Las Vegas Sun

April 21, 2019

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How to be an ally to transgender individuals

Trans students and Titus

Jake Marko / Courtesy

Dina Titus sits with students and community members at the “We Exist and We Vote” rally at UNLV on November 2. The rally was to protest the Trump administration proposal that would remove protections for more than 1.4 million transgender Americans.

In October, the Department of Health and Human Services released a memo outlining efforts to legally define sex at birth. The proposal, according to The New York Times, would declare sex as “male or female, unchangeable and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” This new language would remove protections for more than 1.4 million transgender Americans who do not identify with the gender they were born into.

On November 2, a group of about 50 students and Las Vegas community members gathered at the “We Exist and We Vote” rally at UNLV. Organized by more than 10 organizations in Southern Nevada, including Our Revolution Nevada, Nevada Progressive Coalition, Las Vegas TransPride, Gender Justice Nevada and Black Lives Matter UNLV, the rally served as a place for the community to speak out against the Trump administration’s latest anti-trans proposal.

There were an estimated 1.4 million trans Americans living in the United States in 2016, and that number is likely higher and does not account for people not comfortable reporting their identity.

“A lot of people think they don’t know a trans person, but they do,” said Sybrina Bernabei, advocacy services coordinator at Gender Justice Nevada. “They’ve shared space with trans people—they might be good friends with someone who is trans or have a neighbor or family member who hasn’t come out to them … because they don’t feel safe.”

According to an October report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than half of transgender male teenagers and nearly 30 percent of transgender female teenagers have attempted suicide in their lifetimes.

“The more we can make spaces in our lives more inclusive and welcoming, the more people can come out and live their authentic lives,” Bernabei said. “Even if you don’t identify [as trans or non-binary], it’s important for you to send that message of love, acceptance and inclusivity.”

So how can non-trans folks and allies better show support for trans people?

Jamie Lee Sprague-Ballou, founder and director of Las Vegas TransPride Week, said the most important thing for allies to do is simply show up.

“The people who show up [at events] are the people from our own community and only a handful of allies,” Sprague-Ballou said. “And yet there’s a lot more people that say they’re our allies. If you are, where are you?”

Jenna Robertson, a mother and advocate for trans and special needs students, echoed Ballou’s statements adding that parents need to educate themselves and teach their children to be more accepting of peoples’ differences.

“If you see a gender diverse person on the street, it’s not [OK] to point them out and laugh. It’s not a joke; it’s not a punchline,” Robertson said. “When we learn that a joke at the expense of a trans person hurts somebody, we need to do better.”

Las Vegas TransPride week kicks off on Tuesday, November 13 with an open house in the afternoon, followed by an opening ceremony at 7 p.m. Events will be held throughout the week, including a human rights march on Friday, November 16.

If you’re wondering if allies are welcomed, Sprague-Ballou gives a resounding “Yes. We want allies to be out there celebrating with us. They’re a part of us. As trans people, we welcome everybody into our circle.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.