Training Engagement Specialist
Ian Unger is an Equity Consultant, Youth Mentor, and Social Justice Advocate. Ian became passionate about advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community while at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, where he developed inclusion efforts for the College of Business Administration and provided safe zone trainings for students, staff, and faculty. This experience transitioned into a career, leading Ian to Michigan where he served as the Program Manager for one of the largest LGBTQ+ community centers in the state. Ian continues to advocate for marginalized individuals using lived experience to educate about the importance of acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals within the community at large. As a transgender man, Ian is committed to supporting people of all genders figure out how to live and embody their truth. As the Training Engagement Specialist for US2, Ian supports the team in effective facilitation and presentation techniques.
When I was in high school, I spent two years in a school where we were taught regularly that homosexuality was sinful and punishable by eternal damnation. Topics of gender nonconformity were unheard of. I didn’t have language for being transgender until I reached college, which is where I realized just how much of my bias and bigotry were tools I used to hide from myself. I had a habit of repeating the bias that I had experienced to make sure no one knew I was struggling with my gender. However, during college, I was exposed to many different identities without the pressure of my family and peers to discourage me from hearing their stories. The friends I made were more than willing to answer my naïve questions, because they knew they were coming from a place of genuine interest. These friends helped me to discover my gender identity – that I am a transgender man.
I had to unlearn my internalized oppression to be able to embrace my identity, and thankfully my friends and several family members stood by my side as I came out as my authentic self. I felt grateful for the support, and as such I began to pay it forward through advocacy efforts on campus. The interesting thing that I started to experience as I medically transitioned was “passing privilege.” People see me and assume that I am cisgender (that my gender identity aligns with what is expected of my sex assigned at birth) by my appearance. Unless I come out to new people in my life, I can navigate society in a way that prevents me from facing discrimination based on assumptions. This privilege has also taught me the power of recognizing privilege and using it for good.
This privilege came in handy on a trip to Washington D.C. with a youth program that I facilitated. I worked with LGBTQ+ youth, and two gender non-conforming youth needed to use the bathroom in the Capitol. I went first into the bathroom that reflected their identity, at which point someone tried to stop us from going in. I said to the person, “This is the men’s room, correct?” He angrily agreed with me. At this point, I kindly said, “Thank you!” and ushered the youth into the bathroom, staying outside the stalls in case anything happened. The youth were able to use the bathroom safely, and I was able to use my passing privilege to help them gain access to an essential human need. It’s important to recognize the strength that we can have by being affirmed as our authentic selves, and once we can achieve this, we can embrace others on that journey.