Kryss Shane: “Always Assume Good Intentions”

Always Assume Good Intentions- So often, we react to the words of others from a defensive place. In a time when so much of our communication happens through texts and emails, this can lead to catastrophic miscommunications. If we instead start from assuming someone meant well or that their tone was kind, we can either […]

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Always Assume Good Intentions- So often, we react to the words of others from a defensive place. In a time when so much of our communication happens through texts and emails, this can lead to catastrophic miscommunications. If we instead start from assuming someone meant well or that their tone was kind, we can either avoid these mistakes or only end up in conflict when there is actually a need for one.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kryss Shane.

With over 25 years of experience guiding the world’s top leaders in business, education and community via individual, small group and full-staff trainings, Kryss Shane MS, MSW, LSW,

Kryss Shane is the author of Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace. She is also the author of The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion, the first book of its kind to guide educators, administrators, and school staff to become able and empowered to make their schools more LGBT+ inclusive.

Kryss has been featured as America’s go-to Leading LGBT+ Expert in The New York Times, ABC News, Yahoo!, and CNN. Her writing has also appeared in the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, Huffington Post, International Council of Professors of Educational Leadership, The New Social Worker Magazine, and many more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It seems that most people who work in mental healthcare have a personal story or experience that draws them to this field. Growing up in small town Ohio, I was someone who was always the support person and the go-to person for my friends, but I never considered making a career of it until much later. I was always a believer in equality, and this led me to begin to become mindful of ways in which minority groups weren’t represented in my middle school and high school textbooks and in the media, I was enjoying. This led me to speak up a lot in class, asking questions that many teachers had no answers to because their education also lacked inclusion. I never saw myself as any sort of ally or activist or educator, I thought those were people who were much older and fancier than I was because those titles seemed reserved for these storied activists like Malcolm X or Marsha P. Johnson, larger than life individuals, not someone from small town Ohio!

Anyway, as I became increasingly more aware of the discrimination against LGBT+ people and people within the intersectionality (since any person of any background or identity can also be LGBT+ identified), I began to realize this problem in my community and in families. This led me to earn my bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University in Human Development and Family Sciences.

Simultaneously, I was volunteering a ton with LGBT+ organizations. Over time, my volunteer work grew, and many began asking why I didn’t do this as my profession. It hadn’t dawned on me before then that I could. This realization sent me into my first master’s degree program, where I graduated from Barry University in Social Work, where I focused my studies on LGBT+ issues. As years passed though, I was always bothered by how often textbooks in schools still lack representation of marginalized groups. This led me to go back to school, where I earned my 2nd master’s degree, from Western Governors University in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction. I am currently working toward my doctorate in Educational Leadership from University of the Cumberlands, where I get to bring my LGBT+ work through the lens of leaders in our world, thus making me better at educating others and teaching them how to improve their allyship and activism. I am also working in undergraduate and graduate social work departments Columbia University and Brandman University, and writing articles, book chapters, and books that focus on the minority populations that have been too long left out. That includes Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace

I still don’t see myself as ever being able to be at the likes of some of those incredible leaders but now I get the privilege of being surrounded by people like Andrea Shorter, Dimitri Moise, and Jazz Jennings, which only further inspires me every day.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I always hope that the most interesting story is the one yet to come! That said, I’ve been told more than once that something I wrote helped someone heal and I’ve been told that something I said was repeated or posted to social media to help spread the message. Those two compliments are pretty much EVERYTHING to an author/educator!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The biggest mistake I used to make is that I used to be really afraid of other speakers! I would read the bios and academic backgrounds of other speakers at events or of the C-suite at companies I was speaking to and I would become completely intimidated. It made me question myself and it made me become smaller both in my posture and in my literal and figurative voice. I had to learn to overcome that by getting to know others and to recognize that my work and my experience also held value.

