Episode #26: Storytelling with Kristen Kavanaugh [Podcast] Skip to the content

#26: Storytelling with Kristen Kavanaugh [Podcast]

This episode will sound a little different in the opening because I was recording it live from Las Vegas at the New Media Expo conference but the remaining interview with Kristen has fabulous sound quality. 🙂

Kristen was a great guest with some really keen insights to share so I hope you enjoy it!

Listen to the episode by clicking the play button below.

Below are the items mentioned in this episode of the podcast.

Here is how you can get in touch with Kristin –

AUDIO TITLE:  Jenn T Grace – Ep 26 

Jenn T. Grace:

Hello and welcome to episode number 26 of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. This is Jenn Grace, and I am coming to you live from Las Vegas where it is about 62 degrees versus my home state of Connecticut which is in the single digits, if not negative numbers right now. So this episode is going to sound much different than you’re probably used to because I am recording from my hotel room, and there is actually some sort of new casino going up to the left of my window so I’m sure you’ll be able to hear construction, you might be able to hear the maid service going on outside my door, et cetera. But I did an interview with Kristen Kavanaugh about a couple of weeks ago, it was just at the end of December, and I have an amazing interview in store for you today with her. But before I left for a conference I forgot to do the intro and outro for it, so here it is today, very rough, very raw, no editing done, et cetera.

So I do just want to share with you a couple of things, is that the reason I’m in Las Vegas right now is the fact that I just attended the New Media Expo, which was formerly known as Blog World. And it’s essentially what I’m guessing to be probably about 1,500 if not close to 2,000 different bloggers, and podcasters, and people who are doing WebTV from all over the United States and the world. And it was an incredible couple of days, it was hit or miss in regards to some of the speakers and topics, but overall I learned a lot, and I think from the majority of what I’ve learned, there’s going to be some changes headed our way in terms of the- maybe the branding of the podcast and the branding of the blog. So I would say stay tuned for that because that’s definitely going to be coming in the next couple of months, I’ll be working on stuff like that. But that’s all I really wanted to share with you today, was just it was a good time, I met some new people, hopefully they’re listening to this podcast right now. And if you are listening to this and this is your first episode, please know that it does not normally sound this much like I am in a tin can. I’m usually using some expensive audio equipment, and today it’s just me and a recorder sitting on a hotel bed.

So let’s see, it wouldn’t be fair of me to not mention the sponsors of this podcast. Before I press play on the interview with Kristen, but the two sponsors of this podcast, one is www.MentalCompass.com and if I had their file I would just drop it in, but I don’t so go check out their site. They have a great podcast, and it’s all about being your best peak performer. Being your best self, trying to do things better, do things more efficiently, do things more effectively. It’s really an awesome podcast, I really, really genuinely love it and it’s one that I don’t miss an episode of. So if you’re listening to this podcast, chances are you may be a podcast junkie like myself, so if you are go head on over to www.MentalCompass.com and check out all the great stuff that they have. And the other sponsor of this podcast that just started in 2014- actually I shouldn’t say that. It just started in the last episode which was the end of 2013, and that is with Teazled, and they are an LGBT greeting card company. And they are actually based in Las Vegas, so while I’ve been here I’ve had a good opportunity to hang out with them and learn more about their business, and hear about all the great plans that they have for their business in the new year. So I would definitely recommend checking out their website. They provide greeting cards designed for LGBT families, and LGBT occasions. So as I mentioned in the last episode of the podcast, I talked about how when I got married I ended up getting three designed cards, and many of those same three designs because they were just the most gender neutral that could be found. So I would definitely check them out. You can head over to my website to check them out, and that’s at www.JennTGrace.com/cards. And you can get all the information about their line of cards, what they have coming, all that kind of great stuff. So they definitely have some awesome things in store, it’s really exciting, and that’s about all I have. So this is a really short intro compared to the usual, just because of the nature of the beast that I am still here in Las Vegas. I was supposed to be going home the other day and my flight got delayed, and then my flight got delayed on the way in, so it’s been a delightful travel trip to say the least. But here I am sending this out to you. I hope you enjoy this interview with Kristen, she was so fantastic to talk to, and if you want to know any more information about Kristen, or about anything that we talked about, you can head on over to the website at www.JennTGrace.com/026 and that is for episode number 26. Thanks so much and enjoy the interview.

