SoCal's First Gay-Identified Toastmaster's Club Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Toastmasters

Toastmasters International has been in existence since 1924, focused on helping people grasp their public speaking skills while simultaneously killing their fear to grab a mic. And crushing other fears soon became a part of the club's existence as, through its history, it tackled racism, sexism, and homophobia.

There's some irony to that last tidbit: it wasn't until 1997 in, of all places, Texas, that the the first gay-identified Toastmasters came into existence--and soon inspired two women to create Southern California's first such club right here in Long Beach ten years ago.

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Dana Runge was baffled at the way she was treated by both her insurance company and her health care system after identifying as a transgender female. Like many within the LGBTQ community, she wanted to create a rally cry in order to not only raise awareness--transgender individuals are overwhelmingly ostracized and outcast within the health care system, despite the fact that an overwhelming 9 out of 10 transgender individuals seek mental health services in California--but, on a far simpler level, hone her ability to literally speak up.

Pairing with friend and Long Beach school psychologist Heidee Sinowitz-Stoica, Dana realized that Long Beach would be the perfect location for a LGBTQ-identified toastmaster's club. The Center soon provided them space at no cost and on June 12 of 2003, they convened for the first time as Speak Out! Toastmasters.

"If someone of the [LGBTQ] community goes to a Toastmasters club where everyone is straight, there is sometimes doubt in that person’s mind whether or not they will be accepted into the club, even though most clubs are very accepting," Runge said. "We wanted to ensure that we created an environment where everyone knows they will be accepted, no matter what gender or sexual orientation."

Club member Andrew Palomino echoed this sentiment.

"I've been a member of other Toastmaster clubs, but I never felt that I could truly be myself," he said. "I would 'heterosexualize' stories to fit into the group. It was only when I came to Speak Out! that I felt complete acceptance, and the members have become like my second family."

Even beyond the activist-like aspect of the group, there is also a more day-to-day practical endeavor the organization hones in on: communication skills. Particularly with the advent of digital communication, many are beginning to forget how simple public speaking situations--job interviews, a consumer transaction, convincing your parents to stay at a hotel rather than in your bedroom--are increasingly important.

"The person with strong communication skills has a clear advantage over others, especially in a competitive job market, and approaches public speaking opportunities with increased confidence," said member Carma Spence. "As our society grows toward digital communication, we can't allow our communication skills to slide. At any public event or even in the home, people are preoccupied with their smart phones, often instead of having conversations. Digital communication has a place in the world, but will never replace needing strong communication skills."

And with that, the Speak Out! Toastmasters will not only formally celebrate its anniversary this Saturday, but invite those wishing to hop in front of a camera with pride--and without hesitation.

The Speak Out! Toastmasters 10th Anniversary will be celebrated Saturday, June 15 at 7PM at The Center, located at 2017 E. 4th Street.

Speak Out! Toastmasters Club meets weekly on Saturdays from 10:30AM to 12PM. The group welcome adults of all genders and sexual orientations, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and heterosexual people. Members have the opportunity to practice public speaking and learn communication and leadership skills in a supportive environment, among friends. Speak Out! Toastmasters Club has been recognized by Toastmasters International as a President’s Distinguished Club. For more information, please visit the club’s web site at www.speakouttoastmasters.org or call 818-973-2283.

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