A Toolkit for Trans Individuals, Institutions, & Coworkers

The American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) LGBTQ Alliance and the Task Force for Transgender Inclusion offered us a sneak peak of their latest endeavor, a toolkit on gender transition and transgender inclusion in the museum workplace. We are super excited to learn of such a resource that is so in-depth; offering insight for institution-wide practices, coworkers, and transitioning individuals. We hope this guide is widely used, and integrated into workplace policies and best practices. Learn more:

Gender Transition and Transgender Inclusion in the Museum Workplace: A Toolkit for Trans Individuals, Institutions, and Coworkers is available March 11th. This expansive set of guides approaches trans inclusion from various perspectives in an approachable and easy-to-understand format, including separate guides specifically aimed at transitioning professionals, institutions, and coworkers.

Created by transgender museum professionals and close allies, the Toolkit seeks to improve trans inclusion in the museum field through the trans community’s own voice. Whether you are somebody preparing to transition, an institution who values inclusion, or a museum professional who just wants to see the field become a more welcoming space, download the Toolkit today!

About the AAM LGBTQ Alliance:

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Alliance (LGBTQ Alliance) of the American Alliance of Museums provides a forum for communication and dialogue and is committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and inquiry with particular respect to sexual orientation and gender identity within museums.

The LGBTQ Alliance facilitates transgender, queer, gay, lesbian, and bisexual visibility by promoting and enhancing awareness, understanding, and acceptance regarding museum-related LGBTQ issues. Its focus includes both internal needs and opportunities including staff, leadership, and organizational structure, and external, stakeholder-related work ranging from visitor amenities and messaging to programs and collections. The network serves as a visible and accessible safe space for museum professionals who identify as LGBTQ or allies. We welcome AAM members of all sexual orientations and gender identities and encourage involvement across the organization in promoting museums that include LGBTQ voices at every level.

About AAM:

The American Alliance of Museums’ mission is to champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with our members and allies. From art museums to science centers, arboretums to zoos, members of the diverse museum community share something in common—strong support, standards of excellence, knowledge sharing, and professional networks provided by the American Alliance of Museums.

Since 1906 the Alliance has been a leader in developing best practices and advocating for museums, as well as providing a host of opportunities to museum staff and volunteers. More than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners benefit from the work of the Alliance.

Black in Blue: Wearing the Badge

During the earlier days of the internets, I searched for “careers in Anthropology.” I was sailing on unchartered waters with my newly declared major going into college. I knew I loved studying cultures and the people that enriched them. I don’t remember much about what my search turned up other than a video of a group of women from Mexico making tamales from scratch, with onlookers there to learn the process. A young woman narrated a portion of the video, sharing her experience as an intern. I immediately kew wanted to do that but I was a long way from the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, D.C. from my home in Illinois. So when I was able to pull on that blue t-shirt, “staff” printed on the back, and rock my 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival lanyard around my neck as the Social media Coordinator this summer, a resounding “Mama we made it” rang through my head.

“Basque: Innovation by Culture” and “Sounds of California” were the two coinciding themes of this year’s Folklife Festival, celebrating the diasporic arts and traditions of both communities. There was a featured program “On the Move: Migration and Immigration Today” to offer space for critical discussion on forced migrations and immigration stories. I enjoyed being in the space for the work that is possible because of their mission and ability to allow cultures to speak for themselves. I was excited as a black woman working with a black female director of the festival, and to see the range of ethnic backgrounds, and experiences that come together to create what is the Folklife Festival.

I felt unapologetic. I felt safe. I had a uniform that set me apart from the onlookers, and the Festival was just the cosmopolitan place I needed to work without apprehension.

So when the volunteer conducting visitor surveys asked if I was part of the Festival, both of us in our discernible t-shirts, it only stung a little when I thought, “really?” Or when the cashier in the Marketplace offered an apologetic chuckle when she almost forgot my staff discount. I can never say with certainty it was due to race, but as a black woman there is a feeling of “not quite with the band” that is triggered by moments like these. Nonetheless, these moments were extreme enough to slow my stride.