So I am super excited to be talking with Kristen Kavanaugh today. She has a fascinating story which we are going to get into on today’s show, and some of that story includes being a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, serving in the United States Marine Corps, and being the Executive Director of the Military Acceptance Project; which from my understanding on your website is a nonprofit organization that promotes understanding, acceptance and equality for all service members, veterans, and their families. And it says that you provide direct services, resources and education for both individual service members and organizations. So it seems like you have quite an extensive military background, so I’m excited to have you talk with us today.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Thanks Jenn, I really appreciate that, and it’s great to be on. Thanks for having me. And yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Most of my experience is either direct experience in the military from going to the Naval Academy, or being a Marine Corps Officer, or once I got out working in a military population with the Military Acceptance Project in my career as a social worker. So I’m definitely not far away from the military community, it’s really near and dear to my heart. My dad served back in the Vietnam era when he was in the National Guard, and so there’s a lot of pride in our family with serving our country. And so it was just a calling to do that, and do something bigger than me. And so right out of high school, going into the Naval Academy seemed like the right thing to do and the perfect fit. And so I made that decision, so that’s what I did.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That’s awesome, and before we hit record on this, you and I were just kind of chatting about how the military itself isn’t necessarily brought up that often on my podcast, so I’m really excited today to kind of go in a couple of different directions that this may be new ground for a lot of my listeners. So I’m hoping that we’ll walk away with a lot of good insight, but I have no doubt that you’re going to share some great wisdom with us.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
I’ll do my best.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
And what happened is that a friend of mine, Mike Brooks, who was actually a guest on this show I don’t even know when, probably like March or April this past year. But he connected us because you were recently on his podcast which is called, ‘The Road to Ted.’ And he was interviewing you around your experience in putting together a Ted Talk which you just recently did in November, right? November?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
October.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
Okay, October so it was still really recent, and you did it in America’s finest city. So I found your Ted Talk to be incredibly inspiring, and moving, and you really just kind of touched upon so many different things about acceptance, and your acceptance of being an LGBT service member, and a little bit of your story with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. So if you don’t mind I would love for you to just kind of maybe share a little bit about your experience doing that talk.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Sure. I think the most difficult part was coming up with the framework for the talk. As you mentioned, I am a member of the LGBT community, and not a lot of people understand how complicated that was starting back in 1996 when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was implemented. And so I wanted to make sure that I gave some basic information; just about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy in general. And so for folks that don’t know, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell made it illegal for gay and lesbian service members to serve openly. So in theory you could join the military and service, but you weren’t permitted to discuss your sexuality with your colleagues, or your friends, or anything like that, and then if anybody found out you could be prosecuted for that and ultimately kicked out of the military. And so during the Ted Talk I just wanted to give people a deeper understanding of the complication of going to work every day and hiding in plain sight by not talking about your family, by kind of denying a huge part of you, and trying to build trust with people when you’re not necessarily being 100% honest about yourself. So that was the overall picture, just to let people understand a little bit about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The second part of it, since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011, there have been a lot of changes. And so again it’s an oversimplified theory that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is gone so then things must be easy for gay and lesbian service members who remain in the military, or for veterans who have decided to move on to a civilian career. And so what I wanted to do was kind of bring to light some of the realities that service members are still facing, and that veterans are still facing, even after the repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And really teach people about acceptance, what it means, how you learn to accept someone, and the benefits of all of us really coming together and learning more about one another as opposed to judging or having a preconceived notion about somebody that isn’t true. So that was the big thing. Like how do we really all learn from my personal story and then apply that to our own lives, to ultimately just treat people better.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
And I think what’s so fascinating about it is I don’t know that people necessarily think of the military and think of the workplace. But a lot of what I talk about, either on this show or in my blog, is really about LGBT people in the workplace, and honestly with the way that you framed up the entire talk, was really by just merely looking at the military as if it were a workplace, and just how so many people have to hide who they are in Corporate America even as being LGBT. And it was just really fascinating, but one of the stories that you talked about that just- it was one of those like gives me goosebumps type of moments because it was so- I feel like I could so connect with you on what it must have felt like. But when you were talking about the Valentine’s Day with your girlfriend flying in from afar, and saying goodbye, and having to kind of do it down the road away from everybody else. Could you just talk about that a little bit? Because I feel like it was one of the more powerful things that I took out of your talk.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Sure, yeah. I mean we all have seen on TV what going to war looks like, or seen in the movies what going to war looks like. And so I think people have an idea of a family standing there, hugging in tears, having a safe place to have that emotional goodbye. Face it, you’re going off to war, you can never really know what’s going to happen once you land in a war zone. And so we’re all so used to kind of seeing that, but my reality is different because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. So the woman that I was dating at the time, as you mentioned had flown in from norther California, and we had our goodbye down the street from where she was supposed to drop me off. And in a sense it was a very personal moment for us because we had to fit all of that emotion that for maybe some other families was drawn out for a long goodbye. We had to fit all of that emotion into what seemed like one single moment. And just the intensity of that was overwhelming. And so we sat in the car, she told me she loved me, I said, “I love you too,” and then that was kind of it. And I held onto those words because I knew that may have been the last time that I would ever hear it. And knowing that we had our moment, and then seeing all the other families who were able to express it a little more openly and outwardly than us, it just made it difficult. And so I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand when we’re sending people off to war, the least thing we can do is let them have a final goodbye- or a potential final goodbye with their family. And there were a lot of service members who didn’t have that final moment, and there were some who never had a chance to have that final moment, and I think that’s a heartbreaking part of it because they never came home, and their lasting moment may have been down the street, or it may have been in a car somewhere, and I think that’s the saddest part of all.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
