In Virginia, you can be fired for being transgender. You can be ejected from a business, refused service and even denied housing. Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy group founded in 1989, is hoping the new Democratic majority will pass these protections during the upcoming legislative session.
Part of its push is the Transgender Visibility Initiative, which will hold another panel in the Ask a Trans Person series at First Congregational Christian UCC on Thursday, Dec. 12. Program coordinator Thalia Hernandez, who moderates the panel, says the series aims to demystify the trans experience by connecting cisgender people with transgender people, to build support for outlawing discrimination based on gender identity.
“People are surprised that we don’t have these protections,” Hernandez says, citing examples of legal discrimination permitted against transgender people. “The goal is to raise awareness.”
“About 16% of people say they’ve knowingly met a trans person,” Hernandez says, stressing the word knowingly. “A lot of times, you don’t know. Trans people are everywhere, and just because you don’t know you’ve met someone, you still may have.”
“At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t know that though, they’re still not getting that deepening of knowledge,” she says. That’s what the series aims to correct, by giving participants a “safe space to ask their questions,” and “return to their neighborhoods, their book clubs, their nonprofits, their companies and bring up these issues to make trans people who live or work there feel more included.”
On the Thursday, Hernandez will moderate a panel composed of Kelly Royster, a support group facilitator for Transforming Empowered Aspiring Men who uses he and him pronouns, Aurora Higgs, who used she and her, who is a program manager at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Caden Haney, who uses he and him, a student and another support group facilitator for Transforming Empowered Aspiring Men. Hernandez says the goal was to assemble a panel that would offer a diversity of experiences and be able to speak from different backgrounds.
A typical session may get 40 participants, who ask questions that still surprise and move Hernandez, even in the second year of the program. None of the questions have been offensive, she says. “This is a learning experience, and everyone is in a different place,” she says, adding that the questions have been “excellent.”
Attendees “really want to get to know the people,” on the panel, she says. Several times, audience members ask panelists how they choose their names. “A lot of trans people often leave behind the name they were given at birth and choose a new name that reflects their gender identity,” she says. It’s led to some moments of real connection, because “when someone takes the time to name themselves, there’s so much behind that.”
Although it’s another question, which gets asked at every single panel, that ties directly into the overall mission of Equality Virginia, she says. “People ask, ‘What can we do to support you? What can we do to support the trans community?’ We’ve been so grateful that people really care, and they want all their fellow Virginians to be treated equally.”
“Ask a Trans Person” takes place Thursday, Dec. 12, from 6:30-8 p.m. at the First Congregational Christian UCC in Chesterfield. The final statewide panel takes place Dec. 17 at the Hampton Public Library main branch from 6:30-8 pm. Events are free, but participants should register at the Equality Virginia website. equalityvirginia.org/events.