In terms of funniest mistake, I’ve had a few situations where I’ve completely “fan girled” out when meeting someone whose work really inspires me. Admittedly though, this isn’t something I’ve outgrown. I still find it really exciting to meet someone whose work is pretty incredible. It most recently happened with Sally Hogshead. She’s a huge well-known speaker and I’d considered her to be someone whose events I would attend “someday.” Not as in an actual time on a calendar but in that big metaphoric *makes a rainbow gesture with her hands* someday. Someday when I was wealthy enough or someday when I was big enough in my career or someday when I was… something enough. Anyway, when my first book The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion” came out, a dear friend, Jeanette Jennings (from TLC’s “I Am Jazz”) posted about it on her social media. Not long after, Jeanette emailed me and asked if she could give my info to a friend who wanted to get in touch. I agreed because any friend of hers is a friend of mine. It turns out, the friend was Sally! She suggested a phone call. Here I was, after years of admiring her, getting to have a one-on-one call. A week later, there I was, totally wasting the professional opportunity because my personal self was so totally geeking out over meeting her. (Luckily, Sally is actually a seriously awesome person and she was quite polite about my fan girling!)

What it made me realize though is that this isn’t so much about having to learn to outgrow or make up for funny mistakes, it’s about owning them! I’ve actually had some people get a little extra animated when talking with me and I never find it funny or embarrassing, I find it incredibly flattering and I am so grateful to know that my work impacts them. As a result, I have stopped trying to pretend not to be incredibly excited when meeting others!

(Side note, Sally Hogshead is one of the people interviewed in Kryss’ latest book, proving that she must not have made as big a fool of herself fan girling as she’d thought!)

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

LGBT+ people become 2.5x more likely to self-harm with every aggression or microaggression they experience. Life isn’t just one moment, it’s an ongoing series of moments. If non-LGBT+ people only witness one slight, one comment, one dirty look, it may not seem like much. However, LGBT+ people experience this every day, many times each day. I couldn’t know that without doing something about it in whatever capacity I could. That began with speaking up and volunteering, led to academic focus, moved through to specializing in the population, become my speaking and training platform, and has now led to the release of two books, in addition to decades of speaking and training engagements and consulting work! The more the word spreads, the more I do with a foundation of being approachable and making the topic accessible, the more people feel safe to learn and to question and to grow, which benefits us all because the antidote for bigotry is education!

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of LGBT+ people in the world. Every single one of them is impacted or helped when people choose to become educated and empathetic, when people are kind with their words and open with their hearts. When schools and workplaces are safe and inclusive, everyone benefits. Each person’s story and how they are impacted by my work is theirs to share, not mine. I just know that spreading love through destigmatizing LGBT+ identities makes the world better overall, so I’ll just keep doing it and hope the work speaks for itself or that others choose to speak up for it!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Funding- Don’t claim to care with your words, show you care with your dollars. Fund programs for LGBT+ youth, fund community centers where all people can mix and mingle safely and learn about one another. Promote job training and housing for LGBT+ people who are at a significant disadvantage in the hiring process. Offer opportunities to help care for trans youth in foster care. Help to nurture LGBT+ elders who may otherwise be without support.
  2. Education- When the leaders of society/community prioritize becoming consistently educated on LGBT+ identities and how those with these identities experience the world, it shows others that these conversations matter. It shows society that these people matter.
  3. Safety- Between self-harm and assault, LGBT+ people are at much higher risk of harm. All police, medical, and mental health professionals need to be trained for LGBT+ specific situations so that those who are victimized or in distress receive compassionate care, not judgement.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

*laughs* I am currently working on my doctorate in Leadership, so this feels a bit to me like a paper I could write! I hope my professors won’t be too upset with me for combining their lessons and merging them with my own beliefs here… to me, leadership is the recognition of one’s own privileges and the realization of one’s own power paired with a goal or mission, explained using clear language in a way that encourages and inspires others to participate in working together toward success.

Leadership is not about who can get their name in the papers, it’s not about who can sucker others into following blindly. It’s not about manipulation. Leadership is what happens when a person inspires others to recognize their own power, which results in a collective movement toward change. We see this in the Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter movement. It isn’t about one person and millions of followers, it’s about many people who are amplifying one another, who are demanding justice, and who are letting every Black and Brown person know that there is safety in numbers, that they are not alone if they want to take to the streets to fight to change a systemic problem that puts their lives in jeopardy. This movement is not successful because one person uses threats or harm to force others to do their bidding, it is successful because it supports many and it allows participants to feel their importance and to use their voices and their power to join a collective demand that all people be treated appropriately and that all systems that undermine this be dismantled.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Listen to Others- Sometimes, we are so quick to want to share our stories that we talk over one another. It’s natural. However, it can prevent us from hearing. When someone (especially someone in a marginalized community) shares their story with you, it is a gift. They are retraumatizing themselves for your benefit. In cases where they are sharing as a way to teach you, they are reopening their wounds and bleeding so that you can heal. Anything other than listening and thanking them is inappropriate.