And I think that that’s what was so important about your talk, is that you were able to humanize it to a level, because I feel like when you hear about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a lot of it’s policy mumbo jumbo that nobody necessarily understands. Like we were talking about before we hit record, we were saying that sometimes people who are LGBT don’t even really know if they’re for or against it because it’s so unclear in terms of just general messaging about it. But when you were talking about it, and talking about that particular moment, it really just takes it down to the core level of what that policy did to people, and how unfortunate it was. So I thought it was just a great piece of that whole talk. And every one of these episodes has a set of show notes that goes with them, so I’ll make sure that I include the link to your talk, so anybody who’s interested in hearing the whole thing can certainly go check it out.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Thanks, I appreciate that.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
So we have already gotten into a great deal of background about you which is pretty awesome, and one of the things that I like to do- and usually I do this just to throw people off because they’re not expecting it, but I did warn you in advance. Is there something about you that’s just some sort of random fun fact that most people don’t know about you, or at least wouldn’t expect from you?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
You know as much as I hate to admit this for thousands of people who are going to be listening, I am terrified of spiders. And so anybody that’s in my close personal little group of friends, they know that. But when you see somebody up on stage, and they seem so confident, and I’m a Marine for God’s sake. But I am deathly afraid of spiders to the point that my wife, Chloe bless her heart, is the spider ninja for our house. So anytime there is a spider or anything with more than four legs, she is the one that has to go and take the hit for the team, and remove the unwanted thing from our house. So it’s just one of those things that I own it, I know that I get a lot of razzing for it, but hey it is what it is.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That is hilarious. Oh the opposite positioning there. Marine afraid of the spider, I love it, that’s hilarious. I haven’t heard the term spider ninja before, but I am the spider ninja in my own home as well. So my wife has a similar completely neurotically afraid of them.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Yeah.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That’s pretty good stuff. We had one time- this is completely on a tangent but we had time where there was a spider like above the doorway in our upstairs, on our third floor and I was too lazy to go down and get the actual stepstool, because I’m oh just over 5’0″. And so I literally had her hoist me up like some kind of figure skating move with a shoe to get the spider.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
She’s a better woman than me, I wouldn’t have been that close.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
I know because it could have landed on her. I don’t even want to know what would have happened if that happened.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Right, yeah.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That’s awesome. Oh, the spider ninja. I love it. That’s a good takeaway for today. Alright, so now I want to talk a little bit more about your story. So we have a little bit of a picture of what your path has looked like, and how it’s all very much intertwined and you have really a core- I don’t want to say a niche about your life, but you’re very focused on military endeavors. So I want to talk a little bit about the organization, the Military Acceptance Project, and then maybe get into some stuff about inspiration and motivation. So could you just explain where the organization came from, how it started, and how you’re involved in it?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Sure. So I started graduate school at the University of Southern California in August of 2010. And so I went back to school to get my Master’s in social work, and they have a very specific military social work program. And so I knew that was a way for me to get back in the game a little bit with the military, and work with service members and veterans, and do good for the community- the military community. And so in doing that, this was also the time when the effort to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was really hitting its stride. And so in December of 2010, President Barack Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into law. And so with that, what I think a lot of people didn’t understand, there was a transition period. So when he signed the law in September, it didn’t make things go away, there was a whole series of [Inaudible 00:19:54] that the Department of Defense had to hit before the repeal actually took place. So there was essentially a year almost where you could be gay in the military, but then you still couldn’t be out, so it’s like there was a lot of gray area. So we came back from winter break and I was taking a social justice class, and we were talking about advocating- or choosing a population to advocate for, for the semester that was going to be our semester long work. And so our professor had us make suggestions about groups that we would like to advocate for. And so I took a chance, raised my hand, I said, “Well why don’t we advocate for gay and lesbian service members?” And I never really thought it would go anywhere, and to my surprise half the class said, “Okay that’s a good idea, let’s do it.” And then at that point I thought my job was done; I made a suggestion, now we’ll just see where it goes. And so my professor pulled me aside after class and she said, “You’re going to lead this effort.” And I said, “Well wait, I didn’t sign up for that. All I did was merely suggest it might be a good idea.” And she said, “No, no, no, you’re the one, you’re doing this.” And so like a good Marine I said, “Alright, roger that, I’m going to do it.” And I had always kind of known in the back of my head, and maybe even verbalized once or twice that I knew my calling was to do something with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or around Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I just didn’t know what. What that looked like. And so here was an opportunity to do something. And so I gathered my team, there was about twelve or thirteen of us, and I’d say 50/50 percent ratio between military affiliated veterans or have military family members, and then no connection to the military whatsoever within the group. So we set out to do some research, and- because we didn’t know what we were going to do. And so we all came back the next week with our assignments from doing the research, and we had uncovered a lot of different information, but we realized there was no place where we could go to get all the information that you needed. One of the [Inaudible 00:22:24] came back with a phone number for someone at the Pentagon that said she would be willing to talk to us about how we could help. And so that moment was one of those serendipitous