Combining creativity with consulting, trans-rights activists launch Better World Collaborative

This article originally appeared in the Windy City Times.

by Max Lubbers

2021-11-04

With years of activism behind them, transgender-rights advocates Crispin Torres and Rebecca Kling have sat through countless workshops. But they'd often leave their seats—or Zoom calls—feeling disappointed.


Workshops don't need to be boring, they said. So in October, they launched Better World Collaborative (BWC), a diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy focused primarily on serving the needs of trans communities.


Information about trans people and their rights is crucial, Torres said—but when it's packaged as dry content, so much gets lost. BWC wants to change that model by combining creativity with consulting.


"Part of the joy is finding ways to use our expertise in these areas and talk about them in an exciting way," Torres said. "Our lives are not boring, and LGBTQ folks are quite diverse and colorful, and we've got a whole mess of things to be resilient and excited about."


BWC offers workshops as well as communication and consulting services for businesses and nonprofits. As nationally-recognized activists, Torres' and Kling's experience converged to create this consultancy, they said.


For over a decade, Kling has traveled the country to conduct workshops and trainings on LGBTQ+ identity. Across that time, Torres has worked as an community educator for Lambda Legal, a policy and legislative manager for Howard Brown Health and senior program manager for AIDS United.


A partnership between Torres and Kling formed in 2015, when they co-directed Trans 100, an event to honor trans people and their accomplishments. Now, they're excited about collaborating again.


"This project actually came out of feeling like there was a desire and a need to continue the work that we provided in that space, and also to really continue celebrating trans people and sharing their stories in their lives and other diverse communities," Torres said. "We're both here as activists, advocates, educators and so it was a really natural evolution of our work to continue doing trans advocacy at a national level."


BWC is also particularly interested in working with creative organizations and spaces. Both Torres and Kling bring extensive creative backgrounds to the collaborative. Kling said her participation in theater helped her understand the performance aspect of educating and facilitating discussions, inspiring her to think beyond just presenting lists of facts and figures for her audience.


Torres also said his personal experience in the creative industry informs his work with BWC today. When he first came out as trans, he said his band at the time reacted poorly.


"It took me maybe four or five years after that to have the courage to get back on stage, to reach out to find people to play music with, and to trust people enough to see me and see my identities," he said. "These challenges we have when we experience all these systems of oppression...are the stories and lived experiences that [BWC] is interested in bringing into these spaces."


Torres said the level of transphobia and homophobia he encountered in an independent music scene disheartened him, which is why he is especially passionate about transforming creative industries.


Kling said that to serve all these different clients, BWC won't search for a one-size-fits-all solution. While the collaborative can make recommendations about policies to support trans individuals or discuss common issues in trans people's lives, Kling said organizations and businesses must consider their communities' specific needs.


"We are hoping that this work gives people more tools to better support diverse communities," she said. "Not every situation needs to be handled identically, but hopefully we can give people tools to better handle situations, and to be more respectful and mindful when, inevitably, they do have a trans coworker or customer or client."


A crucial part of BWC's work is incorporating intersectionality. No one lives single issue lives, Kling said—trans people can experience racism, classism, ageism, xenophobia and ableism. To not speak about those connected issues and their compounding effects would be a disservice, she said.


Torres said that BWC's vision is to move beyond the basics and toward complexity.


"Getting real about our lived experience and how that experience informs your everyday life is so much more important to talk about than some of the nitty gritty that you might get in an average training or organizational overview," he said. "That's what we hope to bring: the intersection of ourselves and the intersection of all diverse people."


Kling also said BWC won't encourage abstract discussions, and will ask instead how clients can concretely improve trans people's lives. But she said that over the past 15 years, there's been a shift.


Instead of marginalized employees or community members first demanding change from businesses and organizations, leaders are proactively asking how they can do better.


"There's really an increase in visibility and awareness just because people are encountering more trans people who are out in their lives," she said. "We always try and make the case for why people should care about these issues, both from a moral standpoint, from a business standpoint, from a legal standpoint, but more and more people are able to identify that on their own."


BWC will take on a range of clients, but Kling said they plan to provide less expensive or even donated trainings to groups that cannot afford an external consultant.


Regardless of the client, Torres said that BWC doesn't aim to just teach. Instead, they will bring the companies and organizations into the conversation, because ultimately, BWC's goal is about working together toward a better world.


It's all in the name, he said.


"The reason we chose the term 'collaborative' is because we want to be engaged," he said. "We want to find creative solutions with folks in unique spaces. We don't want to presume we know all the solutions."


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