By: Seth Culp-Ressler | The Duquesne Duke
TransPride Pittsburgh, an organization dedicated to supporting and strengthening the local transgender community, had their second annual National Conference this past week. Held at First United Methodist Church in Shadyside, the conference ran from Sept. 12 through Sept. 14 and consisted of a variety of information sessions, speakers and community events.
Chance Thomas, co-founder of TransPride Pittsburgh, explained that the organization really came to be out of necessity. The trans community was present in Pittsburgh, at least in population, but it was not organized or connected, nor was there much of any support for members in need. In 2010, the TransPride was started in hopes of filling that void.
“It just kind of came from a place of ‘Hey, the trans community isn’t really represented in Pittsburgh’,” Thomas said. “We have pride — we have all of the pride — but where is the safe space for trans folks? Where are the resources? Where is everybody?”
Thomas said that the idea behind the conference was to help get the community what they needed most. That manifested itself in many ways, from education and advocacy to networking and community building. Speakers were brought in to explain things the TransPride steering committee couldn’t. Meet-and-greets allowed for new members to become acquainted with the community and open mics let people become speakers themselves.
“Essentially the focus of the conference is to give those resources and educate people, as well as celebrate us — trans and gender variant folks are pretty awesome,” he said, laughing. “And creating that safe space for people that are at home and they’re going ‘I’m trans and I can’t go out anywhere.’ They can come to this. They can come dressed as a boy and walk into the bathroom and come out changed as a woman.”
Friday saw an explanation of the Affordable Care Act and how it pertains to trans health by local OB/GYN Dr. Draion Burch, with Saturday bringing a talk on recent advances in gender reassignment surgery by Arizona-based surgeon Dr. Toby Meltzer. The event’s keynote speakers, Brynn Tannehill and Dana Breyer, also spoke Saturday. Tannehill is a writer covering transgender issues, and Breyer is board chair of Freedom to Work and executive director of Gender Rights Maryland.
Sprinkled throughout these larger talks were smaller info sessions on topics ranging from HIV in the transgender community to the role the trans community plays in the media. Lyndsey Sickler, member of the TransPride steering committee and director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh, said that this diversity was a facet the committee wanted to include from the beginnings of the planning process.
“There’s a little something for everybody,” Sickler said. “I personally know that when we started trying to put this together that that’s what we wanted. We wanted something that would engage everybody in some way.”
Nancy Evelyn Gold, TransPride steering committee member and executive producer of The Gender Dances Project, explained that a large portion of TransPride Pittsburgh’s success is because of the strength of the local transgender community, which is one of the best in the country.
“Some people consider [Pittsburgh] a ‘second level city’,” Gold said. “We’re beyond ‘first-level’ as far as trans goes. We’re making it happen in the community with events like this, we pull ourselves together. Every year that we do this, it gets bigger, our community gets bigger. There’s people here I’ve never seen before in my life and I’ve been in this community for two years.”
Sickler pointed out that the timing of the conference was chosen to try to strengthen and grow the community’s numbers even further by engaging the large student population Pittsburgh is known for.
“Normally we are crazy and do everything in June,” she said. “This year we changed it up a little bit with hopes of also engaging the student body a little more, because as you know most students fly the city in the summer, so doing it in the fall was really a play to engage some of the younger folks as well.”
TransPride isn’t just concerned with educating their own members, though, and Gold encouraged those who are not as familiar with the transgender community to do some research for themselves.
“If you look at the transgender stuff on Huffington Post, find a link for something that says, like, ‘The Top Ten Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Trans Person’ or ‘Top Ten Ways to Be a Trans Ally’, Gold explained. “There are a lot of these lists out there on the Internet, you can just find them by searching on Google … [These help] people who aren’t trans-friendly and don’t know, but don’t want to be trans-phobic [to] learn how to deal with us.”