moments where I’m like, “Okay, wait a minute. How did we end up with a number to the Pentagon, week one, okay this is going to be something.” And so we had that phone call, and during the phone call we were essentially told that there was nothing that the military or the DOD could do to help gay and lesbian service members during the transition. Like there was no way to reach out to them because it was still illegal. And so that’s kind of what we formed around. We said, “Okay we’ll be that conduit of information.” So if a service member has a question, we’ll filter that question back to the DOD, get the right answer, and so that way everybody is still staying legal and not getting in trouble, but having good information to go on. So it started with that. And then the more we got out in the community and started talking to service members that had questions, or that had experiences, we really formed around this idea of acceptance. Like that it wasn’t enough that the policy was just being changed, and people can now go about their daily lives, there was maybe some damage that had been done, and then there was some education that could happen about what the LGBT experience looked like, and how we can make it look better. And so that’s when we really started going out and talking about what it really means to accept someone. And maybe if you are a member of the LGBT community, what it really means to accept yourself. And so that’s really how we started. It was first information giving and gathering, and then it kind of turned into a more discussion based, I guess maybe therapeutic for some people, information sharing. And so that’s what we’re still doing now. If there are questions about, ‘Can I do this, or can I do that?” we do a lot of filtering out to other organizations and making connections. For example we had an organization called Mission Continues that reached out to us and said, “Hey we’re bringing in our first transgender veteran. How do we make sure that we include that person properly and accommodate that person properly?” And so we helped them collaborate a little bit and talk to the right people in the community that helped them write their policy. And so it’s a lot of making the connections, and making sure that we’re helping people build a more accepting workplace for nonprofit, or activities group or something that’s more inclusive and more accepting than maybe it would have been a couple years ago.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
So you’re really the conduit, and you’re kind of a safe space for people who may not feel comfortable asking the actual direct source itself. So I feel like that is a huge service to provide, that’s awesome.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Or even just identifying the source. When the individual from Mission Continues came to me said, “Kristen, I don’t even know where to start.” And so just helping them say, “Okay these are the smart people that’s there that you need to know. Here’s their phone number, I’ll send you an email, and connect the two of you, and then you’ll get what you want.” And so it’s just having those connections in the community that we can get people to the right information that they need to make decisions or make policies, or whatever.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That is awesome. And again I will make sure that a link to your site is in the show notes as well, so anyone who’s listening to this thinking, “Wow, that’s a great resource, I need to share it with X, Y and Z,” then they’ll be able to grab it with ease.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Thanks.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
So this is exciting. And you had mentioned in this whole thing kind of being serendipitous. And that kind of leads into my question that was there some sort of ‘ah-ha’ moment for you when you just realized- and you said that you always knew that you had some kind of calling that was around Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But did you have a moment or maybe a series of moments where you just realized it firmly planted you with that’s what you should be doing?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Well I mean I think it started with the professor telling me, “This is what you’re going to do.” But I think maybe going back a second. I knew that that was something that I should be doing. I didn’t know how to do it. But the promise that I made to myself was that I will be prepared when the time comes. So however it presents itself, I want to make sure that I’m able to capitalize on that opportunity, and do what I’m supposed to be doing. And so I feel like I went through a series of lessons or things that helped me be ready to accept the challenge that was posed to me by my professor. And then even going through the Military Acceptance Project, and setting up an organization and things like that, there were just times where it was too good to be true. And so recognizing, okay this is one of those moments where something is happening that’s kind of pushing me in that direction to say, “Alright, you’re on the right track, keep doing what you’re doing.” Another example, we had built our initial website, we’re a bunch of social workers, we didn’t know anything about building websites, we did the best we could. And so we realized we were at the point where we needed to expand and have a really professional website. And so I put an ad out on Craigslist here in San Diego, and had a couple people respond, and there was one person that I really liked the approach that he had in the email that he gave back to us. And so we sat down, had coffee, he was the only person I contacted out of ten or fifteen responses that we received. And we had coffee for an hour, and he’s like, “I get it. This is what I want to do, I want to build this thing for you.” And he was just so jazzed about what we were doing, and helping a greater cause. And that- it was moments like that. And he did it for- like what are the chances that you put something out there, and start sharing information like that, and you get the guy that comes back and says, “Yeah not only am I going to build you this awesome website, it’s going to be for free.” And so there were just a lot of times that kept us moving in a direction where I feel like we were being pushed a little bit to do it, so that was always a really good feeling, and I joked with my staff, we would always say when we had one of these moments, serendipity strikes again. And we would call out these moments, because it was just so obvious.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That is funny.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
So yeah, it was interesting.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
So it definitely shows that you’re on the right path, which is exciting and I was listening to- it was somebody’s YouTube channel, and it was a woman who does a lot of coaching and consulting with helping women business owners specifically. And she was interviewing this woman who the main thing I took away from the conversation was the fact that the universe is designed to help you, it’s not designed to go against you. And it’s usually our own head crap that gets in the way of having things unravel in a natural fashion. So thinking about- and she articulated it so much better, I just completely butchered it. But essentially it’s what happened with you. Like everything was just kind of unravelling and unfolding exactly how it was meant to be, so that’s one of those things where you’re like, “Alright, I’m totally on the right path here,” how can you deny that type of serendipity?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Yeah, yeah.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That is amazing, that’s totally awesome. So along these same lines, what keeps you inspired and motivated just to keep plugging away at this every day?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
