Sara Connell to Step Down as Education and Services Manager
After 3 and a half years of working with Out Boulder County, and two years as a full time staff member, I will be stepping down from my position as Education and Services Manager at the end of September. We will be sharing more information about the hiring process to fill this position sometime next week. I have deep sadness about leaving the organization that has helped me grow into the leader I am today, as well as immense joy for the new future I’ll be moving into. This has been a very difficult decision for me to make, however I feel that it’s the right choice for my future path as an educator dedicated to social justice, equality, and activism.
On November 7th, 2013 I stepped into the Pridehouse at Out Boulder for the first time, a tempest of emotions swirling around inside of me. Seven short days earlier, on October 31st, I finally made the choice to come out to all of my friends and family as a transgender woman. Although my questions about gender had been churning under the surface for a long time, it felt like I was finally ready to step into this new chapter of my life. After months of having the Boulder Trans and Genderqueer Support Group (now called Boulder County Gender Support) on my calendar, I was able to admit to myself and the world that I’m a transgender woman, and that I needed help figuring out how to show up as my authentic self.
By December, I was already helping to facilitate support group meetings and talking individually with transgender people to offer additional help. Through the support group, I found a kind, caring, and supportive community of transgender volunteers who were working hard to maintain underground networks of support, personal connections to local aid resources, volunteering to sit on task forces, and numerous other forms of volunteer work to support a community that has been historically underserved and underrepresented.
In January of 2014, led by support group coordinator Li Brookens and the new Executive Director Mardi Moore, a group of a dozen transgender community members, including myself, descended upon a meeting of Boulder’s Human Relations Commission to tell our stories of suffering, share our knowledge about gaps in services, and request seed funding for a part time Transgender Liaison position at Out Boulder to coordinate transgender efforts for change across the county, serve as a visible trans leader in a public role, and revise current programming to better serve the needs of Boulder County’s trans community. The Boulder HRC saw our vision for change and supported our work with the largest single amount of money they’ve ever awarded to an organization.
I was given the honor of working as Out Boulder’s Trans Community Liaison in July of 2014. My first projects in this position were to roll out new support services for trans folks and work with Mardi to create new opportunities for transgender leadership at Out Boulder and across the county. We organized a town hall meeting for the trans community in Longmont to collect information about what issues were affecting community members and how Out Boulder could offer help. Many important initiatives were discussed, but the strongest takeaway was that Longmont needed a transgender support group. Within a month, Nicole Garcia, a transgender Latina and therapist in Longmont, held a training for community facilitators and the group started meeting every 1st and 3rd Saturday. This group now meets every Tuesday at OBC on Main in Longmont from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.
In October of 2014, I secured funding from The Ellis Foundation in Seattle to hold a Transgender Leadership Institute where we could learn from trans organizer Lou Weaver about how to increase visibility, organize, and make lasting change for trans people in Boulder County. Upon graduation, this group of local trans activists and leaders carried on their work through our newly formed Transgender Steering Committee, in addition to building community by facilitating meetings of the Boulder and Longmont Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Support Groups.
Shortly afterward, I worked with the Transgender Steering Committee to organize a week of educational events focused on raising visibility of trans people in Boulder County. This Trans Awareness Week culminated in Boulder’s first ever official event for Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th, 2014. Over 70 members of our transgender community and allies gathered on Pearl Street to hear speeches from Nicole Garcia, other members of the trans community, and Amy Zuckerman from Boulder’s Human Relations Commission.
Community members then walked silently down Pearl Street bearing a banner with the names of the trans people we lost to violence in 2014 in the US and across the world. Finally, we gathered in the Labyrinth of the First United Methodist Church for a somber and cathartic remembrance ceremony where we read the names of each victim and let the memory of their sacrifice and truth permeate the room. It was a difficult night, but an important one, which galvanized the transgender community in Boulder County and connected us to the hardship and violence all trans people face across the globe for nothing more than living authentically.
