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Celebrating Pride Month With Kyle Inselman

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Lorne Fultonberg

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Lorne Fultonberg
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Kyle Inselman

The University of Denver is committed to living our values of diversity and inclusion. We recognize that our community and institutional success is dependent on how well we engage and embrace the rich diversity of our faculty, staff, administrators, students and alumni. With that shared value in mind, throughout this academic year, we plan to publish a series of articles in the Bridge to celebrate cultural and ethnic heritage months. In partnership with Human Resources & Inclusive Community and the Staff of Color Association (SOCA), we will feature a staff or faculty member in recognition of each heritage month, along with an event to honor one another and learn about our unique differences.

When Kyle Inselman shares his story, it’s sometimes necessary to start with the bad. Only with examples of discrimination, struggle and rejection, he says, can one fully appreciate how far society has come.

Inselman, a career advisor at the University of Denver, came out as transgender when he was 14 years old, but it took another decade for his parents to accept who he was. College was an opportunity to express his authentic self, but it was also filled with discrimination: instructors refusing to use his name, classmates calling him “it,” a job lost over his gender identity.

“Because of these experiences in my own life, and similar or worse experiences in many of my friends’ lives,” Inselman says, “I wanted to work toward making things easier for the next generation.”

He joined a number of volunteer and activist groups, including Colorado Trans on Campus (CTOC), which was coordinated by, among others, DU staff members Thomas Walker and Eugene Walls. A study CTOC conducted, led by then-grad student Kristie Seelman inspired him to pursue a career in higher education and at DU, which he says shares his values and allows him to be his authentic self in the office.

Inselman recently chatted with the DU Newsroom, talking about the ways he integrates his values and social justice into his everyday work.

Tell us more about your role at DU and your work.

As a career advisor, I primarily work with undergraduates in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. I also have the opportunity to develop programming around social justice topics. This year, for example, I held drop-in hours in the Pride Lounge, and I also piloted a series of open discussions around issues like the gender wage gap, self-care, and being out about your identity when job searching. My goal with this series was to provide a space to talk about issues for which there may not be easy answers, and to show that career services offices are places where students can talk about their anxieties or uncertainties with what’s going on in the world. I want students to know that we get it when they say they’re worried about big issues like economic inequality and how those issues may impact their career decisions.

You’ve been doing education and advocacy on LGBTQ issues for more than 10 years. What progress has been made in the last decade? What still needs to be addressed?

There has been enormous progress for trans people in the past decade — even in just the past five years, actually. While many youth still experience family rejection, 15 years later [since Inselman came out], many trans youth have access to supports that didn’t exist when I was a teen — from medical advances to increased training for counselors to more community and visibility. YouTube and other social media sites that are popular with trans people today weren’t around when I was coming out, and so I learned about my community from trans memoirs at the public library and specials on daytime talk shows. Today, people know what “trans” means — and beyond that, there is wider societal understanding of genderqueer and nonbinary identities in just the past few years.

When civil unions were legalized in 2013, I got to stand behind the clerk’s counter to witness the first civil union in the state (between DU professor Anna Sher and Fran Simon). Obviously, a lot of progress has been made since then with the legalization of same-sex marriage. But there is still a long way to go. For example, most Americans are unaware that it’s legal in over half of the country to fire someone for being LGBTQ. So there is a long way to go in policy as well as in social change.

You are focused on inclusion for trans students, staff and faculty. What unique challenges do they face? And has higher education done enough to make them feel welcome?

Because of the ubiquity of gender, there are many places where trans people can face challenges that cis (non-trans) people do not. But I’ve focused on the way that gender norms impact everyone. One can argue that trans people uniquely face issues with being called the wrong name, but we know that people who change their name when they get married face the same systemic issues that make it hard to change one’s name in student/employee records. One can argue that trans people uniquely face issues accessing restrooms where they feel safe or comfortable, but we know that people with disabilities, people with young children to take care of and others also have issues accessing restrooms that work for them and their needs. Any issue in higher education that is impacted by gender impacts everyone in some way, and trans people can be impacted in a more discriminatory or exclusionary way. In terms of addressing these systemic barriers, higher education has not done enough.

Let’s shift to your work in career services for a moment. I want to ask you a question you like to ask your clients: “What do you value, and how do you cultivate it in your life?”

I value simplicity, but it’s always a struggle to cultivate since I have so many interests. Recently I have come to love an exercise from the book “Choose Wonder Over Worry,” where you list: 1) what you want in your life, 2) what you want even more, and then 3) what you will stop doing in order to [make time for the latter]. It’s so easy for us to think about the many things in our life and say, “I’m too busy to do x” or “If I’m going to be successful I have to do y.” It’s much harder to sit down and say, “I’m choosing to be busy.” “I’m choosing to not have time to do what I really want.” But taking that hard step has helped me to really identify what matters most to me and to work toward it.

What’s the best career advice you have ever received?

Career paths are so winding that I’m not sure if there’s a singular “best” piece of advice I’ve received. One of my recent favorites is what Oprah said about when you’re facing a struggle, and that’s to ask yourself, “What’s the next right step?” You don’t have to figure everything out or even set a long-term goal. You just have to focus on the next step. In my own life, sometimes the next right step toward a goal ended up being the first step toward a different goal, and I wouldn’t have been able to pursue that new goal without taking that first step.

How can students, faculty and staff be allies for those in the LGBTQ community?

My approach to ally education the past few years has been really big picture. The big picture way to be an ally is to move past gender norms. Gender is everywhere, and once you start to pay attention to it, you’ll see that it impacts many aspects of our lives. If we didn’t have a strict binary of gender norms, there wouldn’t be “wrong” clothes for men or “wrong” hairstyles for women or even “wrong” people to be in a relationship with because of their gender. So I believe if students, faculty or staff want to take another step toward being allies, then it’s important to examine how they see others and how gender norms show up in their own lives.

I would also encourage LGBTQ students, faculty and staff to learn more of our community history and diversity. We can be allies to each other by better understanding the diversity of LGBTQ identities and intersectional identities within our own community.

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