My day job is being an educator, author and speaker. I’m a Certified Diversity Practitioner, I’ve given a TEDx Talk, and I’m the best-selling author of Be an Inclusion Ally: The ABCs of LGBTQ+ and just published my second book on this topic (thank you for your help Mary Helen Conroy!). I’m also an adjunct faculty member at Lakeland University where I train the next generation of school counselors.
I started as a camp director for The YMCA & The Girl Scouts and absolutely loved it. I did that for 20 years and it was the best job I ever had. I recognized I wanted to work with students all year, not just in the summer, and got my master’s in counseling. I was a school counselor for 12 years—at the middle and high school levels— served as the state president for the Wisconsin School Counselor Association and was on the national board of directors for the American School Counselor Association.
I’ve always had the gift of gab, and it was while I was on the board of directors that I started to do presentations on LGBTQ+ topics. I was telling school counselors, “Here’s how to help gay kids,” and that turned into what I’m doing today.
I cover a variety of topics—it really depends on which part of LGBTQ+ you want to focus on. When we talk about diversity, race is typically what people think about first. But in many places in Wisconsin, there might not be a lot of racial diversity, but there are other types of diversity and equity that need to be addressed.
One message I like to share is that equality and equity are different: Equality is that everyone has a pair of shoes and equity means those shoes fit. I work to help school counselors and other administrators understand that everyone learns differently and that many students, especially the younger ones, are just realizing themselves in terms of being non-gender, transgender or gender non-conforming.
This population is the number one group that will attempt or complete suicide and educators, especially school counselors, are often the first adult a student will come out to. I work to help staff understand “Here’s what you need to know” and “Here’s how you can support this population.”
But I want everyone to hear this message. Even if you’re not part of a demographic that works with students, some day you will know someone who’s different than what you grew up with in terms of ability, religion or gender. Everyone should be aware and know what to do if someone shares with them their true identity.
If someone trusts you enough to share something with you, the best thing you can say is “Thank you for trusting me” and “What do you need from me?”
If you don’t understand, educate yourself. Read. Any group you want to learn more about will have a national organization—go to their website. Listen to podcasts. Check out media from a group you’re not familiar with. Get lots of sources, not just one.
When I speak, I like to introduce myself as “Lisa K, your everyday gay.” That’s a tone that helps people feel more comfortable asking questions. My presentations start with a picture of me as my high school mascot and a picture of me as the homecoming queen. Growing up I knew I liked girls, but it wasn’t until I was 25 that my sister told me I was gay!
When I was a school counselor, but not out to my students, a student told me, “Miss Koenecke, it’s easier pretending to be a boy than it is to be gay.”
And that was the catalyst to write a blog that turned into a book, that turned into a TEDx talk that turned into me saving lives. (You can learn more at Lisakoenecke.com).
My most memorable caffeine isn’t anything in particular. I’m always on and always positive. One of my students once asked, “Miss Koenecke, have you heard of decaf?” But caffeine isn’t really where I get my energy. I have two cups a day and I’m set.
My current caffeine of choice is Starbucks Blonde Roast with half and half for my first cup and something flavored—cherry or blueberry are favorites—for my second.
My favorite place for caffeine is Barriques.
The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with are Michelle Obama and Queen Latifah.
I love Michelle’s female power, her positivity, how she takes the high road and is great role model. She’s the epitome of what a good person should be.
And I like to say I want Queen Latifah to play me in the movie!
World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: Eradicate hatred. I think that would be my superpower.