Every year, the Folklife Festival takes place over the course of two weeks to include the 4th of July holiday, followed by a two-day break in between the Festival days. Unfortunately, those following days of the Festival were troubled by the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota.

Returning back to the Festival after my time of restoration was overwhelming but I got the sense it was business as usual. No moments of silence, no acknowledgements. It wasn’t until after the Dallas shootings that same week, that we were extended an opportunity to grieve for what felt like for only those in Dallas, but I had already been on the brink. I did everything not to let my tears fall at my workstation, as business as usual took place. I felt alone, in a trailer full of people, drowning in frustration and unable to talk to anyone. I had never experienced working through pain and grief like this in a workplace setting, and I didn’t know how or where to channel my emotions.

With the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I was reminded of the reality of a Smithsonian badge not shielding me from institutional racism, discrimination, and antiblackness.

I experience museums through an insider-outsider mentality, or what Du Bois termed “double-consciousness.” When the male security guard sees my badge, and passionately  says to me directly, “represent.” It feels like a father’s one-word edict. Like hearing him say, “if you don’t do nothing else with your life, you better represent. Make us proud.” When our eyes always find a place to lock.

I am reminded how the terms of what I do may not always be legible to my community, but I always am. They see me, and they know what it means for me to be here, in this space, with a badge.

Inserting myself into institutional spaces means to feel safe isn’t akin to being raceless or post-racial, as we often liken to “diverse” spaces. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival gives space for a multitude of diverse backgrounds, traditions and cultures and we have to share in all of it, even in the less than savory. Especially. Intersectionality is more than all of us being in a space, but sharing in it.

Truth, grief, empathy. The burdens of institutional and systemic racism should not and do not belong to one group.

It is why I hold appreciation for LA-based Filipino rapper Bambu on the Sounds of California Stage, a rapper who speaks on police brutality, immigration, and community issues, for not scripting his emotions or language in his performance despite often rapping to a largely white crowd at the Festival. Or for the Bay Area-spoken word organization, Youth Speaks, for not censoring themselves. It may seem silly in regards to the use of profanity, but when we talk about lives mattering to the larger societal structure, we have to listen when the subaltern speaks. It means something when I insert myself into these spaces, assert my presence by moving close to the stage for a photo, or use the staff entrances, something many might not consider significant, and venues such as the Folklife Festival must continue to be used to confront and challenge our perceptions.

Post-Graduate Survival

What are you doing next?

Do you have any plans?

So what’s next for you?

The signs that you’ve graduated. And if you’ve graduated from a post-bacclureate program you’re especially expected to have an answer –– usually to conform to the logic of academia in the form of a PhD program, or some continuation of the arduous work at an entry-level job or fellowship. I made a decision to wait to apply to PhD programs until  after I graduated. That was a personal decision, an act of self-care. I wanted to be sure that it was a commitment I truly wanted, and not because it was expected of me or for fear of not having a job.

I made this decision in the midst of the academic whirlwind of grad school. Master’s programs are a hustle –– reading, mounting debt, part-time and full-time work, teaching, interning, fellowships, more reading, and grading (this is not a comprehensive list). It was a two-year shuffle. So when people ask what I am doing next –– having several seats.

It has now been 2 months since graduation with time to examine my value and goals. And I advise all of the recent graduates to take the time after decompressing to determine those for yourself, particular those coming out of second-degree programs. An interview I did for Nylon (here) got me thinking on the lack of attention given to this “mid-level” of academia. There was this hovering feeling of “oh, nice, so what’s next?,” as though a Master’s couldn’t be all that I aspired. And when you graduate you must have it all figured out because you made a decision to pursue a second degree.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but here are a few things that have kept me inspired through my journey of adulting:

1. Avoid Comparison

It’s human and we do it in every capacity. However, be particularly mindful as you consider (honestly) what will make you happy.

