Friday 20 December 2013

Interview with Gina Leigh Duncan

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Gina Leigh Duncan, a successful businesswoman, transgender advocate, and activist, President of Orlando's Gay Chamber of Commerce, a former candidate for Commissioner of Orange County, Florida, a senior manager at Wells Fargo, an American multinational banking and financial services company, and currently on the Board of Directors of Equality Florida. Hello Gina!
Gina: Hello, Monika, so nice to talk to you.
Monika: You are very active in politics. Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Gina: I do. While I think it critically important that we know the issues, have solutions, can be great communicators to motivate our constituents, we also bring an inherent acceptance of being transgender by gaining someone’s vote. We have an extra layer of objection to overcome. We might align with a voter in every area, yet they do not understand transgender people. I felt I just had to work that much harder and be that much sharper on the issues. Once in office, that thinking would continue with me. Work harder, be sharper, never let being transgender be an issue. Let it be an asset. I would want to use my office as a platform to educate people on what it means to be transgender.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Gina: That’s a great question. While I think there is strength in solidarity, our issues are actually quite different than just sexual orientation. We deal with issues such as appearance, voice, identification changes, and of course, the ever-present bathroom issue. Those issues are not a part of the gay and lesbian discrimination bucket.
On the other hand, I know many gay and lesbian people get frustrated that more legislation would be passed if not for the “T” piece. I respect them for standing shoulder to shoulder with us, but we should passionately bear the burden of the issues that are uniquely our own. 
Monika: Is there anyone in the US transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Gina: Harvey Milk was so amazingly brave and has become such an icon, it would be difficult to compare someone in our community today. If anyone, I would think Jennifer Boylan would be a close comparison. She has influenced so many people with her writing and speaking.

Gina and Kevin O'Niel, the documentary director.

Monika: You transitioned while working for Wells Fargo? What kind of challenges did you face then?
Gina: Even though Wells did a great job in supporting my transition, there were some bumps. While I was away having facial feminization surgery, recruiters from my competitors were vicious with their attacks to woe my best people away.
One of my employees told me they said, “Do you really want to work for that freak?” Another challenge came from my employees who had issues adjusting to my new gender presentation.
My assistant went out at lunch on my first day back, got drunk, staggered into my office, and had a meltdown. I remember she said, “ I miss Greg! It’s like he died and I never had a chance to say goodbye to my boss. I loved Greg!” Such an odd feeling when you are the same person on the inside sitting there listening to this. This person thinks you died, and you feel like you are just starting to live. 
Monika: What arguments should be used to convince an employer to develop solid transgender equality regulations or even cover the costs of GRS?
Gina: There are three great reasons for employers to have a solid transgender inclusion platform, insurance inclusions, and policies.
1. People, when looking for a job, are now looking at the diversity and inclusion policies of potential employers. Many top-quality employees want to work for progressive companies that embrace diversity and enable people to come to work as their authentic selves and love their jobs.
2. Embracing diversity becomes a competitive advantage. Companies known for being LGBT-friendly are supported by the community and usually are successful corporations. Companies like Darden, Macy’s, and Disney come to mind.
3. Having a solid transgender equality platform drives the need for consistency in all states and all cities. Someone getting on a plane in San Francisco should not get off the plane in North Carolina with fewer rights and benefits than when they got on. It provides an argument for consistent equality policies and benefits nationwide.

