Sixth Annual TIES Event Provides Resources, Highlights Needs of Trans People of Color

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Attendees at TIES were allowed to place a feather on a wing that represented themselves. (Photo courtesy of VCU Capital News Service)

Hundreds of transgender persons and their allies recently gathered in Richmond on October 19 for Equality Virginia’s sixth Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit (TIES) at the University of Richmond, a conference focused on providing education and promoting resources availble to the transgender community. 

Attendees had access to free legal resources such as name or gender change guidance, and also free medical and mental health consultations. There were around 40 workshops that focused on housing issues in the transgender community, LGBTQ suicide prevention, advocacy, and other topics.

This year’s summit introduced a couple of events designed with transgender people of color in mind. First, the summit held a panel that included prominent transgender people of color to speak on issues that affect them. The panel also focused on educating the public on how to include transgender persons of color into LGBTQ conversation and events.

“As we know, but the story is not often told, much of the groundbreaking LGBTQ grassroots has been by trans and non-binary people of color, yet rarely are their contributions recognized, ” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

Panelists answered questions from the moderator and audience including inquiries about medical assistance for transgender patients and helping transgender youth. 

“We just need more inclusive groups and counselors who go through LGBTQ-affirming training,” said panelist Justina Hall, youth peer navigator for Virginia-based Nationz Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides health and wellness for the LGBTQ community. “Understand that sometimes people don’t have the language to kinda place what they’re experiencing and going through,” Hall said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group working to protect the LGBTQ community’s civil rights, transgender women of color are more likely to be victims of murder compared to non-transgender women of color. The organization said the “intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and unchecked access to guns,” also makes it harder for transgender people of color to obtain employment, housing and health care.

“I think a big reason that the murder rate is very high for trans women of color, in particular, is that we often don’t see transgender women as women,” said Ted Lewis, the executive director of Side By Side, which provides support to LGBTQ youth. “I think as you lay on multiple underrepresented repressed identities, right — so being a woman, being transgender, being a person of color, being black within that sort of umbrella — it gets hard, real fast.”

The summit included a People of Color lounge, which allowed trans and non-trans people of color to gather, and workshops geared toward trans people of color.

“Respectful United: Allyship without Tokenism” addressed what non-people of color can do to make an environment inclusive. The workshop discussed hows to avoid tokenism — a symbolic effort, which is more about appearance than actual inclusion — when including trans, gender-nonconforming and non-binary people of color. Another session was geared toward the Spanish speaking transgender community, while another highlighted how LGBTQ organizations can better maintain “anti-racism” spaces.

“Two main things that I feel like is missed a lot in these types of conferences are the inclusion of transgender women of color and the inclusion of non-English speakers,” said Xemi Tapepechul, a Washington, D.C. based performing artist.

Other sessions included “Trans Voting Rights 101” and “Power to the People: Advocating for Trans Equality,” which highlighted the importance of the transgender community to get out the vote and show up at polls. The American Civil Liberties Union said transgender voters should have an equal opportunity to choose candidates who fight for their rights and that having an ID that doesn’t match your gender identity should not affect your right to cast a ballot. 

“We don’t even want people hesitating about it because then they might not vote, and we need everybody to vote,” said Parrish.

According to Parrish, Equality Virginia has been working to make sure that Virginians have registered to vote in their communities along with letting voters know which candidates are pro-LGBTQ, so Virginia can have “a more supportive General Assembly.” The organization recently formed the Virginia Values Coalition, which is calling on state lawmakers to establish legal protections for the LGBTQ community from employment and housing to public spaces like stores or restaurants. 

“We hope to arrive at the General Assembly with thousands of people behind us,” Parrish previously told Capital News Service. 

The NorVA