Authenticity Matters

Photo by Brandon Parigo, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Pride Summit panel describes importance and value of being who you are

Can grammar be a powerful symbol of personal freedom, affirmation and authenticity?

Ask Gillian Power. As chief information officer for the law firm Lathrop and Gage, she writes memos and communiques to what she affectionately calls “an audience of professional critics.” And for much of her life, she hid her authentic self. It took a toll.

“Before coming out as a trans woman, in my writing, I would consistently default to the third person passive voice,” she said, while participating in a panel discussion at the 2017 Pride Summit at the University of Missouri Kansas City. “After coming out, I spontaneously converted my writing style to first person active voice, with literally no effort.

“You really spend an enormous amount of energy if you are hiding who you are,” she said. “The change in my writing style was powerful evidence of this truth.”

The UMKC Pride Breakfast, held annually since 2008, raises money for scholarships established specifically for LGBTQIA students, including the Pride Empowerment Fund, which provides emergency assistance to students who are experiencing financial difficulty due to loss of family support.

Power was one of seven participants in a panel of top business and civic leaders discussing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Authenticity was a theme woven throughout the discussion, as panelists said workers can only give their best as committed, transparent team members if they have the freedom and support to live authentically as who they truly are, in the workplace as well as in their personal lives.

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara A. Bichelmeyer moderated the panel, which also included Kansas City Mayor Sly James; Morgana Bee, Global HR Project Manager for State Street;  Donald J. Hall Jr., CEO of Hallmark Cards; Madeline McDonough, chair and partner at Shook, Hardy and Bacon; and Julie Quirin, senior vice president, St. Luke’s Health System.

During the discussion, Bee also cited the power of authenticity, and the corresponding destructive power of suppressing it. She cited a statistic that LGBT persons living in communities with hostile attitudes toward them have a 12-year-lower life expectancy than those living in welcoming and accepting communities. She first learned that fact while still suppressing her lesbianism, she said.

“I realized I was literally killing myself, in one sense,” Bee said. Beyond coming out, “I felt a personal responsibility” to support others’ journeys to authenticity.

“There is risk in sharing who you are, but I see it as a critical mission now.”

McDonough reminded the audience that members of the LGBT community carry a unique burden that even other minorities do not experience.

“You’re even a minority in your own family,” she said. “You have to figure out how to manage your own family, and then you have to figure out how to manage your workplace.”

Chancellor Leo E. Morton opened the breakfast program by thanking 2017 event co-chairs Kathleen Kunkler, Peggy Lowe, Annie Presley and Jay Selanders.

“We began a campaign not long ago on campus in support of our international students affected by travel bans, ‘All are Welcome Here.’ By this one simple statement, we are saying that UMKC is a place that welcomes individuality, a place that embraces all people no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Students should be respected and valued. They need to encounter open doors, open minds, and open hearts on campus and throughout our community,” Morton said. “UMKC is able to recruit and graduate some of the best and brightest scholars to continue the growth and innovation happening here in Kansas City. It is up to us to create inclusive opportunities for them, and I look forward to this morning’s discussion on how we can come together to make that happen.”

Speaking on behalf of her co-chairs, Kunkler announced that this year’s Pride event had raised $185,740 in scholarship funds so far, despite reduced attendance compared to last year’s event.

Bichelmeyer asked the panelists to close with a brief piece of advice for UMKC students. Power, again, drew applause for her offering.

“Every person is valuable, and the value we bring is in being who we are,” Power said. “So be fabulous.”

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