National Center for Transgender Equality executive director to speak at GEAR awards at Resource Center


Mara Keisling


DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the Bruce Jenner interview helpful, equated the bathroom bills in the Texas Legislature to bullying and is glad we’ll soon be moving beyond the marriage issue.

Keisling speaks at GEAR’s annual awards ceremony on Saturday, May 2, at Resource Center.

Last week, ABC aired an interview with Jenner, the former Olympic champion who announced he is transitioning. Keisling called the interview a brave and honest presentation and said she believes  it saved lives. She also liked the way the network and its local affiliates used the interview as a vehicle for hundreds of trans people across the country to tell their stories.

And no matter what anyone thinks of the Kardashians, they have a huge following.

“They’ve leveraged that to educate what family acceptance looks like,” Keisling said. “‘Hey, I should be supportive of my trans relative.’”

She added that 17 million people saw the interview, among them a number of trans youth.

“Some trans kid somewhere saw it and said, ‘There’s a chance for me,’” Keisling said. “I know it saved lives.”

She thought some of the confusion over Jenner’s sexual orientation was differentiating between past and future identities, while rarely speaking about a current identity.

Keisling also took the time to comment on other current issues and how they affect the trans community.

While she said she hasn’t done much work on marriage equality, she called this week’s Supreme Court hearing exciting and suggested the prospects of winning equality very good. She said most trans people are concerned with other issues, but marriage equality concerns the community.

“Everyone trans is in a same-sex relationship or people think of us as being in same-sex relationships,” she said.

Taking gender out of another law would be a positive step, she said.

The legislation that is very concerning to all trans people are the bathroom bills circulating in manystate legislatures including Texas. Keisling said there’s a misconception about those bills.

“It’s not that I would have to use the wrong bathroom,” she said. “I can’t use the wrong bathroom. It wouldn’t be safe and would cause a commotion.”

She said by legislating that trans people can’t use a public bathroom, they can’t go to school, can’t have a job or even go shopping, which she called bullying. The legislation is designed to turn a trans person into a freak, Keisling said, and is unconstitutional.

“If you don’t let trans employees use the correct bathroom, that’s a Title 7 sex discrimination violation,” she explained.

Some of these bathroom bills could have some serious, unintended consequences, Keisling added. At least one gay-straight alliance she knows is planning to fund its activities by self-reporting bathroom violations. If McDonald’s is liable for a $2,000 fine every time a trans person uses the “wrong” bathroom, another member of the group will report the violation and collect the money. She said a group could rack up quite a bit of cash, if businesses don’t step up and kill these bills before they are enacted.

Looking beyond this bad legislation, Keisling is optimistic about the future.

She said they are about to introduce legislation to replace the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The replacement would base protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and several other categories.

She said military service by trans people is coming as well. The military is at a point of saying they’re studying it. The days of “gays will never serve,” “blacks will never serve,” “women will never serve” are over. The military has learned its lesson on that, she said.


GEAR Awards honor trans activists, allies

Resource Center’s GEAR Awards, which take place Saturday, May 2, will honor three Dallas-area transgender leaders and an ally for their efforts at improving the lives of the trans community.

National Center for Transgender Equality’s Mara Keisling will keynote.

The four recipients are: Trans Pride Initiative’s Nell Gaither, who will receive the Katherine Walton Award in recognition of her leadership and service to the transgender community; Blair High, who is be the inaugural recipient of the newly named Blair High Lifetime Service Award; Rebekka Ouer will receive the Ally Award in recognition for her counseling services; and Terry Allen will receive the Trailblazer Award for creating and sustaining a GEAR men’s group.

Scholarship opportunities will also be announced, including scholarships to assist with hormone replacement therapy, counseling, name and gender marker changes and electrology. A new scholarship to assist those early in their transition will be announced as well. That scholarship will provide small purchases like wigs.

Award ceremony organizer Paula Ellis praised each recipient, calling them trailblazers and tireless advocates for trans awareness and community service.

Ellis, a software engineer began transitioning in 2013 while living in Austin. After moving to Dallas she began regularly attending GEAR events.

While she may be new to Dallas and GEAR events, she has already taken on a leadership role. GEAR organizers thought her willingness to serve would make her a good leader. After longtime coordinator High stepped aside to devote time to her business, Ellis was asked to help GEAR.

“I talk a lot and am kind of bossy, so they thought I should lead,” she said.

It’s that type of fearless leadership that could perhaps earn Ellis an award of her own some day.

GEAR’s Annual Awards take place 7–9:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 2 at Resource Center, 2701 Reagan St.

— James Russell

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 1, 2015.