Top companies welcome GenderCool kids at Merchandise Mart

CHICAGO — The GenderCool Project’s aim was simple: to show others how to celebrate who they are, not what they are.

That message quickly caught the attention of some of Chicago’s biggest corporations, which are now wooing the dynamic GenderCool kids to bring their voices to the front of the conference room.

"It was a flashbulb moment, I think, for so many people,” GenderCool co-founder Jen Grosshandler said.

Six kids, all of whom identify as transgender, headed to Merchandise Mart this week to tell their stories to executives and employees at Conagra Brands. It was a lesson in how to embrace your authentic self.

"The fact that these companies wanted to bring us here felt amazing,” said 15-year-old Gia, who only wanted to be identified by first name, “because it shows they think we're important and could be influential on their company and the staff they hire.”

It was less than a year ago that Grosshandler and Gearah Goldstein created a website to show others that kids like Chazzie, Grosshandler’s daughter, were so much more than a gender label.

"The millions of people in the middle of this conversation in America that are conflicted about what they see and hear and read — so much of it is negative information about who transgender people are,” Grosshandler said. “That wasn't okay with us because it wasn't the truth.”

"Having these amazing, talented kids share their stories … was so impactful,” Goldstein said. “I think so many people came away saying, ‘Wow, these kids are just kids. … They're just like my kids or my neighbors’ kids or family.”

Months later, the calls started pouring in: The Today Show, Citibank, AllState, Conagra Brands. Each requested speaking engagements with the GenderCool champions.

The kids, between the ages of 12 and 17, were being wooed by some of the country’s largest companies, which are working to redefine their entire business approach to inclusion.

GenderCool’s youngest champion, Chazzie, said, “I love being my authentic self and it makes me really happy to be inspiring other people to just be who they are."

For more information, visit gendercool.org.