Massachusetts Transgender Political Coaltion: Lifting Our Voices, Tackling Our Fears by J'son M. Le

Gender identity is generally a person’s private sense of being a man or a woman. Most people’s gender identity matches their anatomy; however, there are some people who feel different from their physical appearances. Trans people often experience gender identity in nontraditional ways. Gender expression is unique for every individual. Some of us begin exploring gender expression very early in life, while others may begin the process much later. Trans people are no different. They, too, must travel this path to self-discovery.

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Jesse Begenyi, the Interim Director for the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition. She and her team are doing some amazing work giving a voice to the trans community and working to end discrimination.

Jesse, thank you taking the time to speak with me. For readers who may be unclear, tell us what transgender means.

Transgender is an umbrella term for people who identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth.

What is gender transition?

A gender transition is the process that many trans people go through to live in the world in the gender they identify with. This can include a social transition where the individual might change their name, pronouns, hair and clothing style. Trans folks also often go through a medical transition where they may take cross-gender hormones and/or undergo various surgeries to feel more comfortable with their body.

What is the difference between transgender and transsexual?

The term transsexual is an older term to describe a trans experience. Today, more trans people are using the term transgender as it makes space for a range of different identities. The individuals whom I know that identify with the term transsexual have very binary identities and have undergone surgery.

Why do you think society is so uncomfortable with transgender people?

Our society was founded by straight white men, and as we have seen throughout history, anyone outside of this narrow identity is categorized as “the other.” As a society built on this context of who belongs and who is given privilege, trans people are oppressed. We also do not see representation of transgender people in our general history, and because of this lack of representation, trans people are seen as an unknown. Just as with many other oppressed groups, the lack of knowledge leads to fear and discomfort.

What challenges do transgender people encounter?

Trans folks encounter a lot of challenges, and most of them are due to discrimination and oppression. When thinking about all of the discrimination that the trans community experiences, it’s really heartbreaking. Trans folks have all the other day to day challenges and worries that non-transgender people have, and as a community, have to also think about how they are going to navigate through all of the anti-trans discrimination. Trans people often face difficulties getting a job or finding housing. Many trans folks also experience challenges when accessing healthcare, as there are a limited number of culturally competent doctors. I’ve also heard some really scary stories about the discrimination trans people have experienced in emergency rooms. Many trans folks also encounter discrimination when trying to access general public spaces like restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, public transportation, hotels, museums and libraries, just to name a few.

Tell us what the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) is.

The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition was founded in 2001, and is dedicated to ending discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. We envision a world where persons of all genders are treated with respect and fully participate in all areas of society, free from fear of prohibition, harassment or violence based on their gender identity and/or expression.What types of services does MTPC offer? Does MTPC offer services for youth?We educate the public through media projects and provide trainings to a variety of organizations on who trans people are and how to become more inclusive of trans communities. We advocate with state, local, and federal government to pass legislation to give trans communities in Massachusetts equality under the law. We educate trans communities about their legal rights under current law, and assist trans folks with filing discrimination complaints when needed. We encourage the empowerment of community members through collective action with our Community Advocates Program. This program works to bring together a statewide network of transgender and ally leaders to support who can step up and work within their communities and help share knowledge across the state. MTPC also has specific projects that we work on like our suicide prevention project, the I AM: Trans People Speak video series, and our name and gender marker change kits. We also work on trans related issues in the areas of education, employment, healthcare, homelessness, housing access, voting, and law enforcement.We work with our friends at the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY) to put on our annual Trans Youth and Parent Summit. This daylong conference provides a space for trans youth to come together and participate in a variety of fun workshops and activities. There is also a separate parent track at the summit for parents and guardians of trans identified youth.

What do you do in your role as the Interim Director at MTPC?

As the Interim Director at MTPC, I am responsible for making sure that all organizational operations are running smoothly. This includes grant writing and donor relations, maintaining the organizational budget, working with our coalition partners, advocating in the state house and meeting with legislators, hiring and managing staff and interns, assisting community members, providing trainings for organizations, working with our Steering Committee, and really everything and anything else that comes up on a day- to-day basis.

You’re also involved in I AM: Trans People Speak. Tell us more about that.

The I AM: Trans People Speak project is a series of video stories that raise awareness about the diversity that exists within transgender communities. This project is near and dear to my heart as I developed the project and filmed and edited the original set of about fifty videos.I AM: Trans People Speak gives trans folks a way to empower themselves while sharing their own story, a way to be visible by participating in a nation-wide project, and provides a forum to learn about, connect with, and find support through the stories of other community members. This project also educates the public and policy makers about the reality of transgender people’s lives and the unique challenges they face due to pervasive bias, stereotypes, and misunderstanding. [More information] can be found at www.transpeoplespeak.org.

Can you update us on any current legislation specific to transgender people? What can the LGBT community do to support your efforts?

Right now in Massachusetts we are working to pass legislation that will add transgender protections to the existing non-discrimination policies in places of public accommodation. This means adding protections to all places open to the public like libraries, movie theaters, hospitals and emergency rooms, restaurants, public transportation, etc. This law is vital for the trans community as trans folks are often turned away from access to these spaces that so many people take for granted.The larger LGB community can support the trans people by making sure that “LGBT” spaces are truly inclusive of the “T.” It is also important to make sure that trans voices are being lifted up within LGBT spaces and that when working on passing policies and laws for LGBT communities that these do not carve out trans protections.

Jesse, thank you for talking to us about MTPC, and for helping to give a voice to the issues that trans people face.

For more information about the Massachusetts Transgender PoliticalCoalition, please visit their website at www.masstpc.org.

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