NCTE gets local: TransOhio Transgender and Ally Symposium

by Andrea Zekis, NCTE

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) was honored to participate in the TransOhio Transgender and Ally Symposium, where hundreds of attendees participated in a series of workshops and training about the challenges and experiences of transgender Ohioans, on the Columbus campus of The Ohio State University, April 28–30, 2017. The sold-out event is the state’s largest gathering of transgender and gender non-binary persons and their allies. Now in its ninth year, the symposium is organized by TransOhio; an all-volunteer, transgender organization.

Representing NCTE was Andrea Zekis, who led workshops, interacted with attendees from across the state and shared the Ohio results of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. While not surprised about the survey’s findings on the levels of employment, school and housing discrimination facing transgender Ohioans, attendees were pleased to have the data to inform their advocacy, education and research efforts.

“These survey results demonstrate the need for the Ohio Fairness Act.” — Melissa Alexander

Responding to the survey’s results, TransOhio Co-Chair Melissa Alexander told the crowd, “These survey results demonstrate the need for the Ohio Fairness Act.” The measure would provide non-discrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodation, but failed to pass in the legislature this year. After Governor Kasich told the media weeks ago that he wasn’t aware of any discrimination facing the LGBT community, Alexander and others in attendance said the USTS Ohio report is evidence the Governor should see.

Andrea joined the Gill Foundation’s Masen Davis to train attendees on proven ways to discuss the transgender experience with lawmakers and the public, to advance understanding and equality. Deeper discussions were held, heavily attended by parents and school advocates, about where things stand with protections for transgender students under Title IX, and explored the ways communities can support transgender youth. They remember Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine joined a handful of attorneys general in seeking the rescission of the Title IX guidance regarding inclusion of transgender students. Knowing the need for advocacy at the local levels, attendees welcomed the strategies from both workshops on how to handle tough topics around bathroom access and religious objections for conversations in their schools and communities.

Andrea Zekis (left), with LaVelle and Jake.

Notable interactions: Andrea met LaVelle and Jake from Toledo — the home of Jojo Striker, one of the eleven transgender women of color murdered this year — who shared stories of the community uniting to raise money for her funeral expenses.

Lia, a transgender woman from Athens, works with community members to create an LGBT center for Southeast Ohio, a largely rural and underserved section of the state.

A notable participant at the symposium was a new effort called Camp Lilac. Led by the family of a transgender youth, the organization seeks to create a summer camp for transgender and gender non-binary children in Eastern Ohio. There were also plenty of parents and youth at the Symposium, getting a chance to participate in special youth programming and an evening pizza party. Andrea overheard one of them saying they were glad to have this space to be themselves.

The symposium was also an opportunity to talk about NCTE’s upcoming Lobby Day, as there was plenty of excitement and interest about visiting Washington, D.C. in June to visit the Capitol Hill offices of Senators Brown and Portman. Want to attend Lobby Day? Register here.

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