Institute on trans issues offered attendees respect, inspiration

Posted on 11 Feb 2010 at 2:42pm
By Wendi Bates | Special Contributor wbates_2@yahoo.com

Gathering offered chance for trans activists of different generations to share experiences, ideas

INSPIRED AND INSPIRING | Among those attending the Trans Rights Now institute during Creating Change were, clockwise from upper left, Aaron Barnes, Mo Snow, Serina Shouna-Leaher and Jake H. Gonzales. (Wendi Bates)

The myriad workshops and sessions offered during the five-day National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change in Dallas last weekend included "Trans Rights Now: Building a Strong Transgender Movement," a day-long institute with about 70 in attendance. The gathering focused on issues such as political infrastructure, mentoring new leaders, visibility and strategy sharing.

Those attending the institute said it was as much about being respected and enjoying the fellowship of others as learning activist skills, and that it inspired, invigorated and energized them to continue the effort in achieving equality.

Conference attendee and Resource Center Dallas volunteer Serina Shouna-Leaher said, "It was much more than I expected. I feel inspired to be with high-caliber people from all over the country and other countries, too."

Leadership within the transgender institute proved to be a collaboration of both younger and older activists’ voices. Aaron Barnes, a college student who served with the Dallas Host committee for the conference, mentions age as "one of the various dynamics that plays a part in the transgender movement."

Barnes said he and those in his age group bring "knowledge and enthusiasm" as part of a symbiotic, mentoring relationship to the older activists in the transgender community. On the other hand, the youth benefit from the experience of the older generation.

In addition to age, Barnes said that "phases of gender transition and actual gender identity" also play a major part in the transgender movement.

Jake H. Gonzales, who began his female-to-male traditional transition last year, said his sense of gender identity evolved after relating to others at past Creating Change conferences.

"For me, a traditional transition was taking hormones, going through the surgeries, passing and going stealth that made a person an FTM," Gonzales said.

But being around other transgender people showed him that gender wasn’t so inflexible. Gonzales said he realized that in all of his writing and speaking, he never felt like a man, and that realizing he could be his own unique version of himself allowed him to now identify as "gender queer."

An activist in the LGBT rights movement and longtime conference attendee, Gonzales said he recognizes how Creating Change itself grows and transforms. "It has impacted how I’ve changed," he said, adding that the conference has "personally re-energized me and I am able to share the passion and energy with others."

Outreach and education of the transgender community extends beyond the community itself to those outside, said Mo Snow, a transgender man. "Every single person you meet can teach you something new about the human experience," he said.

Attendees said that the issue of equality and respect still remains forefront in their minds as the most notable concern for the LGBT movement.

"You don’t have to understand transgender people to respect them," said Snow.
It is simple, Snow said: "The transgender community wants the same things everyone else wants," respect and laws that protect and provide for them.

Justin Tanis, community education and outreach manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act is the No. 1 issue for trans people, and that he and most trans people hope to see the legislation passed this year.

Anti-trans discrimination is still prevalent, but as more and more people come out as trans and become active in their communities, that is beginning to change.

"As more people become aware, they become more sophisticated which leads to changes in attitude," Tanis said. "[One] can never underestimate the power of hearing people’s personal stories."  

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 12, 2010.

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