I’m incredibly excited to bring this interview to you. I have known Dr. Tyree Oredein since we were teenagers at Wellesley College. She has always been a source of light and endless love. She has also always been a fierce fighter for those she loves and the things she cares about.
I’m grateful that she is sharing her knowledge with us. Her teaching convicts me in places where I fall short (I was raised by an English teacher and cringe when a person says their pronouns are they/them/their). She points out that my grammar-comfort pales in the face of the ostracism and invisibility some LGBTQ community members feel, so the actual least I can do is respect how they want to be recognized. Dr. Oredein serves up a succinct lesson on how to be a good ally. Follow the four Ls. Please read on. When we know better, we do better.
Jambo: Can you explain to our readers what you do for a living?
Dr. Oredein (Dr. O): I’m a Health Educator, Trainer and Consultant. Since 2005, I have developed and delivered LGBTQ+ related professional development trainings for health providers, social service providers, teachers and educators, administrators, corrections officers, as well as corporate entities. I also work very closely with youth delivering health education workshops on topics such as sexuality, HIV and STI’s, anti-bullying, healthy relationships, etc. I’m really just trying to improve the health and lives of the LGBTQ community- especially LGBTQ people of color- and even more specifically, LGBTQ youth of color.
“[LGBTQ youth of color] don’t really have anyone advocating for them. But they have me.”
Jambo: You’re a straight cisgender woman. How did you come to this work?
Dr. O: When I came to New Jersey for graduate school I needed a job and I wanted to work with urban youth specifically Black and Latino youth. I ended up finding a position with an organization called Hudson Pride Center in Jersey City, NJ that served urban Black and Brown youth. However since it’s a Pride Center, of course, the youth were also sexual minority youth. And in working with them, I saw not only did they deal with the issues of being People of Color, living in an urban area, and who live at or below the federal poverty level, they also had the additional layer of being queer and or trans, which puts them at an even higher risk for a myriad of social and health issues. What’s frustrating is that a lot of our people don’t acknowledge or accept our queer and trans siblings, and unfortunately the queer community often doesn’t acknowledge or accept People of Color leaving them in this No Man’s Land. So they don’t really have anyone advocating for them. But they have me.
Jambo: You recently wrote an article in Business Equality Magazine about intersectionality. Can you explain intersectionality in a simple way that people can pass along to their kids?
Dr. O: Intersectionality is a termed coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It is how systems of oppression and injustice are compounded for people with multiple minority identities with respect to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, immigration status, and other social categories. Kimberlé Crenshaw draws a parallel using the concept of an actual intersection. If someone is standing in the middle of a one way street and is hit by a car, it’s pretty clear where the damage came from, and you can tease out the extent of the damage that came from the hit. If however, someone is standing in the intersection and gets hit, they might be getting hit by more than one vehicle, coming from more than one direction. Injuries from one of the vehicles might also be compounded by the impact or injuries caused by the other vehicle(s) involved. If a woman was hit with sexism, of course, it sucks. An example is how women on average get paid only 79% of what a white man makes for performing the same job. Now if that woman is also a PoC, she will be hit with sexism and racism, where Black women earn 61%, Native American women earn $0.58 to every dollar, and Latina women earn $0.53. If that person also has a disability, they’re liable to be paid 25% less than their non-disabled counterparts.
Jambo: Why is understanding intersectionality important?
Dr. O: We all have multiple identities. But sometimes groups that we belong to don’t always accept other groups we belong to. And sometimes WE are the ones that don’t accept or even acknowledge the sub populations within our social identity groups. Unfortunately this means that those people are even further marginalized. It means that they are being overlooked. It means that people aren’t thinking about them… As a species, we have a habit of being very egocentric and only thinking about our own problems, identities and how things affect us. But we can’t be selfish. If we’re to be doing work in social justice, social services, health, education, finance… anything involving humans, if it’s going to be effective and efficient, we have to consider the nuances of how multiple minority identities, and the impacts it has with respect to access to resources and quality education, health, economic growth, political power, discrimination, minority stress, and a multitude of other factors. It also means figuring out ways to make things more equitable
Jambo: How do the issues of LGBTQ youth of color differ from those of white LGBTQ youth?
Dr. O: What’s frustrating is that a lot of our people don’t acknowledge or accept our queer and trans siblings, and unfortunately the queer community often doesn’t acknowledge or accept People of Color leaving them in this No Man’s Land. So they don’t really have anyone advocating for them. But they have me.
