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Meet Minh Nguyen and Kimm Topping of kyriQ in Cambridge

Today we’d like to introduce you to Minh Nguyen and Kimm Topping.

Minh and Kimm, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
We’re both youth workers who have worked for non-profits throughout our careers. We also identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. We wanted to share both of these passions with local organizations and businesses to help people be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ folks.

Kimm had been facilitating LGBTQ+ trainings across Greater Boston and Minh facilitated a session with middle school girls in Cambridge on sexual orientation, gender, and the LGBTQ+ community. It was after we shared our experiences with co-workers that questions started coming out – our friends and co-workers wanted to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community but hadn’t had spaces or trusted people to ask questions to.

We wondered how we could start impacting organizations on a deeper level. So, we piloted a 3-hour training for youth workers and direct service providers in the fall of 2016. Since then, we’ve trained over 500 people. Minh came up with the name “kyriQ” to combine the ideas of intersectionality (kyriarchy) and asking questions (Q). Kyriarchy is a term coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, and the concept of “intersectionality” originated from Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Kyriarchy is the complex system of identities (race, class, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship status, mental and physical ability, etc.) that have and hold privilege and power in our society. We cannot address one form of oppression without addressing all others. We hope to disrupt the systems of power and privilege through questions, critical thinking, and collaboration with all folks by creating a non-judgmental training space, where questions are addressed and participants leave with concrete skills and a new perspective.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Kimm: I was one of the only people in my town who was out about my sexuality growing up. There were a lot of barriers and hurdles because of people’s responses to my sexuality. Then I faced another set of challenges as a first-generation college student.

kyriQ, on the other hand, seemed to happen naturally. Minh and I are so passionate about what we do and we’re fortunate to have networks of incredible people across Boston interested in this work. I think our next obstacle will be expanding our work beyond Greater Boston. We’re hoping to see that happen in the next year. We also need to build out our social media!

Minh: My journey to this point has been smoother than most, but as a young person I didn’t have conversations about gender or sexuality so I didn’t know who I really was until I got to college. I think that’s why I’m so drawn to youth work because I’m trying to be who I wish I had growing up. Even after college, I entered the “real world” and had a period of serious self-doubt about who I was and how I could contribute to the world.

It’s taken a long time, but I’d like to think I’ve finally found my voice, found my passion for education, and really enjoy having conversations about the multiplicity of identities. I would echo what Kimm said about hoping to get more opportunities to expand our work because I think it’s really important and the time is right to be having more of these conversations at home, at school, at work, in public, and anywhere else that is hoping to become more inclusive and aware of LGBTQ+ issues.

kyriQ – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We work with organizations to improve their policies, train their staff, and offer ongoing support. Our background is in positive youth development so our trainings are rooted in those principles. All individuals have complex and interconnected skills and experience to offer to others. We are also aiming to lift and empower young people’s experiences, especially youth in the LGBTQ+ community.

We all have complex identities – race, gender identity, class, sexuality, ability, religion, and so much more. Every day, we interact with people, systems, and ideas that either affirm, degrade or make invisible these aspects of who we are.

Our vision is to create spaces where people’s identities and experiences are honored, celebrated, and uplifted. Then, our hope is that these spaces expand and are passed on through new skills, growth, and language by our training participants.

We structure our trainings to be as interactive, fun, and supportive as possible because if folks feel safe to share and enjoy their time in a training, learning and understanding new ideas and strategies for supporting others is easier and will hopefully be more impactful in the long term.

We also recognize that there are many incredible organizations, in Boston and nationally, that are doing similar work, so we’re discussing with other groups how can collaborate and have a deeper impact.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Kimm: I’m not sure that I can pinpoint one specific moment that’s my proudest. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The proudest moments are when I can see a young person building confidence or sharing about their identities. Or when I see a shift in thinking for an adult who came to training with a certain stereotype or misconception that is then challenged. When people leave trainings feeling empowered, challenged, and impacted – I know our approach of compassion and knowledge-sharing is working.

Minh: One particular moment in my work with kyriQ has been where we were waiting to march in the Pride Parade and some folks who we had trained months ago came over to tell us that our training had a great effect on how they work and think now.

The end of my first session with those middle school girls in Cambridge was another moment, when the girls were quietly reflecting on something new that I had put out there, you could almost see their viewpoints shifting. Other proud moments in my whole career have been similar – getting to run into youth that I worked with years ago who remember me and we have a conversation as if I had just seen them yesterday.

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Image Credit:
Alex Mancini

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