Friday, July 29, 2016

TTNS 2016 Keynote Address

This is the text of the keynote address I delivered at the 2016 Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit in Killeen, TX.                                               

Good afternoon to TTNS founding executive director Josephine Tittsworth, our mistress of ceremonies Jenifer Rene Pool, TTNS executive and advisory board members, TTNS attendees, Texas A&M Central Texas faculty and students, TTNS volunteers, my trans siblings, honored guests, allies and friends.

I am pleased, honored and proud to have been asked to deliver your keynote address today at this 8th annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit.  
I also found it apropos this 2016 edition of the TTNS is being held on this college campus in the shadow of Fort Hood mere weeks after the groundbreaking July 1 open trans military service announcement by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter that allows my trans siblings to openly serve in our nation’s armed forces.

I mention that factoid because a quick perusal of modern trans history will reveal that many of our past and present leaders in this movement, including our TTNS founding director and tomorrow’s keynote speaker Phyllis Frye, have the common thread of military service as part of their activist resumes.

I was told prior to taking this podium that this Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit in Killeen is now the new record holder in terms of registration and attendance for it, so please give yourselves a hand for being part of this evolving TTNS history.

So why is the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit so important to me? 

The TTNS mission was similar to a 2007 effort I was involved with in Louisville. KY to enact trans inclusive policies for students, faculty and staff in the Jefferson County Public Schools.  We were only able to my frustration get sexual orientation coverage only in JCPS, but after I left Da Ville JCPS finally added gender identity to that policy we passed under contentious circumstances in 2015.

When the 2009 TTNS event was held at the University of Houston, I was 1000 miles away in Kentucky and bummed about not being there for it.  Well, as Josephine, Jenifer. the TTNS executive and advisory board members and other people who have longtime connections to this event can tell you, haven’t missed one since I returned to Texas from Louisville in May 2010.

This is now the seventh consecutive summit that I have attended, and the TTNS is special to me because the second TTNS held at Rice University was the first activism event I had a chance to participate in mere weeks after returning to my hometown.

The TTNS event at Rice allowed me to quickly reestablish my connections with old and new Houston area advocates that I’d lost in the eight years I was away from Texas and introduce me to people I didn’t know or were new to me, but had gotten involved in Houston and Texas activist work while in was in Kentucky. 

The  subsequent TTNS events provided me opportunities to network and conme to continue to expand on those networking make connections with other advocates in Houston, Texas and from around the country that have remained useful to this day.

Because of attending TTNS, I’ve gained knowledge on a wide variety of issues that have helped me not only in my ongoing advocacy work, but help provide a base level of knowledge that I can subsequently talk about and expand on in my TransGriot articles.

And yeah, it’s been fun to see different parts of this beautiful state with people I love, respect and admire and spend quality time with you as I do so. 
Finally, why the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit is important to me is because I come from a family of educators.  My late great grandmother Jane Davis was a teacher.  My mother in addition to being a historian, is a retired HISD teacher.    My late godmother Pearl Suel, who along with my mother instilled my love of history in me, taught at the high school and collegiate levels.   I also have cousins and people in my circle of friends who are educators that I admire and deeply respect.

I know the importance for people, and especially marginalized people to have a quality education.  As one of my sheroes Barbara Jordan has said and I quote her, ‘Education remains the key to both economic and political empowerment.’ 

It is a lesson that my people have taken to heart ever since that June 19, 1865 day when Union General Gordon Granger read Order Number 3 from the balcony of Galveston’s Aston Villa and declared that all Texas slaves were free people.

Education is the gateway to a quality life.   A quality education is something the folks that wish to oppress us can never take away.   A quality education also makes us better citizens, and allows us to do our part to make our beloved state and our union better.

And in the words of former State Senator Wendy Davis, ‘Real Texans want their kids to have the best education possible, not the one politicians looking to brag about budget cuts have left us with’.

That is the TTNS mission in a nutshell.   We are gathering here on this campus for the next two days, and have done so other Texas colleges and universities over the last eight years with one mission in mind, so that our kids and we trans people accessing that education system at all levels can have the best education system possible. 

When TTNS started in 2009, only three Texas colleges and universities
had trans inclusive nondiscrimination policies.  As of this eighth TTNS event, that number is up to over 30 colleges and universities, and also includes some of the largest ISD’s in our state in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and El Paso.  

It’s also interesting to note that as part of the Obama Administration having the trans community’s backs, a Dear Colleague Letter jointly issued by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice that to sum it up, says that you must treat transgender students with the same dignity and respect in school settings as you do for cisgender ones, and give them the same access to a quality education that you demand for cisgender children.

If that is all the DOE/DOJ Dear Colleague Letter is stating, why is the conservative movement tripping about it to the point that Texas and 12 other states have entered into an unholy alliance to fight a battle they are doomed to lose by filing an unjust lawsuit to justify discrimination against transgender students?

Why is Gov. Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and my indicted attorney gender Ken Paxton to paraphrase the eloquent words of Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, attempting to spread the hellfire flames of transphobic bigotry and aiming it at Texas transgender students?

Why has their party made it their mission to make the lives of trans Texans and trans students in this state more difficult than they need to be?

Much of it is because they hate President Obama and still massively resist any policy initiative he likes.   Another piece of that transphobic puzzle is because in the wake of their loss last year on marriage equality, they needed a new group to hate, and unfortunately have settled on attacking trans kids as their new targets to show their base they are doing something to oppose a POTUS they foaming at the mouth hate.

But I and other trans elders, my trans siblings and our allies in the human rights struggle have a major problem with that   As someone whose formal education in this state started in a segregated elementary school in 1967, I have a major problem with this remixed Jim Crow bull feces you are aiming at our trans kids.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting trans kids here in Texas and their amazing parents.  All these parents want is the best education possible for their kids who are now matriculating in Texas schools and universities without unnecessary drama

All these trans kids want to do is go to school, get their education, make friends, blend in and live their lives as their true selves without being singled out for bullying by their peers, willfully ignorant adults or misguided politicians 

It’s why it’s our duty to ensure that we do the work here in the Lone Star State to continue to expand the numbers of colleges, universities and school districts that have trans inclusive policies for students, faculty and employees and feel empowered to unapologetically defend them from attack.

It is our duty to ensure that the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit has the resources and funding it needs to survive and thrive as continues its ongoing mission of being a strong education advocate and voice for our kids.

If you have the ability to drop some contributions in TTNS’ direction on a regular basis, please do so.   You’d be amazed to learn how far $5, $10, $20 or more if you’re feeling generous can go.

It is our duty to increase the number of Texas ISD’s that have these inclusive policies to include all of the over 1000 ISD’s that are in the borders of our massive state. 

It is our duty to dispel the disinformation and outright lies that our not so esteemed opposition, misguided political leaders and the media is spreading concerning these trans inclusive policies and the DOE/DOJ letter.

It is our duty. because your human rights are inextricably tied to the human rights of transgender Texans, to fight for a world in which our humanity is respected and protected just as yours is.

This anti-trans intolerance will not be tolerated by the Texas trans community, parents of trans kids, and our allies.  Their attempts to justify human rights oppression aimed at the Texas transgender community it will be resisted with every fiber of our beings. 

So yep, I’ll be making as many trips from Houston to our state capital in Austin as necessary and my schedule permits when that 2017 legislative session kicks off down I-35 south in January.  I hope others across the Lone Star State join us when we make those trips to the state capital to kill whatever oppressive anti- trans legislation they attempt to pass.

Our legislators must get the message that we are Texans whose human rights matter, not a wedge issue or punching bags for you to score political points with your base for.   Neither we allow your misguided hatred of trans people to mess with our state’s economy.   If you don’t wish to receive or you willfully ignore that message, we’ll send another via the ballot box on Election Day to remove you from elective office. 

TTNS is one of the trans led organizations in this state positioned at this crucial time in our history to do the education and policy work that will lead to affirmative education policies that benefit all Texas students.

Those of you in this Texas A&M Central Texas campus space attending this TTNS event will spend today and tomorrow acquiring the information and tactics necessary that allows you to help promote and enact good policies, and kill the bad ones when you return home to your various corners of the Lone Star State.

It’s a war we didn’t ask for, but it’s one that we must fight and win for all those trans kids across the state of Texas.   They are counting on us, their trans elders and allies to ensure that all they have to do is go to school, get excellent grades, dream big dreams about what they wish to accomplish in their adult lives, and get the quality education they need to make those dreams become a reality.

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