Cox, Jarosz to receive Profiles in Leadership awards at SMU’s Women’s Symposium next week
It’s all about commitment. That’s how longtime activists Cece Cox, associate executive director of Resource Center Dallas, and Christine Jarosz, founder and executive director of the Women’s Communities Association and Words of Women, define leadership.
Cox and Jarosz are two of five women chosen to receive the Profiles in Leadership Award being presented Tuesday, March 3 during the 45th annual Women’s Symposium at Southern Methodist University.
Other winners are Michelle Bobadilla, senior associate vice president for outreach services and community engagement at the University of Texas at Arlington; Deidre Dowd Bacala, director of donor relations and annual programs for the Parkland Foundation; and Sarah Polley, executive director of Vickery Meadow Learning Center.
Brenda Griffin, chief executive officer for Griffin Marks Advisors, LLC, will receive the Gail Reese Ward Excellence in Mentoring Award.
Karen L. Click, director of the Women’s Center for Gender and Pride Initiatives at SMU, explained that the Profiles in Leadership Award was initiated in 2000, during the 35th annual Women’s Symposium, to "recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women who have made a significant impact on the city of Dallas and on the quality of life for women overall."
Click said organizers put out the call for nominations each August, and then the Women’s Symposium advisory board chooses five Profiles in Leadership Award recipients and one Gail Reece Ward Award recipient from among the nominees.
Both Cox and Jarosz said they are honored to receive the recognition. And both had very definite ideas about what it means that two lesbians are among the honorees, and what leadership means.
"What does it mean to receive this award? It means that feminism isn’t as dead as they say it is," declared Jarosz, who has been a leading voice in the feminist and LGBT movements in North Texas since the 1970s.
"My life has been all about caring for women and trying to create opportunities for women," said Jarosz. "The world has not changed enough since I started this work 36 years ago. But there has been change, and it is a sign of that change that someone like me was chosen for this award."
Jarosz said she has always been the person who was willing to stand up and question the status quo, and to not just demand opportunity and equality for women but to get down and the trenches to help create those opportunities.
And sometimes, she said, the people around her wanted her to sit down and be quiet. But that was something she was never willing to do.
"Standing up where you are and saying what you think — that makes you a leader, because so few people are willing to do that. Sometimes people don’t like it when you do that. But I was always willing to do it anyway.
"So I think it is a great tribute to that kind of commitment that I am getting this award. Who would have thought it!" she said.
For Cox, the award is "a real surprise" and an "incredible honor." But, she added, she sees it as being as much an acknowledgment of the contributions of the LGBT community as a personal honor.
"To me, it means this [LGBT] community has been noticed for its contributions to the overall fabric of life in North Texas," Cox said. "It is a great reminder of how fortunate I am to be here where I am right now, doing the work I get to do."
For Cox, leadership is "integrity and commitment. Living with integrity is being integrated, living in a way that my actions line up with and reflect my beliefs. If I am committed to justice, then I must act justly toward all people.
"Commitment means no excuses," she added. "When I am committed, I have been able to do more than I ever thought I could take on."
Cox started her professional career as a photojournalist and in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she owned a photography business. Even while she was busy running her own business, though, Cox made time to be involved in the LGBT community.
Cox was co-president of the Dallas chapter of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in 1992-93, and president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance in 1994-96. She later joined the staff of the Turtle Creek Chorale as director of development and marketing, and worked in the private sector before returning to school to study business administration. After getting her master’s degree, Cox again changed directions, this time enrolling in law school at SMU. After graduating in 2004, she went to work for a private law firm. But, she said, "I found myself missing my people.
As soon as she graduated, she jumped back into activism. She chaired the Lambda Legal Women’s Brunch, and joined the board of the Black Tie Dinner. This year, after three years on the Black Tie board, she moved to the advisory board for the annual event. But still, Cox said, she wanted to be more involved. So when the associate executive director position opened up, she jumped at the chance.
"There are just so many things I love about this job," she said of her position at RCD. "I like knowing that the things we do here actually make a difference in people’s lives. It can be exhausting, but really, the satisfaction surpasses the exhaustion."
And she has her son Mateo who she co-parents with her former partner, her birth family and her partner, Barbara Houser, to help. Houser, a federal bankruptcy judge, is "a great support to me. Just having her there to bounce things, ideas off of is wonderful," Cox said, adding that Houser’s own dedication to LGBT equality often gets overlooked.
"This year, she is president of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, and that has given her the chance to make people more aware of the inequities faced by LGBT people and especially LGBT federal employees, and she uses that opportunity to speak up," Cox said.
"Any LGBT person who uses their voice is an advocate," she continued. "I still believe in the power of coming out. Every voice makes a difference."
Jarosz could not agree more: "Our ability as individuals to stand up and say who we are changes things more than any demonstration or protest ever could," Jarosz said. "Whatever choice you make, believe it and live it."
Jarosz has been doing just that for nearly 40 years. But she still vividly remembers what set her on the path to activism: A dream about Mary I, the queen of England known as "Bloody Mary."
That dream sent her back to graduate school where she planned to study British history and the monarchy. At the time, she said, she thought that the feminists were often an embarrassment, not just to themselves, but to women in general. But through her studies and through watching the people around her, she soon began to see quite clearly how completely women were oppressed.
And it was her heroine’s nickname, "Bloody Mary," that helped make it clear. The queen, Jarosz said, was certainly no more "bloody" in her reign than any of her predecessors or successors. But those who opposed her used the power of those words to incite hatred against her. It was the same, Jarosz realized, in the modern day. Words, she learned, have power. And too often, the patriarchal society and the men who controlled it used the power of words to denigrate and oppress women.
Jarosz knew she wanted to fight that oppression, and she didn’t think that school was the place she could be most effective. So she left school and went to work for a lesbian couple that ran a painting business. That was also when she began to come to the realization of her own sexual orientation.
After that, painting paid the bills. But Jarosz’s passion remained in advocating for women’s rights.
Jarosz was active in the National Organization for Women, even serving as Dallas County president. She attended workshops and rallies and helped organize conferences and events practically nonstop in those early years. In 1985 she founded the Lesbian Resource Center in Dallas, and by the early 1990s, Jarosz created the Women’s Communities Association. In 1994 Jarosz created the Women’s Herstory Quiz, following that up in 2001 with the Words of Women essay contest. The following year, she paired up with the Women’s Museum and became director of the March 8 International Women’s Day Celebration at the museum.
Jarosz admits that as she has gotten older and as she prepares to start her second battle against cancer, she is glad that she has the chance, through the Words of Women contest, to continue her work on a less physical level. Today as she looks around and sees the signs of change, Jarosz said, she knows it has all been worth it, and that if she had to do it over again, she would still follow the advice she has to share with others:
"Do not stand with the crowd. If you do, no one will notice you. You might have a good job, and you might make a lot of money. But you’ll never make a difference. And that’s what counts — making a difference."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2010.