Stop Thinking You Need to Understand Or Agree to Accept- Not everyone understands everything about everyone else. For example, I will never understand why anyone prefers pizza that’s not NYC pizza. I don’t have to understand it and I don’t have to agree with it to be kind to those who enjoy it or to understand that they deserve the right to have access to it without risk to their safety. The same basic principle is true about people’s lives and identities. We don’t have to understand how someone else lives or loves or is in order for us to be able to recognize their humanity or to vote for those who support others’ rights to safely exist as they are, just the way we each want to safely exist as we are.

Lean In To Experts- No one person knows everything. However, there are people who have expertise in their field. Lean in to listening to them. Too often, we listen to Sally from high school via Facebook or this thing on a blog someone wrote or an idea shared in a tabloid. Too often, we conflate opinion with fact. Too often we assume that everyone is entitled to share their opinions in response to actual facts. It muddies the water of truth. Nobody knows everything, but there are actual experts. We have to be intentional in where we get our information and from whom we trust to educate us. Otherwise, we never grow and we always act with inaccurate information which can be incredibly harmful to ourselves and to others.

Always Assume Good Intentions- So often, we react to the words of others from a defensive place. In a time when so much of our communication happens through texts and emails, this can lead to catastrophic miscommunications. If we instead start from assuming someone meant well or that their tone was kind, we can either avoid these mistakes or only end up in conflict when there is actually a need for one.

Speak Up- The 2020 Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter protests were filled with more white people than any other racially motivated event in our history. That’s huge. Some believe that this is really just because many people were bored during the pandemic or because it was the trendy thing to do. I hope that isn’t true. I hope that these events and that the conversations happening through social media and emails and the workshops and trainings are long term changes. As this occurred largely during Pride month, I was being asked more about the LGBT+ community. However, LGBT+ people and Black people do not only exist during June or February, they exist all year. Their needs are always. They deserve to breathe and to live without violence at all times. While it is great to speak up and show up once or for a week, while it is great to participate when it convenient, we absolutely must continue this work no matter what happens in the world. This includes continuing to call out the systemic racism in the country, police brutality, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, islamophobia, xenophobia, climate change deniers, misogynists, and corrupt politicians. It is not enough to not participate in the crime, it is necessary that we call out those committing bad acts. We must resist the corruption, we must resist the urge to be lazy, we must resist the ease to slip back into our own lives.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I hope that those of us who are writing these “movement books” continue to grow in support of one another. Rising tides raise all boats. For example, Fredrick Joseph posted his excitement about my book to his social media channels. He is also released his first book, “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person.” It doesn’t at all need my praise to join the chorus but good heavens is it good! We all have different ways but we all have the same goal of improving the world through education and acceptance of one another. When we come together to celebrate and boost each other, everyone is safer, everyone is better, and everyone wins!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. -Audre Lorde

For me, this reminds me to use every position of privilege I have (whether by luck or having been earned) as a way to reach my goals or the goals of those I am leading. It reminds me that, though I may sometimes struggle or fear getting leadership exactly right or hitting every goal exactly perfect, I cannot and should not be rooted in fear. It reminds me that my fear cannot be the reason why I lose vision or why I do not act.

Being a leader is really difficult and sometimes it is scary to know how many are depending on you to know what you are doing and to know how to reach the goal. By acknowledging the reality of the fear and understanding why the fear is not the priority or the most important part of the work, I can be a more successful leader, which means those I am leading can be more successful too.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

(Note: Ever the activist, before answering, Kryss reminds us that not everyone is a “he” or a “she.”) There are so many in the activism world whom I’d love to have that time with. I think it would be unfair of me to name a Black person, as right now they are so busy in the movement along with still having to deal with the grief and the stress and the fear of existing while Black in America and then any down time isn’t my place to ask for. For me then, I think it’d be very cool to sit down with Matt McGorry. He’s been incredibly vocal in his support of so many communities and he always does an excellent job balancing when to use his platform and privilege to speak and when to use it to amplify the voices of others.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My website:

Twitter: @itsKryss

Instagram: @ThisIsKryss


This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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