In addition to coordinating trans programming, I doubled the scope and hours of my job in September of 2014 by taking on the Youth Film Project, youth education in schools, and the annual Night of Noise youth summit. Leading the Youth Film Project was a dream for me, and I was deeply honored to meet with our initial class of 4 students every Saturday to teach them about film theory, technical skills, and eventually help them write, shoot, edit, and produce their own short films informed by their queer identities. I continued leading the Film Project for two more years, and in the process, helped our youth learn to tell their own stories and expand representation for trans and queer people in media. You can view the films we made in our classes at www.outboulder.org/youthfilm.
Most people may not know this, but throughout my time at Out Boulder County, I have created virtually all of our graphic design materials, including the posters for Boulder Pridefest 2015 and 2016, Longmont Pride Week 2017, OBC’s Annual Report for 2015 and 2016, the RTD bus boards for our 2015 transgender visibility campaign, the weekly newsletter, and all of the Facebook headers, handbill flyers, posters, and one-page handouts for almost every Out Boulder County event, support group, social group, fundraiser, and dance party. I learned graphic design from Lee Scriggins, Anne Schuster, and Heather Volkel while I was working at CU Boulder’s Community Health program, and being able to carry that artistic drive forward into my position at Out Boulder County provided me with a stellar opportunity to hone my skills and develop projects on a tight deadline.
Another important moment for me in my development was the partnership we forged with Boulder Burlesque to offer a burlesque show benefit for Out Boulder, which raised over $2,000 for the organization. The event included a panel of transgender community members answering questions about their experience after the show. This partnership introduced me to one of my best friends, the troupe leader Jenna Noah, and set the groundwork for my exploration of how erotic art and education can be combined to teach communities about sexism, transphobia, and other social justice issues.
In 2015, I added more focus on youth work to my position when I attended a GSA meeting at Monarch High School and left with a plan to create a Queer Youth Dance for students in Boulder County. The GSA co-presidents, Daria Leonesio and Sienna Szustak were working on a dance for the LGBTQ students and allies at their high school, and together we developed a plan to recruit student volunteers from schools in Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley School Districts to plan the decorations, coordinate marketing, find a space, and volunteer on the day of the dance to transform our space to meet the theme. Our first year was a massive success, providing a space for 70 queer youth and allies to dance and be themselves. The next year, I coordinated the planning committee again, in addition to securing funding from Boulder County Public Health to pay two youth interns $15 an hour as our Project Manager and Art Director. We blew past our expectations and had over 120 attendees the second year.
Our next major project for the transgender program was another collaboration with the Human Relations Commission. The HRC approved a plan to fund bus board advertisements in Boulder showcasing local transgender people. We wanted to show trans folks in their favorite places around Boulder, accompanied by personalized, positive, and empowering messages to provide local context to a growing international trans movement. 2015 was a year of increasing transgender visibility, but also increasing anti-transgender backlash from social conservatives and social progressives alike. We wanted to shift that conversation and lay the groundwork for more transgender visibility with a positive focus that celebrated trans joy and trans affirmation.
We worked with local photographer Heidi Wagner on these collaborative photo sessions, where each model chose the location of their shoot, directed what shots to get, and ultimately had the final say in which photo we used. I was lucky enough to not only be the graphic designer creating the bus boards, but I also got to be on one of the boards and participate in my first professional photo shoot. It was a milestone for me in the development of my positive self-image. Even though more and more transgender people have been the focus of the camera lens, that visibility hasn’t translated to many opportunities for transgender people to direct or frame our own experience. We wanted to create a space where trans people were able to guide their own representation.
On July 23rd, 2015, I was the inaugural receipient of the Transformation Award from the GLBT Community Center of Colorado for outstanding service to the transgender community. This was the first time I've ever been given an award, and it was such a massive honor to be recognized for the progress I helped make for the transgender community in Boulder County in such a short time. This award sits in front of me on my desk every day to remind me of how hard I've worked to get here and how much more I can keep doing for the trans community in the future.
