(Editor’s note: This story is the seventh part of a multi-part series “Identity Crisis,” examining the transition from one gender to another that began with Issue #1 and concludes in Issue #6. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview, take photographs and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.)
by: CHESANIE BRANTLEY/Editor-in-Chief
Texans in the transgender community deal with discrimination on a daily basis.
Equality Texas is an organization in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio that works toward securing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans. The organization is focusing on specific topics within the transgender community.
According to Lou Weaver, transgender outreach coordinator for Equality Texas, when he was growing up, the word “transgender” was not in his vocabulary. There was also no transgender community, so he did not have any role models. He said he learned the word “transgender” about 16 years ago, but it is still a strange concept to him.
“I moved to Houston and I met a transgender community, and I was like, ‘Wow!’ This works. This fits, and I just feel amazing,” Weaver recalled in a recent interview with the Plainsman Press.
Weaver said he came out socially as a transgender person about eight and a half years ago. He started using male pronouns and changing a few things.
“I’ve always looked rather male,” explained Weaver, “and I’ve been using the name Lou since I was 17 years old. So, it wasn’t that, but definitely using male pronouns and being identified as a man.”
According to Weaver, he began to physically transition about seven years ago. He said he is a middle–aged man, but he is also going through puberty.
“It’s been fun and exciting,” said Weaver.
Weaver says he began working for Equality Texas last year when he was approached to be the voice for the transgender community. He said he was asked if he would be willing to start working, as a contract employee, toward taking the conversations he was having and expanding them outside of Houston, across the state of Texas. He also works on transgender topics at the municipal level.
“We have not had a statewide person focused on trans issues in this type of way,” said
Weaver. “It’s important to have a trans voice speaking out for the transgender community.” Weaver said he has his own consulting firm, so he is able to talk about transgender topics and explain who transgender people are, along with some of the issues they face on a daily basis. He said that is what he enjoys doing.
Equality Texas is involved in local nondiscrimination ordinances within certain municipalities, as well as with updating ordinances so that the protection at the municipal level includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
Equality Texas already has partnerships with other organizations such as the Texas Freedom Network, Human Rights Campaign, Out and Equal, among others. Equality Texas works in collaboration with other organizations to help ensure equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans by using community organizing and education.
“Some of the issues are children being able to correctly identify themselves when they’re in school,” said Weaver. “For the adult population, (the topics are) being able to find ways to make name and gender marker corrections for them as well.”
According to Weaver, people in the transgender community face discrimination on a daily basis. He said discrimination could come from different angles. It could be around anything from health care to a job.
“We (as a society) need to be open minded,” Weaver explained, “and transgender people need to feel safe coming out. We need to talk about transgender people in positive and effective ways, rather than dehumanizing them and attaching more of a stigma to them.”
As a society, we need to start elevating transgender voices, and let them tell their stories, according to Weaver. He said it is easy to misunderstand someone when he or she is not knownas a neighbor or a co-worker. He said the more people get to know the transgender community, it changes the way society sees a transgender person.
“When we get to see gay and lesbian characters on TV all the time, now a lot more people grew up on “Will and Grace” or “Glee,” and almost every show I watch as an out gay or lesbian person, it’s easier to see people who are not the same,” said Weaver.
Equality Texas is working with attorneys to help draft policies and bring together coalitions to help bring more equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Weaver also said that the organization is going into communities, having open conversations and giving people access to resources that he or she otherwise would not have. The resources the organization provides include things from media training to simply giving a person support.
Support and having people feel safe coming out and identifying with a specific gender is very important, Weaver says.
“For the most part, I was one of the lucky ones,” recalled Weaver. “My mom is still in my life. My friends are still in my life. I found a great trans community, and I got to come out and be a part of the group. I was very fortunate to have so much support.”
According to Weaver, society has already been on a trajectory toward becoming more accepting of the transgender community. He said it is important for people of the transgender community to feel comfortable having conversations, and getting their stories out.