If You Don’t Know, Ask: Talking DEI with Lisa Koenecke

At the beginning of 2022, we made our ongoing commitment to DEI public. Shortly after, we connected with Lisa Koenecke, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional speaker and facilitator. Lisa brings a specialty in LGBTQ+ inclusion and counteracting unconscious bias in the business space through strengthening allyship.

The entire TDR team was fortunate to hear Lisa speak in person (an experience that can’t be overstated) at our annual retreat at the beginning of June. We knew then that we had to share Lisa with all of you. Copywriter Abby Parr and VP of Accounts & DEI Committee Member Kathryn Wundrow sat down with Lisa for a candid chat about DEI and its importance across marketing. 

What follows is part one of a two-part conversation. Looking for part two? Find it here.

Lisa, thanks so much for joining us today! Why don’t you start with sharing the “Lisa story”? 

Thank you for having me. I was a camp director for 25 years and wanted to do more in the schools, so I became a middle and high school counselor for 12 years. Now I’m a professor, so I train the next generation of school counselors at night. By day, I am a professional speaker on the topics of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging — and an expert in LGBTQ+ topics, initiatives, etc. I’ve spoken in all 50 states and have ten countries under my belt. I want to save lives one ally at a time. That’s me, Lisa K — your everyday gay!

Can you define and describe some of the acronyms that we hear when it comes to LGBTQIA+?

You betcha! Started out LGB: lesbian, gay, bisexual. Those are orientations — that’s who we are attracted to. Then we get into the other letters which are identities. There’s no test on this, but just letting you know that we’ve added the T because more of our friends are becoming their true selves and being transgender. In fact, three out of ten of us know someone who is transgender. My friends, the easiest thing to say is “trans”. 

So LGBT, then Q comes in. Q was added in 2016 to embrace the people who use the term queer — if someone uses the term queer, they’re giving you permission to use that. Questioning also comes into the Q. 

Some people will add an I, which is intersex. Intersex is the correct term for “hermaphrodite” — we don’t use hermaphrodite anymore. Intersex is someone who was born with maybe both genitalia, maybe extra chromosomes to determine sex — because sex is assigned at birth, gender is not. There are more people born intersex than those who have cleft palates. 

Then we get into the A — I speak about ally, I speak about asexual, agender is popping up in there. P is another big one that’s out there which is pansexual — that is someone who loves hearts, not parts.

And then, Lisa Koenecke, I add the plus in there.

Not everyone is familiar with why we might extend the acronym as opposed to throwing a plus sign on it and considering everything to be covered. Why would we choose to do that?

A great question. Enumeration is important. When I can see in someone’s policies that sexual orientation is a protected class — as it is for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission — I also want to see gender identity, gender expression, and gender expansion added to those. I guess we’re just super inclusive to be able to say, “You know what? Yes, let’s love everyone as they are.” 

Another thing that I neglected to say when we do talk about the acronym are our friends who are indigenous and identify as Two Spirit. Our friends who are north of me in Canada will usually spell out the number 2 and the letter S [LGBTQ2S] to represent Two Spirit.

Some people like the plus, some people don’t like the plus. As an elder person in the LGBT community, I’m gonna add the plus.

We’ve seen a lot of changes to the LGBTQ+ flag over the years. Can you walk us through a brief history of the symbolism behind that?

One of my favorite things! 1978: Harvey Milk asked Gilbert Baker in San Francisco to make a rainbow flag to bring us all together. Back then, it was hard to get hot pink and turquoise fabrics that were on the original design, so we went down to just the Roy G. Biv flag. Then, our friends in 2017 in Philadelphia (hello Philly!) added the black and the brown stripes to the top to include our BIPOC friends, Black and indigenous people of color. 

In 2018, Daniel Quasar (who’s actually in my book) said, “Cool, let’s do more.” Daniel Quasar took the black and brown stripes and put them into a chevron — which is an arrow pointing to the right — because there’s still progress to be made for our Black and indigenous brothers and sisters, as well as our friends who are trans (represented on the flag in blue and pink) and our friends who are questioning in white. Daniel wanted to give honor to our friends who have died of AIDS, which is also represented in the white. 

Then in 2021, Valentino Vecchietti said, “Cool, let’s add the intersex flag to the progress flag.” So the current flag of 2022 includes all of the aforementioned as well as a yellow background with a purple circle in it to represent our friends who are intersex. I love it!

Something that comes up frequently in these conversations is the idea of intersectionality. Can you talk about what that means specifically in this space?

First, let’s give credit to Kimberlé Crenshaw who came up with the term intersectionality over 30 years ago. That comes because she was a Black (her words), female lawyer. She got treated differently for being a Black person, for being a woman, for being a Black woman, and then also being a lawyer and being all three. Her world came together under the term intersectionality. 

In the world of LGTBQ+, there is intersectionality. I am cisgender which is Latin for “on the same side”. I also identify as gay. My wife, cisgender, identifies as lesbian. As we bring in intersectionality, anyone can use whatever term they want to. If you aren’t sure, just ask. 

