By Megan Smith
Transgender people are our neighbors and family members, our co-workers and friends, and our fellow Houstonians and Texans. But on November 3, 2015, as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was defeated at the polls, Houstonians were left looking less than neighborly.
In response to this devastating civil-rights defeat, Equality Texas and transgender Houstonians have banded together to launch a new public-education campaign to help the media and general public better understand who transgender folks are, and to raise awareness surrounding trans issues. “The general public doesn’t know a lot about transgender people,” Lou Weaver, Houston trans man and transgender programs coordinator for Equality Texas, explains. “About 80 to 90 percent of the population knows an out gay or lesbian person right now, but only about 10 percent of the population knows an out transgender person. What we have right now is the incredible opportunity to do some education, and we need to focus on elevating transgender voices.”
This campaign, appropriately named the TransVisible Project, was first conceived by Weaver and Brad Pritchett, the policy and advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas. The pair teamed up with volunteer photographers Eric Edward Schell and Alex Steffler to present a series of photographs, each depicting a different transgender Houstonian along with a unique quote that speaks to that individual’s personality. The goal is for viewers to connect with the pictured person’s words, therefore helping to normalize the trans experience. “[This project] gives transgender folks a voice and a narrative, and shows that we are people just like everyone else,” Weaver says. “For example, mine says ‘I’m an avid soccer fan, and I enjoy rooting for both the Dash and Dynamo! I am a transgender man, and Houston is my home.’ Other Houston soccer fans can connect with that.”
The project’s participants also reflect Houston’s flourishing diversity, spotlighting trans people of different races, ages, gender expressions, and gender identities. “We are here to let people know that it’s okay to love us and accept us for who we are as people, and it’s important to tell them that we are at their post office, in their grocery store, in their place of worship. We bank with them, and we do business with them,” says Reagan White, a Houston trans woman of color and TransVisible Project participant. “We are a part of society. We pay taxes, we’re homeowners, and we want to be accepted just like everyone else.”
“Most of us are pretty boring,” Weaver laughs. “We go to work, we have a dog, and we have a partner.”
The TransVisible Project’s educational work comes at a very critical time, Weaver adds, as anti-LGBT “religious freedom” laws, like the ones passed in Mississippi and North Carolina, are expected to come before the Texas legislature in 2017. Reports show such discrimination against transgender people leads to disproportionately high levels of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, inadequate medical care, incarceration, and violence. The murder rate of trans people also continues to be extremely high—Shante Thompson, a trans woman of color, was murdered in Houston’s Midtown neighborhood just last month, marking the third trans person of color murdered in Texas this year. “We do believe [this fight is coming to Texas] in 2017,” Weaver says. “We need to be proactive and educate people on who trans folks are now, and not wait. We have a lot of work to do, and this is just one way we’re going to do it.”
As for the best way to be a trans ally? “Vote!” says Weaver. “And get others to do the same. People misgendering us by using incorrect pronouns can also really be a form of assault,” he adds. “It’s not always safe for a trans person to call out transphobic language, so we really need our allies to call people out on that behavior.”
The TransVisible Project officially launched in Houston on March 31, the International Transgender Day of Visibility. The campaign plans to expand to San Antonio, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley in upcoming months.
For more information, visit facebook.com/texastransvisibleproject.