VisAbiliTy – an advocacy group for trans issues

Citing the increasing legislation targeting the trans community, O.K. trans activists are forming a new advocacy organization. File graphic.

by Rob Howard
Associate Editor

Citing the increasing legislation targeting the trans community around the country, including the attempt to force trans students in South Dakota to use bathrooms that conformed to their gender assigned at birth, and the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, central Oklahoma trans activists are forming a new advocacy organization.

Local trans activist Paula Sophia said campaigns in Houston, and in Fayetteville, calling trans persons pedophiles and rapists, has “Given the religious right a new way to approach the culture wars. Anticipating that it will happen in central Oklahoma, it was time to start a trans led, and trans focused organization here in central Oklahoma to give voice to our community.”

The name of the new group is VisAbiliTy. Its mission is to “Show a public face of people in our community besides me and Brittany Novotny,” joked Sophia. “We also have some well identified and well-meaning organizations like Oklahomans for Equality and Freedom Oklahoma. Troy [Stevenson] and Toby [Jenkins] do a pretty good job at stepping up to defend trans people. I hope they continue to do that.”

But she said that she had sometimes gotten feedback from people in the lesbian and gay community that it looks like trans people won’t stand up for themselves. “In reality, when something LGBT related comes up, media will contact Freedom Oklahoma or OkEq for a comment, and there isn’t time to get a trans person to be interviewed,” she said. It means that Stevenson and Jenkins are faced with a choice between having no comment available, or making a comment themselves.

The folks organizing VisAbiliTy hope to change that, by forming the organization, and getting more visibility for the trans community, so that when a trans issue comes up, media will seek them out.

“It’s not that we want to be a separate movement from the rest of the LGBT community necessarily, but we want to be sure that we advocate for ourselves, that people know that we will advocate for ourselves, in the hope that it solidifies our relationship as allies,” said Sophia.

She pointed out that with any minority, a minority doesn’t assert their rights successfully without allies. “They don’t win without making a demand, and they don’t do it without other people helping them.

“That’s why personally I’ve been involved in our community, standing up with the LGBT community on the banner issue years ago, and with marriage equality, and the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination) act, advocacy for that,” the long-term activist added.

The group is working on developing a website and Facebook pages, and is working to get content together. They are planning a retreat with a steering committee of people who have demonstrated their willingness to be involved and to be public.

Sophia, referring to the defeat of anti-LGBT legislation this session, said, “The immediate emergency is over because it looks like the legislation is dead for this session, which allows us to be more organized for next year, and for other issues that may come up, such as housing discrimination where trans people have trouble getting access to homeless shelters and other accommodations. Other long term goals are protection for trans identified people in public accommodations, including restrooms, and employment non-discrimination.”

She is also concerned about representation at the legislature: “I’m worried that our Democratic caucus does not want to stand up for the most vulnerable people in our society. And numbered among them are queer and trans identified youth. That’s the debate that’s going on nationally, with the South Dakota bill that the governor vetoed. That was targeted against trans youth in schools. Vilifying young people who are trans identified and making them out to be predatory.

“The legislation doesn’t say that trans people are predatory, but it does cite public safety, and that trans people have nefarious motivations, when in reality all they want to do is use the restroom in peace, or any other public accommodations in peace.”

Sophia also expects VisAbiliTy to have an education component. She wants it to be “A local and visible presence in the community, with educational outreach, and to coordinate a presentation to speak at college classes, community orgs, open and affirming churches and some not so open and affirming, but who are willing to deal with difficult issues.” That includes employers and school districts, she said.

Sophia concluded by saying the group plans on “Increasing the visibility of trans people, and advocating for our rights to have access to everything that everybody else wants access to - a sense of safety in public, in housing, in employment and opportunity.”


The Gayly- 4/18/2016 @ 9:11 AM CDT