It’s the people. I’ve met some amazing people through this process, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to share my story. But hearing some of the other stories and things that people have had to endure, and things that people have overcome, it’s just there are amazing people in this world, and I always tell them it’s like- and it’s not to compare stories, but it’s like, “You should be the one up there telling your story. Like somebody needs to know what you’ve been through.” And a lot of times I’ve gotten back, ‘You’re telling my story.’ And so that keeps me motivated to know that people are entrusting me to be their voice. And people feel confident enough in me to represent them, but more importantly represent their emotions, and I think that’s a big deal. Because it’s really hard for people to represent their own emotions, let alone let somebody else go out and kind of be the spokesperson for what Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell felt like. And so hearing those stories, and knowing that there are people that are counting on me to tell this in a certain way, that keeps me going.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
Yeah, I can totally see that. And the fact that there- and like you said, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell wasn’t repealed until 2011 so it’s still only a couple of years into this changing landscape. So the fact that you are that primary resource for so many people, I’m sure that’s one of those guiding things that’s like, ‘Yeah I just heard from somebody else, and they have the exact same story.’ So they are entrusting a lot in you to accurately represent them. So clearly you’re on the right path which is pretty cool.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Well and I think it’s interesting too, after I did the Ted Talk, I heard from a lot of people in the gay community, but I also heard from a lot of women who could identify with some of the things that I had been through as well. And so I felt like a broader sense of yes, you’re out there and you’re representing people like us. And so that’s- it’s just encouraging to know that the theme of acceptance, and how to accept yourself, and learning how to accept other people; it’s not just a gay thing. It’s an all of us thing that everybody can really hold onto, and learn from.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
Absolutely, and the Military Acceptance Project does expand beyond LGBT, so you do have a handful of other groups around acceptance that you serve as well. So could you- I don’t have the website open, but could you share which groups those are?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Sure, and that’s what we learn, right? So we have all these people, and it started with our little team. So we had twelve or thirteen of us, and like I said some people were military affiliated, some people weren’t. We had men, we had women, we had people of various age groups, we had people of various religions. And so the conversations that kept coming up were around, “Hey I’m not gay, but I felt like this because I’m a racial minority.” Or, “Yeah I’m not gay but I felt like this, or I’ve had people say things like that to me because I’m a religious minority.” And so our theory was that why not just talk about broad brush acceptance of all people no matter what your race, religion, ethnicity, gender, base background; it doesn’t matter. At some point we have all felt this way because of something that we are. And why not talk about it as a collective as opposed to saying only LGBT people feel this way, or only women feel this way, when if you really think about it, we’ve all felt that way at some time. And so those are the areas that we’re really looking at. Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and we’ve even started talking about trauma status because that’s big in the military too, right? So we’ve got a whole generation of people who have gone off to war, and some have come back with wounds that aren’t outwardly visible. And living with PTSD or TBI or something like that; there’s some discrimination that happens there too. And so how do we learn how to help our brothers and sisters that do have specifically those two issues as a result from serving their country and going off to fight our war? So we gathered our team together, and said we can fight this battle for everybody.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
And I feel like that’s so incredibly important and just a random story I just want to share of a recent conversation with an intern of mine; actually will lead directly into the next question. And when you’re talking about just broad based acceptance, at the end of the day what I teach to my clients and on this show and on the blog, is really about not segregating LGBT people and having a specific marketing campaign towards them, but it’s more about just having a holistic approach of being more accepting and tolerant of people in general. So it really goes along those lines, and I just had a new intern start with me a couple weeks ago, and he was asking me- and he’s fresh out of college, he really doesn’t really know anything about the LGBT community, and he was just innocently asking me, “Why does someone care? Why would they want to market to the LGBT community?” And I showed him a couple links, I gave him a couple podcasts, said, “Just go listen to this and then come back to me with what you think the answer to that is.” And me not making the connection with him that he is a young African American male, that he would have very similar undertones of discrimination just like I would as a lesbian. So it was really interesting what he came back to me with was, “Oh wow, I never associated being LGBT with what I’ve had to go through as an African American guy.” And it’s like, that’s exactly it. So it’s really- it goes back to your earlier point about just being accepting of everybody. And I think the world would honestly be a much better place if that’s how everybody saw things.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Right.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
So my next couple of questions to you are around that LGBT marketing piece of things. So the people who are listening to this are primarily looking to understand the community a little bit better, and just knowing how to successfully market themselves to the community. So as somebody within the community, what do you think that you could tell someone listening to this that you think might make them a little bit more successful in trying to reach you as a person?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
You know I think the biggest point that I would like to make is that although we are different as a community- so each community has their own uniqueness. There are so many things that are similar, and that’s what I like- similar between everybody else. So that’s what I like to see. Like how do companies market across like the straight community and the gay community? So for example, I just like to see people that look like me in a commercial doing everyday things. It means a lot to me to see a grocery store ad where there are two lesbians shopping for soup. It doesn’t have to be something that’s over the top and screams gay and has rainbow flags, and glitter, and all of those things. I just like to see people like me doing the things that I do. And I don’t think we do a great job of doing that. Like there’s the stereotype out there, and so I would like to see companies break down those stereotypes a little bit more, and make us a little more boring. Because that’s what Chloe and I always talk about. It’s like we’re actually just really boring people that go to the grocery store and go to the bank, and do things that all the other married couples do that are really boring. And so finding a way to just make us blend in I think is a good way to go.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
