The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, through its “Queer Corazones” LGBTQIA initiative, hosted a day of resources and discussion for transgender youth and their families Saturday. The center’s second annual Son Tus Niños También event brought together advocacy groups and elected officials to educate families on their rights and resources.
The event also included a panel discussion moderated by transgender activist Emmett Schilling with transgender teens and their parents. The group gave a firsthand perspective on the coming out and transition process.
A well-equipped parent, counselor Adam Saucedo said, can be a “fierce advocate” for their child. His practice, Synchronicity Counseling, helps transgender youth and their parents navigate the transition process with health, safety, and wholeness in mind. As a gay man, Saucedo was surprised by how much he had to educate himself on the complications that arise from gender non-conformity and transgender identities in a binary gender society.
“If you are going to say you work with the LGBTQ people, you have to do more than be part of the community,” Saucedo said.
He often provides a carry letter, which transgender people can take with them to explain their identity to law enforcement, TSA, and others who may need help reconciling the person’s legal and presented gender. This and other tools allow people to transition more securely and at their own pace.
Reassignment surgery is not the only medical decision transgender people face, Saucedo explained. Simple medical procedures and wellness check-ups can also be stressful, as biological sex is often a consideration in health care. Saucedo connects transgender youth to health practitioners who will take their gender identity into account.
The Alamo Area Resource Center currently hosts a monthly Health Equity Clinic focused on the needs of the LGBTQIA community, and the City of San Antonio is working with Metropolitan Methodist Hospital and the Pride Center to expand targeted services for LGBTQIA people, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. Safe places to seek health care and counseling improve the health of the LGBTQIA community beyond people’s immediate needs.
“These are things that can wear on people,” Treviño said. “The stress can really create all these collateral issues.”
The City of San Antonio, with its new equity lens, will continue to be more attentive to the concerns of the LGBTQIA community, Treviño said. “We know we need to do more.”
While the City seeks to do more, the State has launched an “unprecedented attack on transgender people and gender nonconforming people,” Rebecca Marques, a political strategist with the ACLU, said.
During the 85th Legislature LGBTQIA rights as a whole saw challenges from several directions. While the legislature failed to pass a “bathroom bill” limiting restroom use to the gender of one’s birth certificate, it did pass a law changing how LGBTQIA-affirming foster care is allocated. House Bill 3859 leaves it up to children in the foster system to request placement with an LGBTQIA-affirming household, Marques said. For these vulnerable youth, this can lead to silence and incompatible placements, Marques added, as many of them have never been taught how to advocate for themselves or given a safe place to explain their identity.
“We don’t really know [all] the implications of this bill,” Marques said.
Like a lot of proposed legislation, HB 3859 was passed by lawmakers who are “using these months to run their primaries,” Marques said, much of the “hateful language” aimed at the transgender community was virtue signaling for their donors.
The rhetoric also sought to divide the transgender community from the more widely accepted homosexual community and the religious community, Marques said, emphasizing the need for unity.
“All of our communities intersect and we need to work together as much as possible,” she said.
San Antonio Independent School District recently came under fire from religious groups after it added gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy. The group used language borrowed from opposition to the bathroom bills.
“People somehow managed to draw a line from us saying we will treat everyone with dignity and respect…to [allowing] men into the little girls’ restroom,” SAISD Board President Patti Radle said.
In the future, as new buildings and renovations take place, bathrooms and other facilities could be designed to preclude the anxiety on this issue, Radle said.
In the meantime, the district remains committed to helping students learn, Radle said, and insofar as feeling safe and accepted facilitates learning, the district will continue to support LGBTQIA students. Currently that means training faculty and staff on issues that may involve “controversy,” Radle said. Controversy always finds its way into the public conversation, Radle said, and with every step toward equality, a new angle on discrimination arises. “The challenge of getting people to really understand the power of and the liberation of loving everyone in spite of the differences” is the real issue, she said.
Legal challenges at the federal level also will have consequences for the transgender community, Marques said. Title IX states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In 2016, President Obama issued guidelines on the implementation of Title IX that extend those protections to transgender students. President Trump has repealed those guidelines.
“You have rights that are not specifically outlined in Title IX,” Marques said. “You don’t lose that just because you are queer.”
Any attempt to prohibit LGBTQIA clubs, events, speech, or other rights guaranteed by the Constitution should be reported immediately, Marques said. Students should be respectful and adhere to whatever rules are in place while they seek help from the ACLU and other organizations that work for LGBTQIA rights.
The students on the panel said they did not worry about their safety as much as they worried about “rejection” from colleges, jobs, and other goals. They were confident that their parents and friends supported them, but knew that not every situation would be so secure.
While legal resources exist, parental support will make the biggest difference in a trans youth’s safety and acceptance in the community, Sauceda said. “People at school will react differently if they know that you support your child.”
When a child comes out as transgender, they do so in a community context. Their family, school, church, and larger community will play a large role in that child’s mental health moving forward, according to the Family Acceptance Project, a research initiative studying the resilience of families undergoing gender transition together.
For many parents on the panel, acceptance of their child’s transition was the easy part. “You have to accept [what’s happening], because it’s your child,” Mario Castillo said.
In each case represented, the parents’ journey from acceptance to advocacy for their child happened as they reached out to the LGBTQIA community and utilized the legal, medical, and emotional supports available.