour. What are you taking away for yourself?


It's not as bad as I thought it would be. It is fun. The time did flow by. You are right.


Are you comfortable with this being forever and ever online?


I’m not sure about that. I got to let it go.


I found the conversation flowed easily. I've enjoyed the conversation. It wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. It’s the video component of it where I’m making eye contact with the two people I'm talking to but I keep finding myself looking at myself.


That's vanity. I look weird when I look down because I'm like, “You look alright.”


It's hard not to be self-conscious when you're right there on the screen and it's going live.


That's what you're taking away. Check yourself out every once in a while. I’m resistant to dying my hair. I used to at one point because especially on my dad's side of the family, gray hair is the thing at a certain age. I'm like, “No, I'm done,” but every once in a while, I get on video and I'm like, “Is this what I want to embrace?” I have my moments too but more than anything, I am so grateful that the two of you not only said yes but also enjoyed yourself.


I try to create an environment where we don't get too heavy and this is not an expert panel. It is an opportunity to share experiences and perspectives. I want to clarify that in touching on some of these topics or subjects, one of us or I specifically said something that maybe doesn't sit quite well with other people or challenges other people. I already told you all in the beginning that this is to challenge the status quo.


My invitation to everyone who's reading is to step out a bit and ask a question that might be, to your point, uncomfortable or awkward and see where it goes. Sometimes even starting with, “I feel a little awkward asking this question.” That goes a long way. People have a lot of grace. The two of you demonstrated beautifully how much grace you hold for this conversation.


I don't know how awkward it was to meet a stranger and have a deep conversation but I couldn't tell the difference. I’m so glad. Last question and then we'll wrap this up. If you were to continue this conversation, offline or whatever, what would you want to know? What are you left with that you're still curious about?


I'd want to take the conversation offline with Reba and be curious to know about her kids. They've experienced this in 2020 in isolation with the pandemic and the shift from in-person school to online school, all of this social and racial unrest. I'm so curious to know how young adults are processing all of this.


Reba, what are you left with? What curious question or topic? 


I'm interested in Bridget's DEI chat. Here she is, I don't know how you identify, but a woman of color, a Black woman who says, “Would you do the DEI in my company?” What is that like? What's working? What are you finding? I'm curious about what works. How are you identified? I guess I should ask.


Typically gay or queer. If I'm introducing myself, I might say that I'm a gay African-American woman or a queer African-American woman.


Awkward question. What's the difference or commonality?


I started feeling more comfortable with the term queer. I feel like it gives me a little more wiggle room. Sexuality is on a spectrum and that spectrum goes from heterosexual to asexual. Everybody else falls in between.


Queer means what?


Queer means that I could have a connection with someone who‘s nonbinary. We'll put it that way.


It means someone who doesn't identify as male or female. I got that. In 2020, in my other show, Time To Come Alive, I interviewed Lindsay Tierstein, who might read this. Lindsay, if you do, I can't wait to hear what your thoughts are. Lindsay goes by the pronouns they or their. It was such a great education. We had such a fascinating conversation. They shared with their parents the show and that was the introduction to their life.


I'm glad that we had a conversation that was worthy of, ”Parents, Mom and Dad, read this. This tells you more about who I am.” These are the kinds of conversations that hopefully people experience some level of freedom. The freedom that the two of you expressed is so important and has been so meaningful to experience. We have longer stretches of it and more areas of life. I want you to have fun and play at church, Bridget, and have the freedom to be that. There are these Street Days, Reba, and your neighbors that go beyond whatever it has been so far.


Thank you. I can't say thank you enough for what you shared with me. We do have a gathering coming up for people who are interested in meeting some of our guests and other audiences but you have to be a subscriber to the website. Make sure that you subscribe so that you get access to an invitation where you can join and meet some of our guests live. I’m looking forward to that. Any final words ladies?


Thank you for inviting me into this conversation. Thank you, Reba, for sharing. I enjoyed it. You proved our point. You were trustworthy with this conversation.


Valerie, your incredible energy and curiosity bring us together. I'm grateful. Bridget, it’s so wonderful to meet you.


Thank you.


More to come. Everyone else, thank you so much for reading another episode. Be sure to go to so that you can subscribe and not miss a single episode in your inbox. You can also go to the YouTube channel, Connect to Joy. There, you’ll get a notification anytime a new video is posted. Ladies, thanks again for joining us.


Important Links

Strangers: Bridget Portier & Reba Rose

Place: Austin, Texas, USA & Oakland, California, USA

Topic: Safety and acceptance in LGBTQIA+


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