Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 UT-Austin Lavender Graduation Speech

This is the text of the speech I'm delivering at UT-Austin's Lavender Graduation.

Good afternoon to the UT-Austin faculty, alumni, students, guests, friends and the UT-Austin Class of 2015.

If UT alum Matthew McConnaughey can speak to the graduating class at my alma mater UH as he did last Friday, I guess y'all can indulge having this Cougar speak to you today.

I am honored to be here as your keynote speaker for this 8th annual Lavender Graduation that is co--hosted by the Gender and Sexuality Center and the UT Queer Students Alliance (QSA).    The Gender and Sexuality Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary of service to UT campus community, and I salute the wonderful work that they do in providing opportunities for all members of the UT Austin community to explore, organize, and promote learning around issues of gender and sexuality.

The center also facilitates a greater responsiveness to the needs of women and the LGBTQ communities through education, outreach, and advocacy, and I thank Liz Elsen for the opportunity to address you today.

I also thank Melinda Bogdanovich for being here with me today and opening her home to me while I am here in the ATX.  I spent a long enjoyable night catching up with her, and so looking forward to the next time I get to spend some quality time with her and he family.

It's also an anniversary for myself in that 35 years ago today I was in the Astroarena back in Houston graduating from high school and preparing to take that next step and get my college education.   But I was also dealing with wrestling with a word that I'd heard just five years earlier that perfectly encapsulated what I was struggling with.


In Houston until 1980 we had an anti-crossdressing ordinance on the books that criminalized people wearing opposite gender clothing, and it was used at times by HPD to harass the Houston LGBT community.   A trans woman by the name of Toni Mayes was being messed with by HPD to the point that every time she used a female restroom consistent with her gender presentation, she was arrested,   She got tired of it, sued, and won her case.

Then Renee Richards transition and her legal case in which she sued for the right to play in the US Open as a woman blew up in the news less than a year later.   A soon to be high school age TransGriot was contemplating the fact that what seemed to be impossible was a very doable thing in terms of being her true self.

It took me almost two decades and a few twists and turns to get to that point when I summoned the courage to take that next step, but here I am, a proud, internationally recognized unapologetic Black trans woman.

But enough about me.   This Lavender Graduation is  about you, the Class of 2015. about to step out into the world as your true selves armed with not only the knowledge you gained as you walked across the UT-Austin campus, but the life skills and acquired knowledge you gained just by living your out and proud lives.

And as one of your trans elders, time for Moni to arm you with more of your history before you leave this campus with those hard won diplomas.

As we are quite aware of, it has become fashionable in liberal-progressive circles to beat up on Texas because of our conservative leaning government that believes in oppressing people rather than investing in people.

I know you're tired of it and so am I of being told by people on the coasts for us to leave our beloved state and come to the so called liberal oases that in some ways  may seem to be better, but have their own problems and issues.

But hear me now East and West Coasts.  You got the opportunity of passing your LGBT friendly legislation in an era that was less politically partisan.  We here in Texas and the rest of what you derisively call 'flyover country' have to fight tooth and nail for whatever progress we get.   

And yeah  we  heard the sneers that we wouldn't be able to stop those 18 anti-LGBT bills, but  we did. it because we're Texans and it's in our DNA to do what's considered the impossible.

Now we'll have to be vigilant until June 1 to ensure those bills stay dead, but tom line is we did what the rest of the country thought we couldn't do.

So in order for us to get the human rights in our red state that you enjoy in your blue states, we have to stand and fight for them.  Changing Texas for the better and making its laws and policies more TBLG accepting cannot be done from New York or San Francisco. 

But what many people also fail to realize outside of the borders of the Lone Star state is that much of the modern LGBT human rights movement has a Texas twang to it.

Ray Hill, who is a legendary activist in the Houston area, was a key player in the early national LGBT ranks that included Harvey Milk and Frank Kameny.  

And without Texans such as Phyllis Frye, Sarah De Palma, Tere Prasse, Jane Ellen Fairfax, and Dee McKellar, the modern trans rights movement would have taken a lot longer to get organized, get its messaging on point, and even do lobbying at the local, state and federal levels.

That organizing happened at the ICTLEP conferences held in Houston starting in 1992 through 1996., and were responsible for not only putting out an International Bill of Transgender Rights, but focusing our early direction of passing an inclusive ENDA, passage of the hate crimes bill and passing local trans inclusive ordinances.

Just down I-35 in San Antonio,  Linda and Cynthia Phillips were busy not only running a trans group called the Boulton and Park Society, but what would eventually become the largest trans gathering in the country until Southern Comfort overtook it in the Texas T Party.

The T was for transsexual, not teabagger.

Even two critical trans marriage law cases, the Littleton v Prange one and the ongoing Araguz v Delgado one both involve plaintiffs from the Lone Star state.

And yeah, there some award winning African-American trans blogger from Houston y'all might have heard about who helped organize a muticultural trans rights org called NTAC in 1999 and has a blog with 6 million hits as of yesterday nobody reads.

That legacy of pioneering Texas trans leaders that we proudly uphold also extends to people like Carter Brown, Lou Weaver, Katy Stewart, Dr Oliver Blumer, Lauryn Farris and Dee Dee Watters just to name a few on the trans Texan end of the LGBT leadership scale.

There are also outstanding Texas leaders who are also proud members of our community like Rep Mary Gonzales,  Rep. Celia Israel, Omar Narvaez, Rafael McDonnell and countless others all over the 268, 820 sq miles of Planet Earth we call home who are doing that they can in their own way large and small to make their communities and Texas a better place for all of us.

Yes graduates, you have a proud history, and you'll hopefully get an opportunity to put your stamp on that history.   I have no doubt that some of you sitting here today will go on to do great things and I hope I'm around to see you accomplish them.

But your biggest accomplishment will be to simply become the best human beings you can be.

The best thing you can do is live your life boldly and proudly as the wonderful people we know you are and are evolving to become.   Know that you are not alone in this quest.   In addition to family members, and family in this instance doesn't necessarily mean the people related to you by blood, but chosen family.    You also have friends, allies, your BTLG elders and other interested parties who will be invaluable to you as you continue on this path to being the best persons you can be.

In closing, I want to once again say congratulations to the UT-Austin Lavender Graduation Class of 2015.  As you step off Forty Acres and the world know that we love you, we're proud of you, and as you fulfill your lifelong dreams in whatever field you choose on behalf of our LGBT community and yourselves, I;ll be eagerly watching for it to unfold and write it down.

Congratulations graduates!

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