The Rohnert Park Cotati Regional Library hosted a panel discussion led by Janna Barkin called “Understanding the Transgender Experience.” About fifty audience members gathered in the Armando Flores meeting room Wednesday evening March 11 to participate in this presentation and the related Q&A session. It started at 6:30 p.m. and ended just before closing time at 9 p.m. The audience was very diverse, with members of the Transgender community, their allies, friends and family as well as educators who wanted to learn so they could help the Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) and Transgender students in their schools.
Although not directly connected, the timing of this public event was fortuitous. March 31 is the International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV). That day is dedicated to showcasing the accomplishments and victories of transgender folks; yet it also serves to raise awareness that more work needs to be done. This includes eliminating discrimination and legal barriers aimed at this vulnerable population. Currently over 200 bills have been introduced in multiple states from Idaho and Utah to Georgia and Alabama trying to restrict the ability of Transgender youth to access appropriate medical care, use of bathrooms congruent with their gender identity, obtain legal documents in their authentic gender and chosen name. Some of these bills want to restrict the ability to transition before age 18 and criminalize medical personnel with fines and jail time if they provide medically approved gender identity affirmation or treatments to them.
According to a study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign that was published in the American Academy of Pediatrics there are alarming levels of attempted suicide among transgender youth. “The findings emphasize the urgency of building welcoming and safe communities for LGBTQ young people, particularly for transgender youth.” For transgender teenage boys, meaning assigned female at birth but whose gender identity is male, the attempt rate is more than 50 percent. For transgender teenage girls, meaning assigned male at birth but who identify as female, the attempt rate is almost 30 percent. For non-conforming youth, meaning assigned female or male at birth but not feeling an identity on either end of the binary, the rate is 42 percent.
So, events like this helps to save lives. It allows us to understand issues and the stories about this at-risk community. Beyond mere tolerance of their existence, we can understand the experience and accept the youth for who they are. Reaching acceptance allows them to choose whether to be allies and advocates in their schools, churches and communities. They can then stand up for these kids when they experience bullying, discrimination, or even emotional and physical abuse. Research finds that if just one adult is available and supportive, the attempted suicide rate plummets for these kids.
Barkin is an author, educator and mom. Her youngest child is transgender. It’s her mission to foster more compassion, understanding, and acceptance in our society. Joining her in that effort were four panelists who shared their journeys, trials and tribulations. They answered questions from the audience. They included Jasper Lauter (he/him) a local teen, who is an actor, writer, poet and drag performer. Also, on the panel was Suzanne Ford (she/her). She is an accomplished woman who transitioned later in life, now a Regional Sales Manager at Revere Packaging. She is the current Treasurer on the board for SF Pride and on the Boards of Trans-Heartline and The Spahr Center – two important resources for the community in the Bay Area. Among the many things she said that struck a chord within me was words to the effect of: “we sometimes think because we live in California that we have it better than other parts of the country; but reality is we still face discrimination and danger just trying to live our lives as who we are.”
The next panelist was Jordan Decker (he/him). A National/International Speaker, he was called to action because he knew the depths of bullying and suicidal ideation that happens when you try to suppress who you are. He tells of his own plan to die, after his prayers to God as a child went unanswered. His prayer was “Let me wake up as a boy or don’t let me wake up.” He now runs a non-profit, “Trans HeartLine,” that provides safe post—op housing in the Bay Area for the transgender community. Finally, there was Theo Orbasido (he/him), a Filipino intersex and queer transgender man from Petaluma. Starting his transition at the age of thirteen, he shared the ups and downs of his trans adolescence. He currently studies veterinary medicine at SRJC and spends his free time participating in the Petaluma campus’ Queer Student Union, forging connections amongst his local queer community.