On Saturday, November 23, Evergreen High School made a safe and welcoming space for trans and nonbinary folks and their allies in the mountain town while they hosted the Throw Out The Stigma gender identity event. Organized by Resilience 1220, an organization that offers free mental health counseling services for youth, the afternoon from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. was dedicated to providing space for trans folks to not only share their stories and experiences, but to challenge the community in the ways that they show up for them and provide necessary and vital information as to what support is and what it is not.
The hallway of the high school that chilled evening filled with the buzz of clamoring conversation and chatter of connection. Organizations, GSAs, and artists tabled important information and resources as folks shook hands and exchanged phone numbers. This was a space not only where information was bountiful, it was a place where important and necessary ideas and information was being shared.
Intended to be a community conversation, the panel took to the stage, and the event kicked off with trans activist Christine Monks delivering some preliminary clarifications on appropriate language, current vs. out-of-date terms, and the necessary compassion and empathy one must embody when it comes to talking about gender identity and expression. While some things may be considered universal and assumed, others need to be explained, and myths must be debunked.
The panel, which consisted of Colorado State Representative Brianna Titone, One Colorado‘s Jordan Anthony, Out Boulder County‘s Jenna Howerton, Anaya from Transformative Freedom Fund, and Michelle Trampel from True Center for Gender Diversity ,was Moderated by one of Resilience 1220’s many therapists who are directly serving queer youth. The conversation touched on topics such as what each individual’s experience is in directly serving the trans and nonbinary communities to the personal reflection of how the communities can be of better support.
What does support look like as an ally to those who are anywhere within the gender variant spectrum, and for members of the community that are LGB, how they can make sure the the voices and stories of trans, nonbinary, and gender fluid folks are being lifted up and told from their very own mouths. A large takeaway from the conversation was to allow space for trans people and to make certain they are heard and given equal opportunity to make impact on the greater community because, in fact, they know exactly what needs to be changed.
“I never saw myself in politics to begin with; I was never really interested until I cam out,” said Titone. “Then, I realized that I was in a group of people that needed some assistance.”
She went on, “When I went to the Capitol to lobby my legislator who was formerly holding my seat in District 27, we were talking to him about two bills: the ban on conversion therapy and the birth certificate bill (now Jude’s Law). He wouldn’t come talk to us, and this was the problem we faced with several of the legislators out there; they just wouldn’t have a conversation.”
The uphill battle continued for Titone in getting the adequate attention of the House; however, once she was elected, she can now proudly say that she had a direct hand in pushing through the passing of both the ban on conversion therapy and the passing of Jude’s Law.
While that is only a portion of Titone’s story, and she continues each day to work on legislation that will positively impact the trans and greater queer community, each panelist shared a variety of barriers they face on a daily basis. Whether it’s not having safe spaces and access to fair and reasonable accommodations for housing, to the cost of healthcare and the red tape that trans folks must get through in order to seek the treatment and medications they need, there is so much work still to be done.
“A lot of questions from parents, teachers, and students, is what kind of programming is there for students under the age of 11 because that’s the age our programs cut off,” said Jenna Howerton of Out Boulder County. “Another issue is our LGBTQ older adults; that’s another are where there has been been a lot of research where older adults in assisted living facilities typically go back into the closet because we see a lot of transphobia and homophobia.”
One Colorado’s Jordan Anthony suggested that one place that a lot of progress is made when it comes to trans inclusion, nonbinary awareness, and gender expression acceptance is through programs that focus on professional development.
“We see that there are a lot of educators and mental health providers within the schools specifically that want to be doing right by our children, but sometimes we see that the perfect becomes the enemy of the good,” Anthony said. “We can sometimes fall into the fear of not doing it the right way and not doing it the perfect way, and so One Colorado can step in and provide information on how to create these effective systems and also how we can grow these affirming spaces.”
It takes bravery to stand up against the majority and demand that the spaces be equitable and acceptable to all kinds of people, and require that all deserve the right to dignity, respect, and opinion, and through panel discussions and serious community ally-ship, this kind of future is actually possible.
The collective energy of the pioneers, the movers and shakers of the gender spectrum panel, was invigorating and educational, and as Titone later stated, when people know someone directly, it’s impossible to just accept the current state of these issues. As a legislator, often times Titone is the first trans person that the majority of her colleagues have ever met, and through that direct relationship, she is able to break down presumptuous barriers and truly get down to the fact that everyone is seeking the same human goals at the end of the day.
For organizations like Transformative Freedom Fund, which is a fundraising organization to help people with the financial means to get them on the path to being their most authentic selves, their ultimate goal and vision for the country is to put themselves out of a job.
“While our mission is to financially support trans and nonbinary folks in accessing medical transitions that they want, if they want them, our real, main objective is to make sure the the systems fix themselves so that nobody needs us anymore,” said Anaya.
Until that day comes, there are people like Michelle Trampel and her team from True Center for Gender Diversity at The Children’s Hospital Colorado who are delivering the important gender affirming care that many trans folks seek out.
“What we really pride ourselves in is patient-centered care and tailoring our services to each individual and their family for whatever they need. Everyone has a journey, goals, and needs that are different, so we want to make sure each person is having what they need,” said Trampel.
Through the admirable and tireless work of the people and organizations that are but a small portion of the voices for the needs of those who are trans-identified, events like Throw Out the Stigma are immensely necessary to foster the communication and call us all to action.
*Photos by Veronica L. Holyfield