Thursday, February 25, 2010

acceptance speech

Speech given by Virginia Stephenson on 2-19-10 at the Albuquerque Conv. Ctr for the Pride magazine “Models of Hope” awards banquet. The awards are given to 3 recipients who are role models for the LGBT community.
There were 80 persons in attendance.

Virginia's speech:

Thank you all and thank you to Teresa and to Pride magazine for this wonderful award. It is indeed an honor also to be given an award with Don and Roberto, both of whom are tireless workers for our community. Thanks guys for all that you do.

I would like to speak for 5-10 minutes tonight on the state of the transgender community.

Just this month, the results were released on a survey of San Francisco students in Middle School and High school, and the survey found that 1.9 percent of the students in Middle school and high school are transgender. Transgender would include transsexuals, gender queer, and gender variant students, and 1.9 % is 450 students in that school district. It also showed that 13% of middle school students are gay, lesbian or bisexual, and 11% of HS students are G,L or B. These figures are significantly greater than expected.
All of us who are activists know that we have not been doing LGBT activism for ourselves, but for the generations to come, and this survey shows that there are many, many of us to come.
In addition, the survey exposed that many students experience bullying in their schools. Jordon Johnson is here from EQNM, who has an anti-bullying initiative in place and active in the state, and the survey showed that 7% of heterosexual students had skipped school because they felt unsafe, while 11% of GLB students had, but 56% of the transgender students had skipped school because they felt unsafe. These are alarming statistics.

If we extrapolate the transgender percentages to the entire nation, it would mean that presently there are 1.1 MILLION transgender students in middle and HS across the nation. Now I know what some of you think, that perhaps the percentages would be higher in San Francisco than anywhere else because of the welcoming climate to LGBT persons, but consider that that only means that young people are only more able to come out, not that they do not exist as LGBT in the same percentages in other states. The transgender community is indeed experiencing exponential growth.

At the time when the numbers of trans people are increasing, our community finds itself under attack like never before. Documents in our affirmed gender are becoming harder, not easier to obtain. Changing the gender markers on driver's licenses and SS cards are very difficult. At the same time health care insurers are forbidding insurance to transsexuals, and I am NOT talking
about them covering gender changes, I am talking about the denial of any health insurance. Employment discrimination is rampant, both in us finding employment and in keeping our jobs if we transition on the job. And there has been significant increases in violence against trans people. Penn Baker and Stephani Patton are here tonight, and they produced the transgender Day of Remembrance in Nov. of last year, and they told me that violence against trans people rose significantly from 2008 to 2009.
I was in Florida presenting at a conference at the DOR last year, and the conference had a service for the DOR. After I spoke at the service, Rev Debroah Johnson, a leader in LGBT communities of faith and greatly respected in the LGBT community rose to speak and she said these words:

“I really believe that the reason trans people are being attacked at these alarming rates, are because of the culture's reaction to the political and social gains of gays and lesbians in the last 10 years. The people that hate want to strike out and punish us, and the most visible of us are transgender people.”

I do not know the truth of that statement, but I greatly respect Rev. Johnson. I do know that trans people have stood side by side gays and lesbians in the fight for equality in NM for many years. I want you to understand that we are fighting battles relating to basic needs, rights and safety, and just as we have been good allies to our community, we need your support in achieving these basic rights.

In closing and with a personal note, let me say that my spiritual path is very, very important to me. It gives me community .....and meaning to my life. In many ways I am my spiritual path, ....and as that relates to advocacy, it gives me 2 things. 1. It enables me to endure and rise above cultural oppression, and 2. it teaches me to forgive, and to love those who hate me.
I pray for that peace on all of you tonight, and thank you again for this wonderful award.

End speech