In September 2015, I moved from being a part time staff member to working for Out Boulder County full time as the Education and Services Manager. Part of my expanded role was to offer LGBTQ trainings for businesses, nonprofits, churches, schools, and volunteer groups in Boulder County. As a Student Coordinator, and then Gender Violence Prevention and Education Assistant at CU Boulder, I had experience in developing and delivering presentations on sexual health, relationship wellness, sleep, stress, body image, and other public health topics.
Drawing from this knowledge, Jen Spolnik, Beit Gorski, JP Butler, and I worked together to develop a new way of training about LGBTQ 101 topics that was less vocabulary-heavy, and which was focused more on the core building blocks of identity that are shared by straight, cisgender people and LGBTQ folks. We wanted to help members of the training explore their sex assigned at birth, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation in a way that would increase empathy for LGBTQ people, address respectful language, and provide people with the tangible skills to do more than tolerate our community, but to be our advocates in the workplace, in the schools, and in the public sphere. This training continued to take shape after our brainstorming sessions and developed into the content that I have now delivered to 2,833 people.
Another important moment in my work at Out Boulder County was the creation of the Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth Group in October 2015. The group is a social and supportive space where transgender youth and youth questioning their gender could be safe to explore new styles, use a new name, try on new pronouns, and talk about the unique challenges they face in life. This group was made possible by a partnership with Trans Youth Education and Support (TYES), who acquired a grant to fund the development, outreach, and my times as a facilitator for the group.
Out of everything I’ve done at Out Boulder County, this is probably the legacy that I am the most proud of leaving. A year and a half later, the group is still going strong, led by our new Youth Program Coordinator, Karen Jensen. I felt it was deeply important to provide a space led by a transgender person to serve as a role model for youth who rarely, if ever, see themselves reflected in media and positions of leadership, and Karen has taken on that role in a stellar way. I’m delighted that this group will continue to serve as a pillar of our youth program going forward.
My future plans are still coming together, but the majority of my work after September will be as a freelance graphic designer, writer, and social media manager, in addition to facilitating transgender training for employers across the state, working consultation projects with businesses, and conducting workshops on sexual health, pleasure, and queer sexuality. Additionally, if you want to stay up-to-date on my art, you can follow my creative projects at The Platypussies band page and the Queer Sex Ed podcast page on Facebook.
Ultimately, I am unsure where my path will truly lead me after working at Out Boulder County, but I know that anywhere I go, I’ll carry with me the lifelong friends I have made here. I was undoubtedly transformed by the opportunities I had for learning with Out Boulder County, including attending two Creating Change conferences and presenting on transgender issues for the last three years at the TRANSforming Gender Conference.
Through my work here, I have learned a lot about what it takes to keep a small organization running and how to build a community of support to ensure that you’re ready for anything. I will carry forward my commitment to transgender liberation and intersectional justice into anything I do in the future. I am so deeply grateful to this community for raising me up and supporting me through some of the most challenging, and most rewarding, times in my life.
Most of all, I would like to thank Mardi Moore for her belief in my development and leadership. For a while, she and I were the only full time staff members at Out Boulder County, and we worked together to maintain our programming through a very challenging time. Mardi has taught me an immense amount about leadership, intersectional work, fundraising, and so much more. I’m deeply grateful to have spent time working with her, and I know that the organization will only continue to grow in the right direction under her guidance.
I would also like to thank each and every one of our volunteers, interns, staff, and community members, who were with me through a vulnerable time as I transitioned to express my femininity in a public role. Every time I stumbled, you were there to catch me. Every time I wanted to give up, you were there to remind me that I am loved. I am filled with deep gratitude for everyone who has been there with me in these 3 and a half years. Thank you for everything.
Education and Services Manager