In response to a recently leaked Trump Administration memo that proposes to change the way the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines gender, more than forty members and allies of the Hampton Roads community met in a community forum last night organized by the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia (TAP VA), the LGBT Life Center, New Life Metropolitan Community Church and OutWire757.
Following an introduction from Rev. Mark Byrd of New Life Metropolitan Community Church, a diverse panel representing the transgender community comprised of Michael Alvarez, Thy Bùi and Jasmine Johnson were joined by local attorney Rachel Anderson of the Chesapeake Legal Group for discussion. Panelists shared their thoughts about the proposed policy change and answered a series of questions posed by De Sube of the Transgender Assistance Project (TAP VA).
After learning of the leaked memo and proposed policy change, most of the panelists were not surprised by the actions of the Trump Administration and have had time to reflect on how the potential for far-reaching implications of the policy change should it be implemented.
“I’m more angry than I am worried, but now that it (the leaked memo) is sinking in, I’m kind of more aware of my surroundings and how I’m seen in public,” said Michael Alvarez.
Attorney Rachel Anderson echoed this reaction and foresees further implications. “What made me worried was for not just the trans community – I saw this as a first step to taking rights away from the entire community – everyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.”
Among their networks of transgender friends in Hampton Roads and around the country, panelists shared stories of people worried about beginning/continuing transitioning or even “going stealth” as a last option. At the same time, panelists recognize the power in visibility, living their lives openly and the accompanying fears and risks in doing so.
Ms. Sube reminded attendees that “We are living our truth. But people are afraid to live their truth and that leads to anxiety, depression and sucide.” The rate of suicide among the transgender community is highest among any other population segment.
Although this policy has yet to be implemented, the panel and attendees were quick to point out that the transgender community is very resilient and has built resources locally, regionally and nationwide. Panelists encouraged one another to do all they can to protect themselves legally via gender marker change on State and Federal IDs and records.
Audience members were also encouraged to ask questions and make statements. Given that the mid-term elections are Tuesday, many comments reflected the heightened interest in this election and electing officials at all levels of government that are supportive of trans rights.
Although the Trump Administration policy change may be implemented at the Federal Level, attendees discussed the important role that municipal and statewide policies could play to protect transgender persons via broad non-discrimination policies beyond that of public employment or housing. As a right to work state, employees in Virginia have limited rights if terminated. But attendees were encouraged to open a dialogue with their employers/human resource departments as businesses can decide to protect transgender staff independent of state or local policies. This is evident by the recent Human Rights Campaign 2018 Metropolitan Equality Index (MEI), where all Hampton Roads cities earned failing grades for not doing a better job protecting LGBTQ persons.
Attendees were also encouraged to attend the Transgender Day of Remembrance/Resilience (TDOR), scheduled for Nov. 20 at the New Life Metropolitan Community Church. Following the question and comment period, attendees were able to network, socialize and offer support.