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‘We’ve Only Taken A Tiny Step Back’

Transgender Unity Banquet to celebrate 25 years of progress.

By Josh Inocéncio

In 1992, representatives from Houston’s sparring transgender groups met for dinner to discuss how to make peace with one another. That informal gathering gradually transformed into the annual Transgender Unity Banquet, which raises scholarship money for LGBTQ people and will celebrate its 25th anniversary on November 4 at the Houston Marriott North. (Originally scheduled for September 16, the banquet was postponed due to Tropical Storm Harvey.)

“The organization was formed because several transgender groups in Houston and Galveston had disagreed with each other and were not really getting along,” says Alexis Melvin, chair of the Unity Committee, which puts on the banquet. “They decided to all sit down and discuss the problems that were occurring. So they had a ‘unity’ dinner at a restaurant on the Gulf Freeway and worked a lot of things out.”

Jackie Thorne, a founding Unity member who was at the 1992 dinner, recalls that there was a single trans group in the 1980s, but it was open to both transgender people and cross-dressers who were mostly heterosexual and bisexual men. Then in the early 1990s when these two factions splintered, trans groups began focusing on how to make Houston safer for the community. This culminated in the 1992 dinner. One task included finding bars where trans people could be open without harassment.

“We did our job too well,” Thorne says, noting that eventually people skipped some of the monthly events because they started feeling safer in a variety of places. “With Caitlyn Jenner, there’s not as much hostility and animosity toward the transgender community. There’s not the fear that there once was of going out in public.”

Although anti-trans violence and legislative attacks have spiked in the last few years, Melvin wants to keep the tone of this year’s banquet positive and focus on the community’s gains. She’s even optimistic that president Donald Trump’s proposed ban on trans military service members won’t last long.

“We’ve only taken a tiny step backward,” Melvin insists, referring to the anti-trans bathroom bills sweeping the nation. “Never before have we had major corporations supporting our views, never before have we had people in the Texas House and Senate supporting our views, and never before have we had people in the U.S. Congress supporting our views.”

Although speakers for this year’s banquet had not been confirmed in mid-August, Melvin says their remarks will center on the progress that has been made. Kevin Anderson, founder and CEO of The T.R.U.T.H. Project, will serve as emcee for the banquet. The T.R.U.T.H. Project creates “social art that heals” for LGBTQ communities of color and their allies.

The banquet is now a fundraiser for LGBTQ scholarships for students in Houston and across Texas. The Unity Committee is part of the Transgender Foundation of America, where Melvin serves as treasurer. Throughout the year, the committee honors trans people who were killed in acts of anti-trans violence. The committee also participates in Houston Pride activities.

Melvin encourages people to buy tickets for the banquet as soon as possible. The event has become popular in the broader LGBTQ community and typically sells out.

“Everyone’s invited and always has a good time,” Melvin says.

For tickets, visit UnityBanquet.com. 

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Josh Inocéncio

Josh Inocéncio is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine, a playwright, and a freelance writer. A Houston-area native, he earned a master’s degree in theatre studies at Florida State University and produced his first play, Purple Eyes, before returning to Texas last May.
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