Recently, I attended the TEDxMileHighWomen, “It’s About Time,” speaker series in Denver, Colorado. Describing it as a “speaker series” would be incredibly dishonest. For me, and I think for all 2,800 female/male attendees, it was so much more; a spiritual awakening.
TED, created in 1984, came to be by Richard Saul Wurman. Three fields of study drove his inspiration for what would become TED: technology, entertainment and design. What was once a simple conference, TED rose to success in 1990 and quickly became a viral video phenomenon. Suddenly, a community of people with passion to change the world had a common forum to coalesce around. Presenters include scientists, philosophers, musicians, business and religious leaders, philanthropists and others.
I knew immediately I was in for something huge as I entered the TEDxMileHighWomen event. Something that would light a fire deep in my belly; I could feel the match falling fast down my throat as the venue’s lights dimmed and the event began. The energy was high and the room was full of individuals who attended this event for something we all crave in career and life: to be inspired. This particular event included solely women speakers from the Mile High City, and it was promised that all individuals would leave with another woman’s dream at the forefront of their minds.
As the evening’s emcee and host, Lauren Casteel, CEO of The Women’s Foundation (a woman whose career and leadership I have admired for years), approached the stage, she said this, “We’re here because women didn’t always have the platform they have today.”
She’s right. Though our country has come a long way as it pertains to women’s rights, there is still work to be done to ensure that all girls’ and women’s voices are heard, and not just because we are begging people to listen. TED empowers women to question the status quo while nurturing their passions, and it acknowledging their fears, without judgment. It also provides a community that gives a voice to the “thinkers” and “doers” – who often feel undervalued and unnoticed.
Out of all the phenomenal speakers (there were 12 total), the moment that hit me the hardest was the applause that followed Christen Reighter, who delivered a powerful presentation that recapped her journey to become surgically sterilized. With this decision, she relived with the audience her personal discovery that society desperately clings to a woman fulfilling the assumed role of mother, without a woman’s consent; that her identity and worthiness is not a choice she makes herself but is rather associated with titles that are forced upon her. She shared the judgment she faced from her friends, family and even her doctors—some whom even refused to perform the (highly legal) procedure for her. She felt dismissed, silenced and vilified – for doing nothing more than making an informed decision regarding her own body.
When her presentation ended, all attendees stood from their seats and gave an extended applause, causing Christen to bring her hand to her mouth as her eyes welled up with tears. When our emcee Lauren came back to greet her, she placed her hand on Christen’s shoulder and said, “If before you felt invisible, please look around this room and remember, you are not.” It was a beautiful moment I felt so honored to be part of.
As a gay woman, I certainly find myself feeling invisible in society’s eyes. In discouraging times, I remind myself how fortunate I am to work for a firm that celebrates and champions who I am. After the November election, our CEO Billy Vassiliadis assured our staff that R&R would always fight on behalf of its employees to protect their rights and well being. These were words I needed to hear. To hear them from my firm’s leadership was poetic and gave me hope for the future.
Ultimately, all people deserve to be seen. Whether it be attending a speaker series, or reassuring words from my CEO – these are the moments that show me that I am not invisible.