By Eli Winter
The LGBT community has won many hard-fought victories this year, both locally and nationally.
The year began in mourning, when transgender teen Leelah Alcorn committed suicide after undergoing conversion therapy in December 2014. But Alcorn’s suicide occurred as more and more federal judges consistently ruled in favor of gay and lesbian couples’ right to marry.
June, in particular, was a banner month for LGBT rights. A New Jersey judge ruled that conversion therapy constituted consumer fraud. Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender on the cover of Vogue, thrusting transgender awareness into the national consciousness like never before. And, of course, June culminated in the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. The high court’s justices fittingly made the ruling during LGBT Pride Month, and Americans marched in Pride parades across the country in celebration.
Meanwhile, in Houston, the Montrose Center began coordinating a group of more than 60 organizations participating in the “NEST” collaborative to end local LGBTQ youth homelessness within five years. And after an unfavorable ruling by the Texas Supreme Court, the fate of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) will be determined by Houston voters in the November election.
Regardless, more work remains to be done to improve quality-of-life and civil-rights guarantees for all LGBT Americans. Two enterprising initiatives are part of the local efforts to do just that for Houston’s LGBTQ community.
Kerrigan Quenemoen, a senior at Carnegie Vanguard High School in the Fourth Ward, has started a campaign called “I Reserve the Right” to raise awareness of and spark a positive reaction to Texas state representative Donna Campbell’s antigay “religious freedom” bill, set to be voted on in November.
Quenemoen says she was motivated to begin the campaign, which uses artwork to garner a community response to Campbell’s bill, after last November’s “I Stand Sunday” rally, where local and national Christian leaders—Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and Second Baptist Church’s Dr. Ed Young among them—spoke out against Mayor Annise Parker’s subpoena of local pastors’ sermons that opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Since the ordinance was upheld shortly after the rally, Quenemoen decided to focus her efforts on drawing attention to Representative Campbell’s bill, as it could still “very possibly take away the rights of some of my friends and others in my immediate community.”
Quenemoen also says she was motivated to create “I Reserve the Right” because the mainstream media was only focusing on the gay marriage issue, while failing to call attention to the many other ways that LGBT Americans (and especially transgender Americans) experienced discrimination. “Too many times, ‘right to discriminate’ laws have been passed without much public attention. Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia all have this [kind of] law. So my one goal in this campaign is to bring attention to this issue so more people can take a stand against it.”
The campaign’s artistic focus is based on her prior research regarding “how [and] why art is so effective in making a difference when it comes to social equality. The human eye is so accustomed to seeing words everywhere that [when art is used instead of words], we can’t help but pay attention to it. So by using art instead of, say, a brochure or posts on a Facebook page, I hope to catch the eye of a wider audience” who might not necessarily support the LGBTQ community.
Quenemoen also hopes to expand the campaign to include more LGBT issues in the future. In the meantime, there are many ways to help Quenemoen and “I Reserve the Right.” Besides spreading the word about the campaign, you can also submit art to it. “At the moment, I am trying to compile a portfolio of art submitted by the public. These works of art can be virtually anything—visual art, songs, poems, stories, videos of live performances, etc.—and they can tell a personal story about LGBT discrimination or just express an opinion on the subject. I hope to take these submissions and use them to spread the message about my campaign by posting them on social media (with the artist’s permission, of course) and possibly holding a public [event so that] people can come to a gallery and observe the artwork.” You can email your art to [email protected] or [email protected].
T-shirts are also available for sale, along with more information about the campaign, at ireservetheright.com.
Gender Infinity Conference Grows To Help Gender Non-Conforming Youth
Gender Infinity is another organization making waves across the city’s LGBT community. Co-founders Becca and Colt Keo-Meier and Bob McLaughlin are doing their part to help Houston’s transgender community, in particular. The organization works to make transgender Americans more accepted in society by providing educational and support services to empower transgender youths and their families.
Gender Infinity provides training for organizations looking to be more inclusive of its transgender members, maintains the most comprehensive list of transgender or gender-nonconforming support groups in Greater Houston, and offers families of transgender youth various mental-health resources. But the group’s main focus is its eponymous conference, which helps to bridge the gap among healthcare providers, the local transgender community, and supporters. This year’s conference is on October 23 and 24, focusing on provider and advocacy training for those working with families and youth.
The first day of the conference centers around education for activists, providers, educators, lawyers, and allies who want to better understand transgender and gender-nonconforming youth. Colt Keo-Meier says that anyone who wants to learn more about the transgender community is encouraged to attend on Friday. “You just need to be someone who is interested in building on their advocacy skills for transgender people, someone who wants to be a better ally for the community—[especially] lawyers, doctors or healthcare providers, teachers, etc.”
The second day focuses on helping families understand how to best care for a transgender or gender-nonconforming children between ages 4 and 25. The conference is often the first time families with transgender or gender-nonconforming children have a safe space to talk about transgender issues, and Keo-Meier says all participants benefit from attending. “A lot of these families are very nervous, feel scared and isolated, and we provide an environment at the conference [that’s] very understanding and welcoming. We always receive very positive feedback from our attendees—from even the most skeptical partners.”
Keo-Meier points out an often-overlooked impact that Gender Infinity has: “This work is also very beneficial to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer folks, because many of them—not all, but many—are gender-nonconforming when they’re younger. We forget that the majority of gender-nonconforming youth will not grow up to be transgender, but [instead] will grow up to be cisgender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer.” This principle of acceptance can be seen in many facets of the conference, right down to its name: “The name “Gender Infinity” indicates that we understand gender to be infinitely more complex from the gender binary, so kids with any gender identity and expression are invited—especially the ones who are expressing gender in a way that is not expected.”
The keynote speaker of this year’s conference, a nine-year-old transgender boy named Alex, famous for his rap song about coming out as transgender to his mother, will serve to show attendees the importance of the conference’s focus. Other speakers include internationally recognized expert Dr. Jo Olsen, along with other healthcare providers and transgender advocates. Services will be provided in both English and Spanish.
Keo-Meier says that because of Gender Infinity’s close proximity to Mexico, and its being “the only resource of its type in the south-central United States,” the organization is anticipating major growth in attendance this year and next. The best way to help Gender Infinity is to donate to it. “Very few sources of funding are available for work as specific [as ours], and a lot of times the children get forgotten in the work [happening] with gender these days; we have people more focused on adult care.” —Eli Winter
What: 2015 Gender Infinity Conference
When and where: Friday, October 23, and Saturday, October 24. The Provider and Advocacy Training Day will take place on Friday at the Council on Recovery, 303 Jackson Hill Street. The Youth and Family Day will take place on Saturday at DePelchin Children’s Center, 4950 Memorial Drive.
Eli Winter is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.