Out Role Model: Shawn Riley

By: Shawn Reilly, Community Advisory Board Member, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Shawn Riley
Shawn Riley

When it comes to organizing for social justice, it's rare to find anyone more motivated and gifted at inspiring others to use their voice for positive change than Shawn Reilly. Shawn was most recently a principal organizer for the Nashville Women's March, which attracted hundreds of participants despite rainy weather.

"I enjoy putting together events and demonstrations that support transgender people, abortion access, and queer youth," Shawn explains.

Shawn also serves on the board of GLSEN Tennessee (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), an organization dedicated to creating safe schools for LGBTQ youth. In that role, Shawn leads high school students across the state in activities that teach self-advocacy skills.

Most recently, Shawn's students worked to get a proclamation from Nashville Mayor David Briley and a resolution from Metro Nashville's City Council to declare Jan. 21-25 No Name Calling Week, an event dedicated to end name-calling and bullying in schools.

Shawn has been a vital member of the Vanderbilt community for several years. They have a Bachelor of Science in Human and Organizational Development with a concentration in Health and Human Services. Shawn is now a Masters of Education candidate in Peabody College's Learning and Design program and will complete that degree in May, 2019.

As if that weren't enough, Shawn took on an important role this past fall as the coordinator of the Trans Buddy program, an initiative of the Vanderbilt Program for LGBTQ Health.

"Through my position, I help transgender patients navigate the healthcare system. I work with an incredible team of volunteers who answer questions, give referrals, and attend appointments with transgender people who need extra support when trying to access healthcare," Shawn explains.

Just this past weekend, Shawn organized and facilitated a training for 18 new volunteers, which is the largest enrollment the program has had since its founding more than four years ago.

Shawn's been recognized widely for their scholarship, as well as for their volunteer contributions. Shawn is a Davis-Putter Foundation Fellow; Peabody Dean's Scholar; Citizen's University Civic Seminary Fellow; Posse Scholar; and a Youth+Tech+Health Youth Advisory Board member. They have also received the Peabody Faculty Council Award for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; the Lori Groves-White Award for Advocacy and Courage; and the Nashville Pride Rising Star Award.

It's easy to be inspired by Shawn's passion for others, yet Shawn credits several role models as their source of inspiration.

"Chris Purcell, Director of Vanderbilt's Office of LGBTQI Life, has been an incredible possibility model and mentor for me," Shawn says. "Not only has he worked with me to develop professionally, he has also supported me through personal and academic growth."

"Beyond that, my young people are the ones who inspire me. It is their courage that gave me the space to come out, because of them I came out, and I am inspired every day by their ability to be their full selves at such a young age."

Shawn identifies as both queer and genderqueer. They think it's important to be out professionally "because young people need possibility models for what they can be. By being out at work, I am showing the world that I am not afraid or ashamed, and I am creating space for current and future generations to be their full selves."

Shawn's advice for young people seeking careers in healthcare is straightforward. "Look for organizations and resources where you can explore the healthcare industry in an affirming way. Apply to be on youth boards, for fellowships, and for programs. Organizations like Youth+Tech+Health and Advocates for Youth offer incredible opportunities for young people to engage in progressive healthcare work in their own community."

When Shawn has downtime, which is rare, they enjoy graphic novels and spending time with their cats, Frankenstein and Camus, who they refer to as the queens of their household.

Link for No Name-Calling Week: https://www.glsen.org/no-name-calling-week