I’m the oldest sibling, and the oldest among first-cousins. I’ve had the privilege of setting the example, so as long as I made it out okay it was all good. Anything else was a plus. Creating this blog with Amanda has become a sisterhood of sorts, and people often think of us as a set (don’t worry we get it). So, when she could casually tell people she was going to Harvard, I suddenly felt the need to measure up in some way; explain more than I care to to strangers.

The bubble of academia had me feeling inadequate, without enough fellowships and honor awards, or never thinking deep enough. I had collapsed myself into an expectation, and for that I had lost sight of what my interests were and what I have to offer. Which leads to my next point…

2. Road-Map

Take the time to assess what you’ve learned, accomplished and survived from your program. With what skills do you feel equipped? What do you want to learn more about? How have your goals evolved or changed since you began your program? If you still have the same goals, what steps do you need to get there? If your goals have changed, what tools or skills do you need to gain to get there?

These questions seem basic but it is easy upon graduating to think of yourself in the technical terms of the institution. But you now have transferrable skills, figure out how you want to use them.

It was my experience, that since museums were always at the forefront of where I wanted to be, while studying in a degree program outside of Museum Studies, my definition of success looked a bit differently. And even if you are in a program in which everyone is pursuing a similar track, determine your skills in your own terms. I am learning the language of what I wanted to accomplish, and part of that task is to not worry myself over whether it gets the attention of others.

3. Slow Down

All of these moments are part of our growth, the joy and the tears (and you will cry), and contribute beautifully to the work we aspire toward. Paint your toe nails, all of them. Cook a meal, and eat.

No plan is airtight or without bumps in the road.

4. Practice Self-Care

This could not be more important. Finding yourself is confusing enough without humanity being shi**y.

I recently joined kickboxing! Punching a bag for a few hours a week has already been such a great way to pour my mind into something outside of the internets, relieve stress, and be healthy.

Self-care, is just that, for the self and contribute to your ability to grow.

5. Establish Your Value

Lastly, value your time. Know your value for yourself, but also be sure others are clear on how you value your work and time. As an independent, or freelancer, that means being clear in the work you do, and the amount you will accept. Not everyone will agree.

As a job applicant, this means valuing your time with each job application. Quality over quantity. Job applications take a really long time. Like a really long time. Sure you want to cast a wide net but also be particular in your choosing. Find a passion in the workplace setting or job position description that you can latch yourself.

As I prepared to graduate, I was nervous that I wasn’t applying to enough jobs. But I learned my lesson when I spent so much energy trying to complete applications for things I didn’t have a passion for, but for the sake of applying did, and then when I looked up something that did interest me had passed. Sometimes the reward is in the waiting.

This process also made me very aware of the folks on the other side, human resources, curators, and people  I know. I began to think of every application like a hard or soft inquiry into my credit. This encouraged me to find the zeal in completing the application, and to not get discouraged by the search. Also, it helped me to better evaluate whether an application was worth my time.


Like I said, I certainly don’t have all the answers, and this is definitely not an exhaustive list. What tips do you have for post-graduate survival and adulting? #BGMBfindyourspace on Twitter @2brwngirls and Instagram @brwngirlsmuseblog


Women’s Liberation March in Washington, D.C., Aug. 26, 1970 / Photo: U.S. News & World Report (http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org)

We were inspired this week by the #WomensEqualityDay Tweetup at the Sewall-Belmont House Museum to bring you a few titles that acknowledge those who have led the way for women’s equality, to include those who often get written out of the narrative or just don’t make the page. Share what your reading with #BGMBreads.


