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Leadership in the Transgender Community: What Part Will You Play?

Leadership in the Transgender Community: What Part Will You Play?

By Stacy Soria, MPA | June 14, 2018
Lead Consultant, Stacy Soria Consulting, LLC

We need to hear some stories. Then, through listening to these stories, we need to make some commitments. It’s time to join in the process of raising up a community. Whatever your role, your gender, your experience—this is my take-home message about leadership in the transgender community: you have a part to play.

I am honored to be offering the keynote address at ETR’s upcoming Be the Change Leadership Institute, which will focus specifically on professional development for transgender individuals working in HIV prevention. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve been thinking about as I prepare for this event.

ETR’s Be the Change Leadership Institute

Stacy Soria is delivering the keynote address at ETR’s upcoming Be the Change Institute, a professional development opportunity for transgender individuals working in HIV prevention and their allies. The institute, a collaboration with AIDS United and JSI Research & Training Institute, takes place June 21-22 in Oakland, CA. Learn more here.

Transforming a Community

When transgender people have a chance to develop their leadership skills, they find opportunities to tell their own stories. This is transformative. These leaders become role models for their communities. They reinforce community norms that uplift and shape the lives of their peers today and generations who are coming behind them.  

Leadership development helps transgender people find their voice, build capacity for greater responsibility and make commitments to deeper personal accountability. It takes courage to step up as a leader, and to show up confidently and unapologetically as your true and authentic self.  From a prevention perspective, we find that leadership development also helps increase protective factors and decrease risk factors—a vital part of healthy lifestyle and disease prevention.

Fierce Advocates, Ready to Be the Change

Sometimes people are surprised to hear me say that transgender people, by the very nature of their experiences and their identity, have an increased capacity to lead. So I ask you to think about the transgender people you know, or those you have heard about. What have their lives been like?

They have problem-solved and created workarounds their entire lives. They have built community in the face of adversity and isolation. They have demonstrated tolerance and understanding despite rejection and discrimination. These are strong, determined individuals!

I see transgender people working brilliantly in teams, bringing unique and valuable perspectives to whatever matter is at hand, and becoming fierce advocates for issues that are close to their hearts.

When transgender people can step into leadership, they bring creative ideas and solutions. They bring an extraordinary level of empathy to issues of diversity. They have great potential to lead with insight, connect with their team, and show up with the kind of passion and motivation that is an asset to any industry.

The Leader Who Gave Me a Chance

I met Carrie Davis, MSW, when I was fifteen years old and transient homeless. She facilitated a support group at our local LGBT Center and provided social services assistance. Her ability to connect, support and be authentic with me, and to guide me to some better choices and opportunities, was a lifeline to this troubled teen.

Many years later, after receiving a scholarship for training in chemical dependency counseling, I was seeking out an internship. I was interviewed by Andres Hoyos, LCSW. He called me after the interview and asked me to come back to meet with his boss for a final interview.

I stepped into the building and waited for Andres. I was apprehensive. I wanted to make a good impression. Andres came up to me with a smile and then walked me up to his boss’ office. I took a breath, then I walked in.

There sat Carrie Davis. She looked at me and said, “I feel like we’ve met before.” I reminded her of our interactions in the group many years earlier. We talked. I told her about my goals and intentions, and as we were finishing up, she asked, “When would you like to start”?

Carrie saw potential in me. She recognized my desire to learn. She laid out the expectations of the internship and provided the opportunity.

I showed up each day on time and learned so much about HIV, the unique needs of transgender people and issues related to clinical treatment and substance abuse. In time, I was facilitating support groups on my own and ultimately was hired on as a Staff Counselor.

I learned more about addiction and working with individuals who were at risk for or diagnosed with HIV. This was clearly an opportunity to develop capacity, help others and reduce my own risk. Today, after many years of staying the course, I am a leader, consultant and mentor to others in my community.

What Will You Do?

Leadership development is about helping individuals find their strengths, then helping them develop the hard and soft skills necessary to lead. I had hands-on experience of this through the support Carrie Davis offered. She gave me a chance to become a more informed, practiced and inspired leader. To step up for myself and my community.

Here is a vital truth we must all remember: transgender people cannot develop their leadership capacity without opportunities and allies.

This reminds me of the old quote about the man and the fish: You give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. How do we put this into practice in developing transgender leadership?


Mentorship is a great way to help build capacity. But we have a shortage of mentors who are willing to take the time and invest in the lives of transgender people. Can you step up to be a mentor?


Internships give people a chance to develop knowledge and skills. There is also a shortage of internship opportunities that allow transgender individuals a safe space to develop those hard and soft skills. Can you create internship opportunities for qualified transgender candidates? And come up with a realistic plan for outreach to those candidates so they’ll know about your program?

Programming and Professional Development

Leadership development programming, such as the Be the Change Institute, is another fine strategy. But there is a lack of funding for leadership development programming for the transgender community. Additionally, a lot of available funding for the transgender community is tied to other populations within the LGBTQAI+ spectrum. Working within a broad community can be empowering, but it’s important to recognize that these are highly diverse groups. When everyone is brought together in the same process, we may lose understanding of the nuances and distinctions of each community. There is often a lack of clearly defined focus.

The transgender community has unique needs that must be specifically addressed if we want to be intentional and deliberate in developing leadership capacity. Will you speak up as an advocate and activist to support this kind of programming?

We will benefit from expanding cultural competency and inclusiveness programs in most organizations today. From my personal experience as an organizational consultant, I can tell you that many programs lack the necessary substance and perspective. I believe we need more than an annual one-hour webinar on diversity and inclusiveness. What can you do to promote substantive, transformative professional development in your organization?

Leadership Makes a Difference

In today's climate, these conversations are critical and necessary to organizational success. We want to create communities and workplaces that are inclusive and welcoming for everyone. When we do so, we create a stronger and more vibrant workforce that is better prepared to come up with effective, practical strategies and solutions, whatever an organization’s focus might be.


Stacy Soria, MPA, has over a decade of broad-based experience in the non-profit sector. She has provided leadership to numerous organizations in areas of Continuous Quality Improvement, High-Impact HIV Prevention, Veteran Services, Addiction Treatment and Prevention, Homelessness, Workforce Development, Criminal Justice, and Project Management and Administration. She can be reached at

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