You, I think hit the nail on the head, and no matter what you would have answered it’s your opinion and you would have had something insightful to say, but that is honestly the approach that I talk with a lot of people about, and I call it inclusion based marketing where you’re not specifically trying to say, “Oh here’s an ad for just lesbians.” It’s a matter of saying is there a grocery store commercial where there’s lesbians just wandering the soup aisle and there’s a straight couple on the other side shopping for pasta. Like that’s the type of- like that’s what you need to see. Lesbians shopping for soup, that’s great. But it’s totally accurate, so I think that’s great, great advice, and I’m hoping that people are paying very close attention to that. So let’s see. Sometimes this is a dumb question to ask people, and I think this might be in your case because much of what you’re doing, you’re leveraging your status as an LGBT person. But do you feel like you’ve been able to fully leverage your status in either a business context, a workplace context, or just I guess your general life; just really leverage who you are as someone who’s LGBT?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
You know I think I’m getting better at it. And I don’t know if this is the case for maybe some of your listeners, but at least from my experience of being in the military and serving under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I had to hide so much of who I was for so many years, that that became comfortable. And so I really had to challenge myself now that I’m out, and specifically now that I’m doing this work out in the community where I’m talking about it a lot more, and being very open about my life and my experiences. I really have to push myself to do that, because it’s uncomfortable and I’m not used to it. And so I think that’s what I’m learning how to do, is just be me. And a part of being me is that I do have a wife, and that we are married, and things like that, and just bringing that up in conversation at work, or around- in a social environment where it’s like a networking event or something like that. And just bringing it up and being comfortable bringing that up, and not worrying about what people are going to think, or what people are going to say, or what have you. And so I think that’s been one of the harder things for me just because I had to hide for so long. But it feels great finally being able to be authentic and just throw things out there and have a picture of my wife on my desk and things that I could never do before, it’s liberating. And for something that people can take away from it as scary as it seems initially to kind of put yourself out there and talk about things- talk about yourself, and your significant other, and things like that. It’s very liberating and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
And I’m going to ask- completely go rogue which I didn’t warn you that I do, but I’m going rogue. Is I had an earlier conversation today, and what came up in the conversation was about just kind of coming out. And my question to you is do you feel now that Prop-8 was overturned in California, and you and your wife were able to legally get married, do you think that there’s just something easier about the coming out process when you can say, “My wife,” in a conversation, or casually say, “My wife,” and then just kind of not skip a beat and just keep on moving with the rest of what your story is? Now that you can actually say, “My wife,” versus before where you might have said, “My significant other,” or “My partner.” Do you think that there’s any actual direct impact of the marriage equality and the ease of coming out?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
I think so, I do. Because it’s legal, it’s legitimized. It has some standing and it’s not just a word that we’re saying that doesn’t carry the same weight for us as it does for other people. So I think there’s some standing. I will tell you this. Chloe and I love playing the game where we say wife, and just look at people’s reactions. Because it’s still kind of fun to see people squirm a little bit, and not really know what to say or what to do. Chloe’s better at the game than I am, I still get a little uncomfortable. But the more we say it, the more people have somebody to look back at and say, “Oh okay, that’s what it looks like.” And so the more we become that reference point, as opposed to people having a preconceived notion about what a married lesbian couple in California looks like. So I think it’s just a matter of getting out there, and stepping through what is initially uncomfortable, to help pull people along a little bit. And we don’t skip a beat when we say it, and- other than to watch the reactions. But after that’s over we just kind of throw it out there and again, kind of like going to the grocery store. We just talk about normal things, and I think that helps people understand that it’s not really that different. Like we- the same things with buying a house, and Chloe was trying to grow a garden in our backyard, and so she was talking to a woman who couldn’t tell initially that we were together, and Chloe just dropped on her, “Oh no, in our backyard,” and something about, “my wife.” And then the woman was like, “Oh, okay,” and you could see it click, but then the conversation kept on about the garden, and tips for growing things. And it wasn’t anything about us being gay or being married. It was about the actual substance of the conversation. So I think it’s just important to encourage people at their level of comfort, come out.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
Yeah and I feel like we have a responsibility to be role models, whether we want to be or not in a lot of instances, and I know you being the Executive Director of your organization, you just having that title alone puts you at the forefront of things. So people are going to be looking to you, so if you act like an ass, and you’re giving a bad name to maybe somebody who doesn’t know any other lesbian. Literally they live in a bubble, they don’t know any other lesbian on earth but you, and you act like an ass, now they’re going to make an assumption that all lesbians act like that.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Right, exactly.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
And it’s so dangerous that this is the case, but it’s tricky sometimes because you don’t always want to be advocating. Sometimes you just want to go to the grocery store, fly under the radar, get your damn soup and get out, but if somebody makes an assumption and says- makes an assumption that you have a husband, it’s like well now you have to have the whole song and dance of coming out at the checkout line. And it can be exhausting, but at least that whole- it makes it more of the norm when you are just casually talking about it, and kind of what you said where you’re just kind of coming out and it’s a little bit on the other person’s terms because it’s clicking with them the way it’s going to at that time. So it’s definitely an interesting topic for sure. So again, totally off on a tangent but it’s very interesting, and I think it’s good for the listeners to hear. So my next question and then I have just a few more and then we’ll be done, is what is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
