SpeakOUT is a leader and trendsetter in its field as the Boston based non-profit is the oldest LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer and Questioning, Intersex and Asexual) speakers bureau in the United States.
Ellyn Ruthstrom is the current executive director of SpeakOUT. She had experience of the organization upon taking up the role as a decade ago she was the organizations administrative director for a year and a half. Ellyn continued to help SpeakOUT after finishing up as administrative director by working as a speaker.
Ellyn is the only staff member at the organization. SpeakOUT has nine people on its board of directors.
The purpose of the non-profit is for LGBTQIA speakers to tell their personal stories to an audience to spur social change. The talks last about 45 minutes in which two to three speakers talk about their own experiences before engaging in a Q and A with their audience.
SpeakOUT hosts over 100 talks per year with many of them taking place in middle and high schools. Other places that the non-profit group provide talks at include public libraries. Ellyn hopes that with newly passed legislation that the non-profit group can expand to work at elementary schools.
“In Massachusetts they have just passed a law that elementary schools have to look for ways to include LGBQT information in their curriculum,” informs Ellyn. “We’re seeing that as a possible opportunity for us to get into more elementary schools, obviously to be able to speak at that level.
“You don’t say the same things in elementary schools as you do in high schools. You have a different framework when you’re connecting with your different audiences and that’s important to recognize too.”
At any given moment, Ellyn can call upon the services of 50 different speakers to perform at an institution. It is compulsory for all SpeakOUT speakers that they partake in training, regardless of whether they have previous experience of the craft or not. SpeakOUT has a training team of about 12 tenured speakers who provide their expertise on a voluntary basis.
“We insist all of our speakers go through the training even if they are already tenured speakers because it’s about not just having the ability to speak but also our format and our philosophy. We usually do two full trainings a year in the fall and spring.
“We’re ramping up for our fall one. Sometimes we do some mini trainings in between that for our already trained members to update them on things that are going on in the community they may need to know about. In the main it’s focused on your speaking skills and our format and putting together your personal story.”
The venue for speaker training constantly changes. The spring 2018 training session took place at Suffolk University. SpeakOUT aim to have a group of 25 participants for each training session.
SpeakOUT charges a fee for its speaker training program but provide scholarships for people who do not have access to the necessary funds. The scholarship covers breakfast, lunch and all the materials required for the program.
The organization’s motto is ‘ask us anything’. SpeakOUT try to create an environment where people of any sexuality are not afraid to express their views, even in a public forum.
“It is amazing once we have opened up an environment that people will feel comfortable to ask questions. We talk about the fact that right now in this room nobody is going to judge you the way you’re saying a question. We’re not going to be offended.”
Like many other non-profits, SpeakOUT try to generate revenue by fundraising and grant writing. They are fortunate that currently a fellow Boston non-profit has been assisting them with funds for two years now.
“We’ve had the support of the Lenny Zakim Fund. They’re a wonderful funder in the Boston area. They look to fund smaller, grassroots organizations that typically won’t get big funding from the big foundations.
“We’ve been with them for two years and that has really been helpful to us. We get a grant from them and they offer a series throughout the year of different workshops for staff and board members to increase their skills in fundraising, budgeting, management. They run those throughout the year”
SpeakOUT is the oldest non-profit of its kind as it has been established for 46 years now. The organization has covered surrounding states such as New Hampshire and Rhode Island but the intention for the immediate future is to expand their services on the North Shore of Massachusetts.
“We will be having a training on the North Shore this year as well,” informs Ellyn. “We would like to have more trained speakers up in that area so that we can fill more engagements up there. We served the Night Shore before, but we would like to be able to have more engagements in that area.”
Image Attribute: SpeakOUT