Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Nevada’s inaugural Trans Pride Week runs through Sunday in Las Vegas featuring a series of events and activities designed to celebrate and bring awareness to the local transgender community. Created by the Center, Gender Justice Nevada, Mary Magdalene Friends UCC, Northwest Community Church and Get Equal Nevada, all members of the LGBTQ and allied communities are invited to join in the occasion.
We spoke with Mel Goodwin, co-director of programs and partnerships for the Center, to learn more about organizing Trans Pride, the history of local transgender activism and the challenges and misconceptions facing Las Vegas’ transgender community today.
How did Vegas’ Trans Pride come to be?
Trans Pride week in Las Vegas is something that has been talked about among community members for several years, at least. The Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil has been held in Las Vegas for I believe the past seven years, and then our Transgender Day of Empowerment event, which follows the Day of Remembrance, is in its fourth year. Then there was talk from organizers about wanting to make it bigger, a more expansive event for the community. This year a group of us got together and decided we were going to commit to making it happen. It’s really being made possible through a coalition of organizations and individuals.
For those who are not familiar with the transgender issues, how does Trans Pride differ from the Pride celebration in September?
We’re hosting a specifically Trans Pride Week because transgender people and communities are underrepresented at broader Pride events, like the one that was held in September. Primarily, those events are celebrating gay and lesbian individuals. And sexual orientation is very different from gender identity.
What is the history of the local transgender community and its activism in Las Vegas?
The community here is pretty strong in some ways. The trans community really became politicized during the 2009 Nevada legislative session, when several bills were introduced that would provide protections for transgender individuals and employment, housing and public accommodation. Those bills did not make it through the session that year, so, afterward, folks came together for more planning, coalition building and reaching out to more non-transgender allies.
Then we went back in the 2011 session and got all three of those bills passed, which was a first in the entire United States. So we really made history with the community. Out of that session actually has grown an organization called Gender Justice Nevada, which now has 501(c)3 status and has several programs with the transgender community that aren’t being provided elsewhere in Nevada. But the history of the transgender community goes way beyond the 2009 session. There’s at least a 15-year history of organizing, on a smaller scale.
Las Vegas is often championed for being a pretty accepting, anything-goes type of city, but has that been the case with the trans community here?
As a native Las Vegan and having been a very out and active member of the community for 10 years now, I can say that this is just a very socially conservative state. Folks from the outside look in and think that there’s just so much freedom and acceptance and affirmation of any person, and that’s not been my experience, and I’ve not heard that from other folks within the community. It’s particularly difficult for transgender people here in the state of Nevada to provide for their basic needs like employment and having secure and stable housing, access to health care and being free from harassment. I wouldn’t say that it’s easy at all for transgender people here.
What are the biggest issues and challenges facing the trans community in Las Vegas today?
Just an overall lack of culturally competent services. Specifically, mental health and health care services. And access to employment. Even though we have a state Employment Non-Discrimination Act that protects transgender people, companies, businesses and organizations do routinely discriminate against them. It’s been a challenge since that law passed to share information with transgender individuals about what their rights are and also to educate those employers and organizations about what their legal obligations are under that law.
Back to health care, if a transgender person has the privilege of having health insurance that will cover some of their transition-related costs, there are still tremendous challenges in finding a culturally competent provider who will see them. But for the most part, transgender individuals are not able to access, without some sort of financial means, health insurance and providers, which puts low-income and unemployed transgender individuals completely without health care and access to services. So for some folks who are unable to see a doctor for hormones, they’re taking their needs into their own hands, which creates a lot of long-term health challenges for some individuals. So we really need low- to no-cost health care for the trans community here.
What goals or projects does the Center have planned for the trans community in the future?
We’re exploring the possibilities of providing low- to no-cost health care services for transgender individuals here at our health and wellness center. That’s not confirmed as something that’s absolutely going to happen in 2014, but we are talking with some strategic partners about the possibility of doing that. In addition, we’re going to be starting a transgender advisory committee in 2014.
What do you feel is the most important issue to understand about Trans Pride? What is the biggest misconception?
That gender is a human experience. It’s not about transgender people, but really about all of us. I think this is a beautiful space where the entire community can come together and reflect on how gender interacts with the entirety of lives and celebrate our differences but also recognize our sameness.
As far as misconceptions, there are so many. A misconception is that there is something “wrong” with transgendered people. Gender identities have been, for lack of a better term, pathologized for a really long time and scrutinized by mental health professionals, are just are a lot of myths and stereotypes about who we as trans people are. I think the average person coming out to these events would take away a very different perception about who the folks are in this community.