You know, I don’t want to sound cliché with this, but it’s something that has stuck with me since I was a child, and actually was just talking about it yesterday with my boss. But I distinctly remember when I was six years old, I was doing something that I shouldn’t have done, and so I was riding my bike past the stop sign, I was not supposed to go past the stop sign. And my mom drove down the street and saw me pass where I should have been. And so she took me home and she told me- we had the whole conversation about trust. And she told me that trust could be lost within seconds, but it can take a lifetime to regain. And so it’s something that’s just kind of stuck with me for all of my life, and so I just think about that, and I think about the importance of trust in relationships; whether those be personal relationships, or business relationships, or even just in the community. And so I always keep that in the back of my mind to make sure that it’s a very sacred thing between people, and I never want to be that person that breaks the trust of others, and then can never have that back, it’s a privilege. And I realize that trust is a privilege, and so I don’t take it lightly.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That’s really, really good advice. So what is- and this is one more question here. So is there a program, or a book, or just something that’s just kind of transformed or streamlined the way that you go about your day, or what you do at work, or anything like that? I’m always trying to find insights for my listeners for things that can just help them be more efficient and streamline things if you will.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Yeah. You know it started with a Ted Talk- with Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ Ted Talk. And I don’t know if you’ve seen that one, but it’s phenomenal and I would encourage anybody that hasn’t seen it to check it out. So a friend of mine sent that to me, and then after watching that I went out and bought the book, and read it the whole way through. And so essentially what he’s talking about in the book is how if you can explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Whether that be- he’s talking particularly with business. But in business, in life, if you can explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, the what you’re going to do, and the how you’re going to do it, that will come. But it’s really the why that inspires people to follow you, or to help you, or to get involved. And so when we started MAP, I really tried to impress upon my team that why we were doing what we were doing. And it wasn’t about us, it was about service members, it was about veterans, it was about a bigger, broader picture of acceptance and creating a better community. And not only did I try to impress upon them why we were doing that, but I really asked them to think about why they were getting involved. And we’re social workers, so we like self-reflection, and finding meaning in life, and all that kind of stuff. So that’s where it was kind of easy for them to go back and come up with reasons why they were getting involved. But the second part was, okay now that we all understand why we’re doing it, let’s figure out how to articulate that to other people. So if we can articulate why it’s important to promote acceptance to other people, then maybe that will inspire some people to get involved. And that’s what happened. So we were really inspiring folks with heartfelt reasons to get behind our organization, and to volunteer, or to become a donor, or community leaders- like why they needed to be involved. And having them jump on board with the why, it enabled them to take whatever action it was that we needed. Whether it was to volunteer, or to make introductions, or to become a donor. And so that’s always the first advice that I give anyone that’s looking at a new business venture, or trying to start a new project. Really sit down and think about why what you’re doing is important, and why you’re getting involved. And I think that helps people start from a different perspective because you can get bogged down with the what and the how, and that can seem overwhelming. But if you start with the why, it always gives you a place that’s grounded to go back to that, and inspire yourself really to get through the difficulties in determining the what’s and the how’s.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That is so well said, and I will make sure that I link both the Ted Talk and the book that Simon put together. Because I feel like that’s so incredibly important is starting with the why, and the first question that I ask any potential client that comes to me, is why? Like why do you care about the LGBT community? Why do you want to market to the community? And if there’s not an authentic why there, and it just kind of comes down to, “Oh the LGBT community has a lot of money,” then that’s when I know that’s not the right fit for me for a client. So yeah the why is so incredibly important, and I’m sure it’s probably paid off in spades in terms of your organization, getting people inspired and on board with what you’re up to.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Yeah.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
So my last question for you is what is one thing right now that’s just really exciting for you?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
I’m looking forward to 2014. Like it’s a new year, and the way that 2013 kind of bubbled a lot of things up for me personally and professionally, I think 2014 is going to be amazing. I’m starting a new project in just talking to some folks after my initial Ted Talk, one of the things that came up specifically with a conversation with my mom who was my mentor, and she has these amazing ideas. And we were all sitting around after the Ted Talk, it was a group of my friends and my mom, and the next day she said, “You know what? Have you ever looked at your friend base? You’ve got pilots, and test pilots, and government officials, and all these women who have done these amazing things, and who are so successful, and doing these amazing things in their career. That’s not normal.” And so that kind of stuck with me, it’s like they’re my friends, I’ve known them for years, like I never really thought of us as this- I thought we were normal. And so I really wanted to take a look at that, and my idea is I’m going to start a research project, and I’d like to talk to 100 women, specifically military officers who have in their own right found or made a successful career. And I really want to get down to it, because I have some theories about why women with military backgrounds become successful. And so I really want to get down to it and figure out if those theories are correct, but then how do we instill those things with our girls and young women to give them some role models- or I’ve actually heard the term recently ‘possibility models.’ That they have someone that they can look to, to say, “Okay not only can I be a pilot, that’s great. But I really want to be a test pilot.” And, “Not only can I be a professor, but I want to be the dean of the school.” And really give them some tools, or just some women that they can look to as something that they can be, and maybe learn some lessons from. I think there’s something to be said for taking hindsight from a group of women who have been through a lot, and seen a lot, and overcome and turning that into some insight for the next generation. And so like I said, my hope is to talk to 100 women, really distill this down, and have something that I can hand off, or to present to a group of young women that might change their lives. So that’s what’s exciting me for 2014.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
Wow, that sounds incredible. It’s such a need that I think needs to be filled, and perhaps that’s what your next Ted Talk is. It’s your insights that you’ve gathered from these 100 conversations. That seems like it’s definitely going to be a time consuming process, but I can only imagine how rewarding it will be to hear all of the different stories, and hear the themes that kind of come out in the overlap between stories. That’s going to be totally amazing.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Yeah, I’m stoked. I can’t wait. I already have my target list of people that I want to talk to, and I know those folks can introduce me to other amazing women. So the sky’s the limit with this, and we’ll see what happens, and hopefully it does turn into something more like a second round of Ted Talk.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
That is totally amazing. This has been such a great interview. I appreciate your time, and we’re all crazy busy so I know that carving out an hour is significant. So for everyone who’s listening, and feels inspired and wants to reach out to you, how would you recommend they find you?

