Meet Grace Sterling-Stowell, 2019 Academy of Women Achievers Awardee
On June 4th, 2019 we will join together and celebrate the achievements of five unstoppable women who demonstrate YW Boston’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women at our 24th Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon.
Since 1995, as part of our mission to promote and celebrate the achievements of women, YW Boston has held the Academy of Women Achievers luncheon. Through this event, we recognize and honor some of Boston’s brightest, boldest, bravest and most influential women. Leading up to the event, we are sitting down with each of the 2019 awardees for interviews and releasing one each month.
YW Boston is thrilled to be inducting Grace Sterling-Stowell, Executive Director at BAGLY, into the Academy of Women Achievers. Learn more about Grace by reading our interview with her below:
We are incredibly excited to recognize you at YW Boston’s 24th Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon. The mission of YW Boston is to eliminate racism and empower women, and the mission of BAGLY is to create, sustain, and advocate for programs, policies, and services for the LGBTQ youth. Can you share a bit about how these overlap and how they can support one another?
BAGLY has long recognized that none of us, regardless of our age, is defined solely by any one part of our identity. We aren’t fully participating in the work of social justice if we ignore the fact that many LGBTQ+ youth are also people of color and/or identify as women. Intersectionality isn’t just about identifying those parts of ourselves that are oppressed, but rather it recognizes that in order to build more just and equitable communities, we need to work together to positively engage in all facets of our whole selves.
Being with BAGLY since its inception in 1980, you have had the opportunity to guide the organization for almost 40 years of progress. How have you grown and developed as a leader during that time?
While I often joke that I’ve been doing this work for over one hundred years, it is true that a lot has changed since I began my social justice activism in the 1970s. Whether as a younger, or now as an older activist, I have always believed in a multi-generational approach to leadership, one that builds on the experiences and accomplishments of the past, focuses on the realities and challenges of the present and imagines new possibilities to address the emerging needs of the future. For me, there are few more important things than investing in the young people of our communities, and so working in partnership with youth and young adults, in pursuit of social justice, continues to be an incredible source of inspiration.
BAGLY describes itself as a youth-led, adult-supported organization. Can you expand on what it means to be youth-led and what this looks like in practice?
Youth leadership, like so many other things, looks different from day to day and year to year. The core of BAGLY’s work is powered by the consistent willingness to listen and center the voices of LGBTQ+ youth from across Massachusetts. Using the structure of BAGLY’s statewide program, The AGLY Network, BAGLY’s Youth Leadership Committee, and a youth presence on BAGLY’s Board of Directors, among other strategies, ensures that the organization continues to live up to this value. By developing and supporting youth leadership, and providing opportunities for young people to utilize those skills in its programmatic and governing structures, as well as in the wider community, BAGLY has been ensuring that LGBTQ youth are active participants in our community for almost 40 years
As a long-time advocate for LGBTQ+ youth, what are some ways for the community to support LGBTQ+ youth here in Massachusetts? Where can advocates and allies focus their energy in 2019?
Although we have made great progress over the past few decades, we know that LGBTQ youth continue to face significant challenges to their health and well being. Supporting local youth-serving organizations, such as BAGLY and the AGLY Network, is a great way to continue lifting up the leadership of LGBTQ+ youth. BAGLY recently opened its new LGBTQ+ Youth Community Center, in the heart of downtown Boston, in order to provide a safe place where LGBTQ+ youth can be celebrated for all of who they are. It’s also a place where statewide events, such as MA Youth Pride and the Trans Youth Summit are planned, where youth were trained to become “Yes on 3” canvassers, and where they had a chance to hone their talking points as they lobbied the MA legislature on banning conversion therapy. The youth of our communities always need adult allies, and so whether you are donating money, volunteering your time, lobbying for protective legislation, or advocating for safer schools, your continued support will help ensure that the LGBTQ youth of all our communities will receive the support that they need and deserve.
During the Yes on 3 campaign for the protection of transgender rights, which both BAGLY and YW Boston advocated for, many people stated that as a progressive state, Massachusetts must serve as an example to other states for transgender equity. Do you believe that Massachusetts is progressive when it comes to transgender rights? What would you like to see the state focus on next?
Although Massachusetts has been a leader in securing protections and advocating on behalf of many progressive social justice issues, including those of the LGBTQ community, it has not always been in the forefront of transgender advocacy. However, in recent years, and especially through the work of the MA Transgender Political Coalition (BAGLY is its fiscal sponsor), and the Yes On 3 Campaign (BAGLY served on its executive committee and fiscal sponsor), we have seen a tremendous increase in support and advocacy for transgender/non-binary communities throughout Massachusetts. BAGLY is proud to have had an important role in that success, and as we witness a federal push to further alienate and erase transgender identities, BAGLY is more committed than ever to continue our work in coalition with the larger community to ensure that transgender and gender non-binary youth and adults are safe and protected.
Next month BAGLY will celebrate Youth Pride with a variety of events. Can you share a bit about the events and ways to participate?
We are so excited to celebrate MA Youth Pride on May 18th, 2019! This is promising to be one of the largest festivals we have produced, and we can’t wait to see everyone come out and celebrate with us! We would like to encourage everyone to join in the day’s festivities, volunteer if you’re able, and bring young people, regardless of their identities, to march and party with us! People can find more information at https://www.bagly.org/youth-pride-2019
Lastly, the tag line of AWA is Unstoppable Women Changing Boston. Can you tell us about an unstoppable woman who has inspired you?
There have been many women who have inspired me over the years, but more than any other, it was my mother who has had the most influence on me throughout my life. She taught me so much about the importance of love, compassion, and community, and she truly embodied the concept of leadership by supporting the development of others. If I have accomplished anything in my life, it is because I was doing my best to follow her example, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Catch Grace Sterling-Stowell at our Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon on Tuesday, June 4, 2019.