Monika: What are the other current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda?
Gina: We have a way to go. We are about 20 years behind the rest of the community when it comes to social acceptance. (And I hate the word acceptance.) Obviously, creating a social climate where being transgender has no more significance than being left-handed is the goal.
Currently, we are STILL dealing with bathroom protocol, insurance inclusions for all aspects of physical transitioning, and recently, issues involving young people transitioning earlier and earlier. We have a real issue with the education of people in the school systems. In general, it’s all about normalcy.
When trans people are readily embraced by society as a whole, we will have arrived. When it is no longer an issue in terms of your effectiveness to pass, we will have really arrived. I think it is a matter of time. I speak to many college-age groups and they have no issues with gender expression or sexual orientation. With each generation, we get closer to the goal.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories which have been featured in media, films, books, etc. so far?
Gina: I am mixed. I have personally only been associated with projects that have a positive message about the transgender journey. I think we need more education, and that is why I formed my company.
There are too many misconceptions and misunderstandings about who we really are and what we really want out of life. Too many people see us as drag queens with a sexual fetish for dressing in women’s clothes. There is a great deal of difference in that perception and the reality of someone who truly identifies in their soul as a female.
Attraversiamo, Let’s Cross Over
~ A Story of Gender Transition.
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Gina: Not many. I transitioned in 2006 and at the time, I read Jenny Boylan’s book, “She’s Not There,” about 10 times and I emulated Donna Rose. We have a lot in common, both having athletic backgrounds.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Gina: The effect it had on my family. I had a wonderful wife and two great kids. All that was blown to pieces with my transition.
My wife and best friend of 25 years were gone from my life. My son has been distant and not really engaged in my life since I came out. My relationship with my daughter is strong, and I am so thankful for that.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Gina: It is critical, and frankly lacking in my life right now. I enjoy the love of my extended family but do not have that special person to share my life with since transitioning. It is a deep wound that I would like to heal someday. Everyone, no matter if you are gay, straight, or trans, needs love in their life and someone special to share life with.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Gina: I love fashion and tend to dress in a classic look. Coming from a long corporate background, I tend to wear classic suits, dresses, and skirt combinations at work. I do love color and I love shoes. I like to dress in bright colors after hours and I must own 80 pairs of shoes. I love heels and sandals.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Gina: I actually did write a book and published it through Amazon. It’s called, “Attraversiamo, Let’s Cross Over ~ A Story of Gender Transition.” I also have been recently approached to do a documentary, which will be released in 2016.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Gina: My next step is to build my transgender corporate training business and really escalate the progress of the transgender community. I also would like to find a special person to share my life with.
I want to run my first half marathon within the next year and continue to travel. I see myself in 5 to 7 years, spoiling my grandkids, living half the year in Tuscany with my special life partner while drinking wonderful Italian wine.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Gina: Very. I love everything about being female and being my authentic self. I love my life ~ the heartwarming moments and the moments of pure heartache. I strive to live each day to the fullest. I strive to each day, think, laugh, and feel so deeply that my emotions are moved.
Monika: Gina, thank you for the interview!
Gina: Thanks so much for having me. :)

All the photos: courtesy of Gina Leigh Duncan.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

Gina Leigh Duncan

Gina Duncan was born Greg Pingston and lived as a man for 50 years. “Greg” transitioned to Gina in 2006. Greg was a standout football player in high school and earned a football scholarship to attend East Carolina University (ECU). Greg was the captain of an undefeated state championship football team, an all-state middle linebacker, and was class president and homecoming king in high school. Greg was also Vice President of the Student Government Association at ECU.

Greg, now Gina, was a father of two, a husband, a brother, and a son.

Gina Duncan has been in the Mortgage Banking business in Orlando since 1980. She has served on the Home Builders Association of Mid-Florida and Mortgage Bankers Association Boards of Directors. Gina was President of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Central Florida in 2005. She was with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage from1997 to 2011, and served as the Area Manager of Central Florida, and Regional Manager for East Florida, overseeing 26 branches, over 250 employees and a multi-million dollar budget. While at Wells Fargo, Gina was Chair of the East Region of Wells Fargo’s employee resource group, PRIDE, for LGBT employees, overseeing 46 PRIDE chapters from Maine to Texas.

Gina served on the Human Rights Campaign Steering Committee as Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee. She chaired the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Transgender Career and Wellness Fair events. Gina also served as President of the Metropolitan Business Association (MBA), the LGBT Chamber of Commerce in Orlando. She was the President of MBA's Come Out With Pride event, which annually draws over 100,000 people to the Orlando area. Gina was invited to attend the first-ever Human Rights Campaign’s National Women’s Diversity Leadership Conference, and also served on the HRC National Business Council. Gina serves on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee of Equality Florida and on the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Alliance, which has been instrumental in passing the Orange County Human Rights Ordinance as well as a Domestic Partnership Registry in both the City of Orlando and Orange County. Gina recently ran for County Commissioner garnering 40% of the vote in an unsuccessful bid for county office.

In 2012, Gina opened Duncan Global, Inc., embarking on a career in corporate transgender diversity and inclusion training and consulting. Gina has trained major corporations across the United States and was a guest speaker at the 2012 Global Summit on Human Rights in Milan, Italy sponsored by the Harvey Milk Foundation. Gina is now recognized as a national and international speaker on transgender inclusion in the workplace.

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