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Check out my website, that’s probably the easiest way to do it. www.KristenKavanaugh.com. Recently released, so check that out. Also go to www.MilitaryAcceptanceProject.org. Either way, there are contact forms on both websites, find me there. You can also find me on Twitter @KrisKav, or on Facebook also under Kristen Kavanaugh. So any of those ways I’d be more than happy to talk to folks, reach out, ask questions, let’s collaborate, and hopefully have an amazing year.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
Yeah, that sounds fantastic. I will include the links to all of those things in the show notes, and yeah hopefully we get the message out very broad, and let everyone know how to find you, how to reach you, and be inspired. I think this has been one of the better interviews I’ve done in a long time, so thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.

Kristen Kavanaugh:

 
Thanks Jenn.

Jenn T. Grace:

           
Alright folks, I hope you enjoyed the interview with Kristen Kavanaugh. She was amazing to talk to, she has such an awesome story, and normally at the end of this show I would be sharing with you a couple of different things that are happening, but because of the fact that it’s so much like I’m talking into a tin can and the audio quality is not that great, I’m not going to bother you with all that stuff. But I do want to have one call to action to you, and that is to join me on my webinar on January 15th, so that’s just next week. And it’s a free webinar, you can find out information on the website at www.JennTGrace.com/webinars. And you can just go RSVP there, and it’s as easy as that.

So that’s all I have for you today. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Kristen. As always, please feel free to reach out to me in whichever way possible. And I look forward to talking to you in episode number 27. Thanks so much! Bye bye.

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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