Jambo: You have worked with LGBTQ youth for many years. Could you please share your top 3 pieces of advice for adults who work with young people who may be LGBTQ such as teachers, clergy, counselors and coaches? Now what about for parents or other family members?
Dr. O: See answer to “What makes a good ally?”
The Four Ls of Allyship
Jambo: What makes a good ally?
Dr. O: Language: Words hold a LOT of weight. Language changes all the time and while you may not be able to keep up with everything all at once, do your best to know which terms are outdated or considered to be slurs even if they were commonly used a decade ago. It means learning and using people’s pronouns (regardless of your what you were taught in grammar school.) It means becoming familiar with the terms and identities like “pansexual”, “agender” and “intersex” within the LGBTQ+ community.
Learning: While ‘learning’ in and of itself might seem like an obvious one, the not-so-obvious piece comes in here… Do this on your own. The onus should not be on the LGBTQ+ community to educate the cisgender and heterosexual community- not even your sister, or your best friend. If they offer, fine- but it’s not their job to explain the difference between gay and transgender, or why something you said is homophobic, sexist, transphobic, exclusive, discriminatory, etc. There are a lot of LGBTQ blogs on social media with a lot of information to answer your LGBTQ+ questions. And if you can’t find it online, you can always ask Dr. Tyree.
Listening: When someone shares a part of their identity with you, or their relationship, or any part of their world, listen without judgment. Don’t debate peoples lives, experiences or their pronouns, or their name or gender. If someone tells you that you said something offensive- listen. That person isn’t being sensitive- they’re being brave. There’s no need to debate it, or defend yourself. Apologize. Similarly if someone tells you they feel they’ve been discriminated against, don’t be quick to dismiss their feelings, or seek to justify or offer possible excuses for the offender’s behavior. Instead, listen and ask if you can do anything to help.
Live It: This means being an ally ALL the time- not just when it’s convenient, or sexy, or when there’s a member of the LGBTQ community within earshot.
Jambo: If LGBTQ rights are important to you, but you don’t have space in your schedule to focus on organizing, how can you still be a useful ally?
Dr. O: There are many small but meaningful things you can still do in your everyday life to help further normalize the community. For example, you can introduce yourself with your pronouns and ask people for theirs as well. That will create an atmosphere where you are openly acknowledging trans identities, even if there are no transgender people present. If there are, you just created an environment which validates them and allows them disclose with little or no awkwardness. You can also use more inclusive language like “spouse” if you don’t know the gender of the person’s wedded half. Donating money to Pride centers and programs is also very much needed and appreciated as such places are generally funded almost entirely by grants or volunteers.
Jambo: How do you recommend that people react when they hear someone make an off-color joke about LGBTQ persons and/or persons of color?
Dr. O: Not laughing is number one. And then, tell them that it’s offensive, and if necessary, explain why. Sometimes drawing a parallel to one of their own identities helps clear it up. Either way, say something that shows you don’t condone or respect what they said. You may not stop them from thinking it, but you’ll stop them from spreading it.
Jambo: When you give workshops, how do you make the predicament of LGBTQ people feel “real” to your straight and cis audience members?
Dr. O: I share anecdotes from my work with LGBTQ+ youth that are relevant to the workshop topic. Sometimes my kids come out to do talks with me, and they share their experiences with suicide attempts, substance use, homelessness, family rejection, transitioning, relationships, and allies. There was a student in one school who made a transphobic comment in the beginning of the workshop, but by the end, after hearing one of my kids share his story about being a trans man, the student gave him a hug and a pound at the end of the session. When we visited the school later on that year, the student ran up to my kid to give a hug. It gave me all the feels.
Jambo: Do you have any children’s books you would recommend for either LGBTQ youth or any child to better understand the LGBTQ community?
Dr. O: Some books that have been pretty popular are:
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco
This Day In June by Gayle E. Pitman
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jenning
The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow /
When Kayla Was Kyle by Amy Fabrikan
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
King and King by Linda de Haan
Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman
My Uncle’s Wedding by Eric Ross
It’s Ok to Be Gay by Amy Graefe
Not Every Princess by Jeffrey Bone, PsyD
Jambo: Do you have a website or other means where people can learn more about your work and engage your services for their organizations?
Dr. O: I’m available to deliver trainings and workshops to virtually any audience. You can find more details at my website, www.iamdrtyree.com