Trans activist talks about coming out as transgender at Baylor, ties to Texas before visit to Cathedral of Hope
Transgender activist Allyson Robinson knows the value of service.
As an Army officer, minister and later an activist, she’s held on to the belief that service to others is her calling.
“One of the values that was handed down to me through my family was the value of service, of serving others,” Robinson said.
She attended West Point and later became an officer in the Army, but in 1999, she left the military for a higher calling — the ministry. She later served as a pastor at a church in Temple, Texas, for a few years and then graduated from the seminary at Baylor University in 2007.
Advocacy with the Human Rights Campaign would later take her away from Texas, but she’ll be in Dallas on Sunday to speak at Transgender Day of Remembrance at Cathedral of Hope. The event is a day to remember those killed because of their gender identity.
“For me, Day of Remembrance is a reminder of exactly what’s at stake in our advocacy for transgender and transsexual and gender-nonconforming people,” Robinson said.
It was in Texas, while studying at Baylor in Waco and preaching in Temple, that Robinson came out as transgender and began her transition. While people often think her coming out was miserable in the conservative towns, she said it was anything but.
“There’s this assumption that that must have been a terrible experience,” she said. “It was actually a really wonderful experience for me, and I’m grateful to have had it. I think it shows how far astray stereotypes can lead us. That was certainly not the experience I expected to have.”
Robinson said her coming out as trans was welcomed by her fellow Baylor students and her church members. And while there were some negative responses, she said overall people embraced her and helped her find the resources to begin her transition.
“I certainly didn’t expect my transition to be well received by anyone that I knew, whether it was at school or in our church or around us in the community, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth,” she said.
Baylor made news last month when its student Senate voted to remove “homosexual acts” from the university’s Sexual Misconduct Code in an effort to be more welcoming to members of the LGBT community. As a Baptist university, the school is against any sexual relations outside of marriage.
Robinson pointed to the student Senate’s actions as just one way in which the university is moving toward becoming more inclusive. With her receiving such a warm acceptance for coming out while attending the university’s seminary, she said it’s just a matter of time before the university becomes an accepting campus, not just a tolerant one.
“The university has carved out for itself a market for students and for other supporters that’s rapidly dwindling,” she said. “I think as time passes and more and more of the younger generation who are welcoming, who don’t see the need for the kind of division that the generation ahead of us had created, I think you’ll see the institution begin to change from the inside out.”
After graduating from Baylor with a master of divinity degree in theology with an emphasis on social justice, Robinson went to work for HRC in 2008, overseeing its Workplace Project.
Again, it was her devotion to service that led her to advocacy.
“It was this sense of giving myself and offering my best so that others could experience the great things that I had, like a welcoming community, like a supportive family, like steady employment,” she said. “That sense of calling to serve has been at the heart of all of those things.”
During her years with HRC, she helped the number of corporate companies add comprehensive transgender healthcare for their employees, including gender reassignment surgery. Companies offering comprehensive healthcare went from 49 in 2009 to 287 at the end of 2012.
Robinson said she takes “a very, very small amount” of the credit for that accomplishment.
“I was fortunate to be in that position at that moment, which I think was a historic moment for transgender people in this country and for our community,” she said, adding that the impact has greatly affected trans people across the country. “I can’t point to another change that we have advocated for or successfully advocated for that has had a more positive impact on the lives of more transgender people than that.”
Robinson left HRC last year to head OutServe-SLDN when the two military LGBT organizations OutServe and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network merged in October.
In the role, she became the first trans person to lead an LGBT organization without a specific trans focus. But she later resigned suddenly in July amid falling donations and support for military LGBT advocacy after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Among the challenges for OutServe-SLDN was the perception that everything regarding LGBT equality in the military has been accomplished, Robinson said. Research also showed that giving to LGBT military organizations dropped 50 percent the year after DADT was repealed.
“Those of us who were doing the work lost the attention of the movement,” she said. “We’re learning to do more with less, but that’s the way of this movement. We’re able to focus large amounts of resources on critical issues and subparts of the community only for a very short time.”
Robinson now works as a private consultant to help companies and organizations become more LGBT-inclusive. But she also serves on the advisory board of LGBT military organization SPART*A, Service members, Partners, and Allies for Respect and
Tolerance for All, which launched this summer to help continue the push for equality in the military.
One of those goals is to allow trans people to serve in the military. Robinson said she thinks they will be allowed to serve within five or six years.
She admitted her goal “is optimistic, it is ambitious,” but said trans veterans have organized to help active trans members. She also said the military has learned that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly helped build stronger units, so trans inclusion would only make the military even stronger.
As trans issues continue to gain national attention and support, Robinson said trans inclusion reflects a shift in helping trans people to helping them in their fight. It’s a difference of doing the work for them and including them in the fight.
“I hope it reflects a broader change in the movement where our movement leaders stop asking themselves what can we do for trans people now and begin asking what can we help trans communities to accomplish for themselves,” Robinson said.
Allyson Robinson will speak at Dallas’ Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 17 from 7-9 p.m. at Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 15, 2013.