By Ryan Leach
Houston played host to the Gender Infinity Conference in mid-September. Now in its sixth year, the conference welcomed over 300 attendees, volunteers, and speakers to help advance the core mission of Gender Infinity: to create gender-affirming spaces for transgender and gender-expansive people and their families, learners, advocates, providers, and educators.
Gender Infinity was conceived in 2010 by three psychologists: Colt Keo-Meier, Bob McLaughlin, and Robbie Sharp, and social work Ph.D. student Becca Keo-Meier. They recognized that unlike communities on the west and east coasts, the South Central United States had a gap in support for youth and their families who may be dealing with issues surrounding gender identity and expression. After identifying the clear need in the region, the four founders developed a program that focused on the “Three C’s” they felt were necessary to advance the mission of the organization: community support services, consultation, and conference. Since creating Gender Infinity, the group of leaders has grown to include psychologist Megan Mooney and social worker James Gonzalez who joined the executive team a few years after its inception.
The first Gender Infinity Conference had approximately 50 attendees and was held in the Psychology Department at the University of Houston. Through word of mouth and social media, that conference has multiplied to the size it is today. “The amount of growth in the short timeframe is both exciting and overwhelming,” says co-founder Becca Keo-Meier. “I’m happy to know that communities are interested in advancing transgender justice and inclusion locally. The conference has now grown to welcome transgender adults. We recognized the great value in connecting transgender and gender-expansive youth and elders. It is a healing connection to make known to both that gender-expansive work is not done in vain and will continue on for generations.”
The conference has expanded in other ways as well. Their programming efforts now include more advocacy-focused learning for people wanting to advocate with transgender and gender-expansive communities and their equal treatment. Texas will soon be entering its biannual legislative session, and it is expected that the rights of transgender Texans will be a high priority for the state’s anti-transgender leaders like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton. Both individuals have lead the charge in limiting access for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but 2017 promises to be a session rife with animus aimed at the transgender community specifically. Gender Infinity and its founders recognize the importance and necessity of having allies and community members unite to fight for the deserved equality of all Texans, regardless of their gender identity or expression.
The Gender Infinity Conference has had such an impact on the region that their work has been recognized by the community for its positive results. Its current fiscal sponsor is Legacy Community Health, and it was also able to collaborate with the University of Houston LGBT Resource Center, who hosted the growing annual conference.
However, some of the recognition has come from more infamous sources like the Westboro Baptist Church, a group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group notorious for their opposition to the LGBTQ community. “Having the Westboro Baptist Church include us on their picket list was an interesting experience,” says Keo-Meier. “I was annoyed that these people were targeting us for creating necessary gender-inclusive spaces. I was also proud that a nationally known hate group recognized the work we are doing and who, in their own way, brought attention to local efforts working to advance transgender equity and inclusion.”
Gender Infinity’s community partners, which included Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church and Graduate College of Social Work students, responded to the threats of Westboro Baptist Church by organizing a community presence and offering supportive messages to transgender persons and their families. The goal of the community presence was to limit the impact of WBC’s hateful, anti-transgender messages so that attendees could focus on receiving information and support at the conference. Many attendees were not even aware that Westboro was present, according to the feedback received by Keo-Meier.
Over the next five years, Gender Infinity plans to grow the conference in attendance, support, and sponsorship. They would also like to see the organization grow to the point that they can hire employees for administrative and operational purposes, a place Keo-Meier says they are quickly approaching. Distribution of the newly introduced Gender Infinity MAP is also a priority. The map is a tool used to help locate resources in Texas in an effort to address barriers to gender-affirming care.
If you would like to find out more about Gender Infinity or would like to contribute, sponsor, or volunteer, you can find information at their website at genderinfinity.org.