TXTNS: Advocates, Allies, and Agents of Change

Last weekend, I attended the 8th Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit at Texas A&M University Central Texas right here in Killeen! With 130 participants, it was the largest summit they’ve ever had. TXTNS was even featured on the front page (above the fold!) of the Killeen Daily Herald (http://kdhnews.com/news/local/transgender-summit-sets-new-record-of-attendance-at-opening-ceremony/article_42b67d98-5617-11e6-a2a0-3ff0c6ffd754.html#.V5zPDnQFVCo.facebook).

A few months ago, my colleague and author Paige Schildt (www.queerrocklove.com) encouraged me to submit a proposal, so I did. It was accepted, and I presented the Welcoming Schools module on gender, which was very well received. I met some great people (TXTNS Executive Director Josephine Tittsworth is pretty much my new favorite person) and learned about some wonderful organizations that support transgender people in the state of Texas. Here are the highlights:

1)ACLU of Texas: Those of us concerned with civil rights already know about the American Civil Liberties Union. The first session I attended was on LGBT Expression in Public Schools with Victor Cornell, Statewide Advocacy Manager for ACLU Texas (www.aclutx.org). He was very helpful in clarifying students’ rights, and I want to share a few things I learned:

·         The legal definition of disruptive does not include discomfort.

·         If the any clubs are permitted, then all clubs are permitted (e.g. a school can’t prohibit a Gay-Straight Alliance, or GSA, if it has other clubs like Honor Society or FFA).

·         Although dress codes are at the discretion of school administration, if any writing is allowed, then all writing as allowed (e.g. a student cannot be asked to remove a “Gay Pride” t-shirt if the school permits clothing with writing).

·         Some schools still have male and female specific dress codes. In this case, trans students who dress in accordance with their gender identity are protected.

·         Harassment and bullying must be addressed equally (e.g. if a school disciplines for a racial slur, they must also do so for an anti-gay comment).

Sensing the theme here? If any, then all.

2)Gender Portraits: Drew Riley is a transgender artist who uses art as a tool for empathy and visibility. Drew’s Gender Portraits (www.genderportraits.com) series “explores our societal views of gender by focusing on the lives and struggles of gender outliers with visible, empowering paintings and written word.” Drew was also promoting Gender Unbound (www.genderunbound.org), an art show by gender diverse artists in Austin. I’m planning to go if you’d like to join me on Saturday, September 24th at Soma Vida, 2324 East Cesar Chavez Street.

3)Transgender Education Network of Texas: I met the fantastic Brandon Beck, Chair of TENT (www.transtexas.org). TENT is dedicated to furthering gender diverse equity in Texas through education, advocacy, and empowerment. I attended Brandon’s excellent session on how story-telling can be an educational tool for others as well as a way to support transgender students.

4)Equality Texas: This is another wonderful organization working toward full equality for LGBT Texans and their families (www.equalitytexas.org). Their focus is four-fold: ending discrimination, building strong families, protecting youth, and preventing violence.

5)Organización Latina de Trans de Texas: One of the highlights of the conference for me was meeting three of the women of OLTT (www.latinatranstexas.org), including the Executive Director, Ana. They attended my session, and I was so excited to be able to do some translation as well as conduct breakout conversations in Spanish. I hope to collaborate with this group more and support them in the work they want to initiate to gain the support of families in the Latino community in Houston.

6)Esperanza Peace and Justice Center: Esperanza (www.esperanzacenter.org) advocates for all marginalized people, including women, people of color, the LGBT community, and the poor. They are hosting an event called “Son Tus Niñ@s También: Trans Kids Back to School” (Thanks for this info, Lauryn Farris!).  If I wasn’t going to be in Washington, I would absolutely attend. I invite you to check it out on Saturday, August 13th from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at the Esperanza Center in San Antonio (922 San Pedro Avenue). This will be great information for parents of trans children as well as teachers and administrators.

7)Phyllis Randolph Frye: This woman, frequently referred to as the Grandmother of Transgender Law, gets her own bullet point. In 2010, Phyllis gained national recognition as the first out transgender judge in the country as a City of Houston Associate Municipal Judge. She is a senior partner at her LGBTI-and-straight-allies law firm (www.liberatinglaw.com). She gave her keynote address not as a judge, but as an individual. She had some excellent ideas for combating the fear-mongering about bathroom use by transgender people:

·         Most cities have ordinances that prevent people of the opposite sex from entering the bathroom of the other sex. It’s already prohibited. By adding the words “in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance” (as in the Houston version), we can assuage the fears of those who worry that new policies will allow men to enter the women’s room to do harm.

·         Remind people who are worried about the safety of women and children that not only can individuals who break the above policies be removed, they can be arrested for any of the behaviors that are so often cited by opponents. Public indecency, public lewdness, and voyeurism (not to mention assault) are already crimes. Anyone breaking these laws can be prosecuted and jailed.

So there you have it – a busy two days, as you can see. Please check out these resources! And if you love what you see, please join me at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches next year (June 9th-10th) for the 9th Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit.