An Agent of Change
For six years, Dr. Genn Herley counseled couples and individuals about their families, careers, relationships and health. Over time, she slowly gravitated to helping those with gender identity or gender dysphoria issues. She listened to their hopes and dreams, helped them resolve issues, and talked about their identities, struggles and triumphs. It was during that time she realized she was transgender.
“I was helping my patients, and, in some respect, they were helping me,” says Dr. Herley, a Walden PhD in Psychology graduate. “It’s something I didn’t know at the time, but I certainly know it now. Trying to help them with their struggles broadened my perspective on my own gender identity issue.”
Around her transition in 2018, she began visiting conferences and conducting seminars for transgender individuals. She covered topics such as expressing your individuality, how society looks at beauty and the detriments of sexism.
“The conferences were, to a person like myself, almost a matter of life and death,” says Dr. Herley. “It was a way to experience and share stories with people and see that there were others like me out there who were from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds.”
Seeing how vital it was to connect with others in the LGBTQI+ community, Dr. Herley decided to launch TransNewYork in 2018 as a transgender platform and community built on the importance of collaboration, acceptance, unique expression and individualism. Its mission is to bring awareness to the issues facing the transgender non-conforming (TGNC) community, build acceptance for individuals and give guidance to their loved ones within an open and safe environment.
Last year, TransNewYork hosted its first three-day conference focused on transgender interests in New York City. More than 350 attendees had access to 100 breakout sessions featuring speakers such as mental health professionals, surgeons, job placement experts and more. Two of the breakout sessions included Macy’s “Dress for Success” program and lessons from makeup retailer Sephora, in which attendees were taught how to enhance their expression of beauty.
“I wanted to give back to the community so they feel accepted because I knew what it was like for me not to have an avenue or a place to go,” says Dr. Herley. “The conference really worked for a lot of people.”
Through TransNewYork, Dr. Herley also consults with companies on diversity and inclusion to teach them how to create safe work cultures for transgender people. Her consultation includes hiring practices, education for co-workers and creating a philosophy of support and acceptance. Additionally, TransNewYork is developing a digital platform to offer various types of teletherapy to the LGBTQI+ community. Most important to Dr. Herley is providing avenues for suicide prevention, a topic that she first discovered when researching her dissertation at Walden, “Perceptions of Role Conflict and Workplace Stress Among Women Working in Two Traditionally Male Professions.”
According to The Trevor Project, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. In fact, 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. By working with individuals and their families, Dr. Herley aims to increase the acceptance rate of transgender people in order to reduce the attempted suicide rate.
“I couldn’t get over the fact that someone would take their life based on their gender not being accepted,” says Dr. Herley. “I felt this is something I could build my mission around. There were so many people I met along the way who were really struggling. They had lost their families, finances, children and jobs. Having a doctorate and the background that I have, I thought, ‘I’m going to make a difference.’”
Dr. Herley didn’t always see herself as a social change agent. Growing up in a large family, she often had to elevate social topics to get a voice. But, it wasn’t until she started at Walden that she was able to work with other like-minded individuals to further the social discourse and general good.
“While I was at Walden, it was the first time I ever heard the words social change agent,” says Dr. Herley. “Certainly, being at Walden has inspired me to do a lot. Not too many people can say they are a doctor, and now I get a chance to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to help people. There is nothing more gratifying to me than knowing that I’ve changed someone’s life.”