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Trans Equality in Higher Education

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The 7th Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit kicks off on July 31.
By Lucy Doyle
Photo by Dalton DeHart

2015 marks the seventh year for the Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit (TTNS), to be held July 31 and August 1 at the University of Texas in Dallas. TTNS focuses on issues of pluralism in higher education within Texas universities. Through open discussion between grassroots-level members and school leaders in the highest ranks, the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit hopes to create new strategies for enabling real change within university systems.

But don’t let the distant location mislead you—this is a Dallas-oriented event with a Houston touch. Kicking off the event will be Houston’s own transgender activist Jenifer Rene Pool, who is no stranger to struggle and division within the LGBT community. Keynote speakers will include Dr. Stephen Sutton, PhD, assistant vice chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley (and a University of Houston alumnus), and Heather Snow, assistant vice president for student affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington.

From the very beginning, Houston has lent a helping hand to TTNS through the GLBT Community Center. These Texas communities have linked up in the past, and over the years, more and more neighboring LGBT communities have continued in the tradition. TTNS founder Josephine Tittsworth received her grassroots training as she worked alongside Houston’s transgender community and Tri Ess (The Society for the Second Self), “an international social and support group for heterosexual crossdressers, their partners, the spouses of married crossdressers, and their families.” Pool and Christopher Busby are both regular attendees at the annual summit, and the inclusive nondiscrimination language utilized at these events made its mark as the activists advocated for change at the Houston Independent School District.

As in the past, this year’s summit will consciously combine pragmatic activist strategies with a theoretical framework. With tentative workshops such as “Creating Safe Zones on College Campuses,” “Engaging the Conservative Movement in Meaningful Dialogue,” “Transition to Be Tobacco Free,” and “Transitioning While in a Higher Education Setting,” there will be no shortage of actionable dialogue. Covering a holistic view of the transgender experience in higher education and beyond, this conference should prove to be as cathartic as it is transgressive. It is difficult for Tittsworth to highlight any one workshop, because as she has seen over the years, “All of our workshops have [had] significant meaning to those in attendance.”

Though Tittsworth and her committee hope to see enough improvements in the quality of life for transgender people in Texas schools over the next few years to make the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit unnecessary, they are pleased to celebrate the successes the movement has seen recently. The memos from the United States Department of Education that indicate Title IX covers protection for transgender people are a grand achievement that creates hope for further progress. “With these announcements, we at the summit [plan to] address the specific issue of how Title IX policy is trans-inclusive, [and] how to implement this on a college campus,” says Tittsworth.

The founders of the summit are well aware that social change takes time. The Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit is an effort that was years in the making, and it continues to grow each year. TTNS is currently accepting workshop proposals and poster session proposals. Visit txtns.org for more information.

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Lucy Doyle

Lucy Doyle is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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