Making the Most of Conference Attendance

It might seem easy to present at a conference — after all, it’s more or less just cashing in on the earlier work you did to apply to the conference and write your paper — but if you want to make the most out of your presence at the event, you have to be ready to do so much more than get up and speak. I’m freshly back from my trip to Europe, which included a presentation at the Practices of (In)Visibility conference held at the University of Brighton. I had an amazing time speaking about neoliberal and patriarchal violence in the Juarez femicide trend (a topic you’ve heard a lot about if you’ve been following me on twitter) at such a well-organized event, put on by the Critical Studies Research Group at the University of Brighton, but whether you’re speaking at your own institution or traveling abroad for the event, there are a few universal tips for the best possible conference experience, which I’ve shared after the cut. Continue…

Read All About it

A part of our vision to promote the visibility of people of color and disenfranchised communities within the humanities and social sciences, is to also provide resources. This is an effort to be part of the conversation if we are to hopefully lead it one day. Once a month we will provide reading materials that are critical and interesting reads to the field, and gage dynamic discourse. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t read them––we can’t always promise we have just yet either––or if they weren’t even on your radar, that’s partly the point. Many of the stories that collectivize the minority experience is comprised of historical fiction in addition to what is recognized as truth and this is a space for those narratives. It is not just the how-tos that are important but the why that must be examined as well, and that often comes with a myriad of perspectives. BGMB reading list will be an addition to our blogbites to offer a few titles to consider putting on your shelves. Simply add them to your Amazon wishlist, and if you have any recommendations email us or send us a tweet! For our first list, we’ll keep it light. #BGMBreads


How to Get Accepted to a Conference (A Four Step Plan)

I will be the first to admit it: I’m a big-picture-thinking, five-year-plan-making, pry-my-iPhone-from-my-cold-dead-hands, type of person. I need to have a goal in mind at all times, and I need a step by step, color-coded guide on how to get there. With the first year of grad school wrapping up, some people (possibly those with a different stance on the concept of “work-life balance”) might be looking forward to taking some much needed time off, but me? I’m lining up even more projects to fill up this new found free time. Be on the lookout for posts from me all summer about what I’ve got in the works, but for now, let me tell you about what’s first on my plate, presenting a paper at The Practice of (in)Visibility conference. Since I love both a good how-to article and helping to spotlight other scholars doing good work, I’ll walk you through every step already checked off on the big plan to get me from writing the presentation in my studio in Logan Circle to the podium at the University of Brighton where I’ll be speaking. Continue…

Relax, Relate, Release

Oh, did we mention that we’re in grad school?

This semester has been a whirlwind, from a research seminar to produce 25-pages, to maintaining jobs and an internship. And as much as we love the creation of Brown Girls Museum Blog (and trust me we do!), it all takes its toll, amounting in hours spent reading, researching, and contemplating. Personally, with all of my involvements I completely devoted myself to coursework, projects, and deadlines, and shunned the ability to work-out, continue my yoga practice, or other extracurriculars. Continue…

Chican@, Reimagined

This year, I worked on a research project for the University Archives Diversity Research Fellowship, through the Special Collections Research Center at the Gelman Library, and it was the perfect project for my first year at GWU. The goal of the fellowship was to search the George Washington University archives and find the voice of minority experiences there. Naturally, my focus was on finding other Chican@s in the history of the university, and knowing that I had institutional support behind me as I searched for my community meant the world to me, even when ultimately, I had to reckon with the fact that Chican@ experiences in Washington, D.C. and at GWU were not archived, and may not have existed at all. Continue…

Finding Our Space

Academia, museums, and my blackness are constantly in conversation with one another, and as of late, I can’t help but to consider the ways I negotiate these spaces. This week on the blog we wanted to take the time to address ourselves and the precariousness that often follows our existence.

I choose the word “space” intentionally, as opposed to place or some other designation, to highlight a lack of destination but boundless with possibility. Over the years, I realize that I make it a habit to insert myself into spaces that historically exclude my existence and intellect. In undergrad, beyond the comprehension of my family and immediate community, I majored in Anthropology and with the help of black feminism, I learned I would have to push the walls of a discipline laced in epistemological racism to make room for myself. Continue…