Women's History Month is the international recognition during the month of March to honor women by highlighting their vital contributions and roles throughout history, culture, and society.
The Human Rights Campaign’s Women LEAD is an initiative for women and for non-binary people who are comfortable in a space that centers the experience of women. This group works to strengthen and expand the roles of women in the HRC community with a mission of elevating the impact of women as HRC leaders, supporters and advocates.
In February at the Women LEAD x Connect NYC event, our keynote speaker was Caitlin Kinnunen.
Caitlin Kinnunen is a Tony-nominated actress for her work in The Prom on Broadway, having originated in the role of Emma Nolan, and more recently, you heard her as Juniper on the podcast The Callisto Protocol: Helix Station starring Gwendolyn Christie. Kinnunen was nominated for an Audie Award for narrating the audiobook Mary Jane, and was handpicked by Judy Blume to narrate her book Forever. Film/TV credits include Our Ladies (pilot for The CW), The Intern, Sweet Little Lies, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Younger, American Vandal, The Knick, and Law & Order: SVU.
“In a time when our community is under constant attack by those who seek to demoralize and weaken us by stripping us of our rights and of our stories… I choose to be visible.”
The first time I felt truly seen, for every part of me, was after The Prom. It was quite recently actually. I shot a pilot that was suuuuuuuuper queer. Super body positive. Super F the patriarchal heteronormative systems of oppression. Super don’t apologize for the space you take up in the world.
Being on that set was an earth-shattering experience for me. I have never felt so powerful in a role.
And look, it was one scene, a “small” role, in a pilot that might not see the light of day, but I will carry the impact of this project with me forever. I played a queer human (okay, not a stretch), who appears naked (in this very body), and when I told the writer that I have a pump and a sensor attached to my body to help control my diabetes, their response was “awesome, let’s work it in” rather than, “we can get a body double.”
I’ve never seen a queer, mid-sized, naked, disabled human on television before. Never have I been allowed to represent all of those facets of myself. And here I was being invited to do just that. I was floored. I was VISIBLE!"
Caitlin’s speech centered around the message that representation in any capacity has the power to make life easier for others, her personal examples especially touching on experiences at an intersection of identities for women who are underrepresented and especially stigmatized in our current climate.
She also spoke to how our public understanding of subjects that go unspoken are intentionally done so to have these topics framed and interpreted as shameful. Visibility itself can validate people by creating a sense of safety and joy in being seen.
“Queer writer Melissa Febos wrote, ‘Not speaking of a subject can turn it into a secret. Secrets, if initially a source of power to their keepers, often transmute into a source of shame over time. If you act as though a happening is unspeakable, you begin to think of it as such.’ Now, she wrote that as a response to her sexual assault, but I read it and it immediately spoke to so many parts of me. I would argue that every day that we are not allowed to live fully as our authentic, queer selves is also a form of assault.”
Subjects like identity being treated as unspeakable topics contribute to the stigmatization of entire communities, much like the negative impact on the LGBTQ+ community with the recent attempts to outlaw or ban drag from public and educational spaces. The current wave of outlawing entire communities is a direct form of discrimination that is active in catalyzing the assault against queer people trying to be their authentic selves.
During Women’s History Month, let's reflect upon the women in our lives who have worked to make the world a better place. Women are a powerful force and we must continue to fight for equality and visibility year-round.
Header image from Prom on broadway by Deen van Meer Photography