Transgender People Of Color And Youth Share And Build Leadership
On a rainy Sunday at Brush Creek Community Center in Kansas City, Missouri, several dozen people sit in a circle, each wearing nametags with preferred pronouns written beneath their names. Some of the tags list "he/him/his" or "they/their/theirs." Others simply say, "anything respectful."
As they go around the circle sharing how they're feeling that day, a group leader asks, "Is anyone feeling anxiety about leaving here and having to back to your normal lives tomorrow?"
Several people raise their hands. They've just spent the last few days at Kansas City's first Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Summit, sharing experiences and learning how to overcome obstacles they may encounter in their lives.
The summit was sponsored by LGBT documentary company SocialScope Productions, and focused on transgender and gender-non conforming (TGNC) youth and people of color. SocialScope director Randall Jenson says those two groups are often left out of the narrative.
"We recognize that there's a real need to have resources, to build a leadership fountain for trans and gender non-conforming people of color, and also youth," says Jenson. "Youth are also impacted by the invisibility they feel within the general community."
For young people, Jensen says, even conversations about safe sex are directed at white, cisgender people. Cisgender describes someone whose gender-identity matches their assigned sex.
The summit featured conversations about racism and privilege, safe sex, hormone therapy and violence.
One young person at the summit, who asked not to be identified, is 15. He's staying at reStart's youth shelter in Kansas City. He says it's hard to find people to talk to about his gender identity.
"I would have to explain it to them over and over again," he says. "It's really exhausting."
Several young people at the summit were surprised to find out that being transgender doesn't necessarily mean identifying as either male or female.
Joey, who goes to St. Teresa's Academy in Kansas City, recently came out to friends and family about not identifying as female. He says after the summit, he's more open about the idea of being transgender.
"I just thought that was really interesting, and it opened me up more to the transgender world," he says.
For the adults at the summit, conversations centered on dealing with challenges at work and encounters with police.
Nyla Foster is a black trans woman. She led a workshop to help people in their careers, where being transgender is often an obstacle. Foster says, in her journey, she had to learn to develop a thick skin.
“Looking the way I do, walking the walk and talking the talk, I would not be able to do that if I had thin skin,” she says.
Foster says she's done it all — from sex work to working in a corporate office — and says it takes strength to stand up to the abuse that comes with being transgender. She says sharing those experiences can help build the confidence to get through potentially uncomfortable situations at work.
Danielle is a transgender woman who lives in a shelter. She says she rarely ventures outside.
"When I go out in public either I get looked at, or they film me or take pictures, or ask, 'Why do you look like that?,'" she says.
She says the summit helped her to get out and become more involved with a community.
Randall Jenson says for many of the participants, simply being able to open up and share was empowering.
"TGNC communities have a long history of creating family from scratch, so a lot of that is happening here where people are making their first connections," he says.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and producer at KCUR 89.3. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.
Editor's note: By request, some names have not been included.