The other thing that comes into play with all of this — so I know that I am a white woman of privilege. My skin color is going to help me, whether I want to come out. Skin color for other people, if you are a person of color, might be different for you coming out — and geographically, where you are in the country. We choose to live in the bubble near Madison, Wisconsin because we feel safe here. That’s not true for other people.

Other intersectionalities that might come into play: if English is not your first language or the prominent language where you are. It might be socioeconomics; it might be ability. The other idea that we’re finding fascinating in the world of intersectionality: we have our friends who are living on the autism spectrum — Asperger’s is now being called “neurodivergent”. Our friends who are neurodivergent — some are also identifying as pansexual.

When I go around the country and speak about this, I have people ask me, “Lisa what’s going on with the teenagers who are neurodivergent as well as pansexual?” I’m like, “Their intersectionality is fantastic!” They love hearts, not parts. Couldn’t that be a lesson to all of us moving forward? To see the person first — and not what we’re wearing, what we sound like, or anything along those lines.

We’re noticing more and more across all sorts of different settings, individuals including pronouns when they introduce themselves and in their online profiles. How can we use that to help further inclusivity, belonging, and safety?

I have goosebumps right now, thank you for asking that. Pronouns are important. Just like we don’t say the word transgendered anymore (there’s no “-ed”), pronouns are pronouns. They’re not “preferred pronouns”. If you’re using preferred pronouns, that’s cool! You’re trying. I love it. We [the LGBTQ+ population] change a lot — if you’re trying to keep up with things, just give me a call. 

It’s so important to help our friends who maybe aren’t in the cisgender world. I like putting my pronouns in my video windows as a nod to anyone out there to say, “I am an ally, I see you, you are important.” I love when people ask me that question because sometimes allies are like, I want to be an ally, what can I do? This is a fabulous way to show that you are an ally to everyone out there. 

I also have my pronouns in my email signature. After she/her, I have the words “Why This Matters?” hyperlinked to pronouns.org. That will give you the rundown of anything and everything. There’s actually an International Pronouns Day out there to celebrate all pronouns. It’s important for someone to be seen and to be heard. 

If someone uses “they” as a pronoun — oh yes, dear friend, it is singular! Added to the Miriam-Webster dictionary in 2019 because it was the most looked up word that year. If I were to give you my pronouns and say they/she, my permission to you is to use they first. 

Pronouns matter.

Would you be able to demonstrate how you might introduce yourself verbally with pronouns in order to indicate allyship?

If I were to walk into a group of people, first of all, my greetings would be inclusive from the intersectionality lens. I would say, “Hello, everyone” rather than “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls”, so that would be something. I would say, “I’m Lisa Koenecke. My pronouns are she/her. I come to you from the land of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and I’m excited to be with you.” That’s how I would use my pronouns. What that does is it opens the door to a conversation. Maybe some people have never heard that, and they’re like, Why are you using your pronouns? I’m glad that you asked — because I am assigned female at birth, I still identify as female, and I am cisgender.

It’s so important, my friends, because 3.7 trillion dollars in purchasing power is from the LGBT community. If you want to build your pipeline, sustain your business — bring in the LGBTQ+ population, show your pronouns. It’s a wonderful thing to do. However, to your point, I don’t want companies to mandate that their employees put pronouns in their email signature because sometimes it’s not safe. 

I also have been told that people whose names are “Chris” and “Jaime” like putting their pronouns because often they are misgendered. So again, heterosexual allies out there, you too can use pronouns! 

How do you recommend that we keep up with what’s going on and do our best to be an up-to-date ally?

What a wonderful question! Different opportunities are out there. If you are into legal rights, the Human Rights Campaign is way at the top of my list. You could volunteer for an organization that is LGBT-friendly — it could be PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays); you don’t have to be a parent. We’ll welcome you! Especially if you are a nice person and an ally. 

The National Center for Transgender Equality has a phenomenal Frequently Asked Questions page. Maybe it’s going to be, “My kid just came out to me. What do I say?” or “I want to be supportive where I work and volunteer. What can I learn more about?” And you can reach out to me. I have lots of resources that are out there. 

The biggest one in the state of Wisconsin especially — but other states also have — is an LGBT Chamber of Commerce. That, business people, is a wonderful opportunity to show that you are an ally so that you can shift mindsets and behaviors in order to shape your policy. If we know that you are supporting our community, we are going to give you money. Our Lives magazine (in Wisconsin) is a wonderful resource. That’ll keep you up-to-date.

At The Digital Ring, we acknowledge the responsibility we hold across many spheres — in the messages we craft and distribute as marketers, in the personal and professional development we foster as a place of employment, in the relationships we cultivate in our communities, and in the results we deliver to our clients. Our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion allows us to make conscious and continual improvements across our spheres of influence and, not least of all, become better allies.

Looking for more on DEI? Continue to part two of our conversation with Lisa.

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