Houston’s largest annual transgender community event celebrates 22 years.
by Megan Smith
Photo by Dalton DeHart
The Houston Transgender Unity Banquet—the city’s largest annual transgender community event—celebrates its 22nd year on September 20 at the Sheraton Houston Brookhollow Hotel. Traditionally held in April, this is the first year the banquet is being held in the fall.
The event is hosted by the Houston Transgender Unity Committee, which acts as a bridge between the city’s multiple transgender groups. Through the committee, representatives from all factions of the trans community—transwomen, transmen, intersex individuals, cross-dressers, and more—come together and plan the community’s major events, such as Pride and the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
This year, the committee is honored to have clinician, educator, organizer, advocate, and filmmaker Joe Ippolito as the banquet’s keynote speaker. While Ippolito earns his living as a clinician working in the behavioral health field, he has also been on the forefront of the transgender rights movement, and co-created the transgender film festival, “Gender Reel.” The festival has taken off since its launch in Philadelphia in 2011, simultaneously taking place in six different cities, with Houston on its horizon for 2015. “I can’t tell you what an honor it was to be asked to speak at the banquet,” Ippolito says. “I am honored to speak, learn more about the work the Houston Transgender Unity Committee is doing, as well as share information about Gender Reel with others.”
In addition to his work with Gender Reel, Ippolito has also created his first film, Growing Old Gracefully: The Transgender Experience, which addresses aging within the transgender community. “That’s a topic that people don’t really think about,” says Koomah, a Houston Transgender
Unity Committee board member. “Joe Ippolito recently turned 40. With that, he kind of had this crisis of ‘I’m getting older. What does this look like for a transgender individual?’ He started thinking about different aspects of that—everything from how do synthetic hormones affect me later on in life, to if I’m going to be in a nursing home, are they going to respect my preferred name and pronouns? So the film really touches on some of those things.” Ippolito’s film is to be screened prior to the banquet on September 13 at 4:30 p.m. in Room 106 at The Montrose Center.
A major part of the proceeds from the Transgender Unity Banquet help fund the committee’s scholarships for well-deserving recipients who have advocated for the transgender community and displayed honorable qualities such as integrity and honesty. Each scholarship is awarded for at least $1,000. “Our main focus is on awarding scholarships to transgender individuals of any age seeking higher education,” Koomah says. “But we do award to non-transgender individuals who have stood up for the trans community as well.”
The Houston Transgender Unity Committee is also hoping to use funds from the banquet to secure a physical space for local trans groups to use as a community center, Koomah says. The center would offer free HIV testing, serve as a drop-in space, and offer food and other necessities to help serve the trans population, which has one of the highest rates of homelessness and new HIV infections.
“The banquet is representational of what activism in this community is all about—honoring and acknowledging allies and advocates in Houston working to create social change for the gender nonconforming/trans community,” Ippolito says. “The gender nonconforming/trans community cannot stand alone in this fight. We need others to help it along, and those folks need to be recognized as well.”
What: Houston Transgender Unity Banquet
When: September 20 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Sheraton Houston Brookhollow Hotel, 3000 North Loop West Freeway
Tickets/info: $65–$85, unitybanquet.com (tickets will also be available during the film screening at The Montrose Center on September 13).