The following remarks were delivered on November 20, 2014 at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors:
CALIFORNIA, USA – We honor those individuals who lost their lives to anti-transgender violence and discrimination, many transgender and gender non-conforming individuals like me reflect on our own lives and the experiences we’ve faced as we try to live our lives authentically.
I am saddened to say that this remains a daily challenge.
Last week, for example, I contacted a local fitness facility here in San Mateo about using an alternative to the usual male/female shower rooms because I was very concerned about the negative reactions I was getting from the other patrons/members. I know I shouldn’t be surprised but the staff’s first response was to ask “what gender is listed on your driver’s license… because that’s what we go by.” I paused for a moment and said “Well, I’m in the process of changing that – and began to tell her details of my personal life to justify my request…” I am going to spare you the details of that conversation but I want to reiterate to you that – that discussion was not easy, but necessary. I felt strongly about advocating for myself and educating her. But not everyone can do that.
My situation is not uncommon. Many transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, including youth, experience this every day of their lives. Having to explain that their documents don’t match; that who they are is much more than what’s listed on their driver’s license or student ID.
There are real disparities for transgender and gender non-confirming individuals: higher rates of suicide, alarming rates of being bullied and teased, higher rates of victimization and of experiencing housing discrimination, poorer health status, higher rates of homelessness, etc. But add another layer of invalidation and having to justify who you are on top of these serious issues… sometimes it’s too much to handle even for a level-headed productive citizen like me.
I am grateful that the Board of Supervisors (BOS) has supported the formation of the LGBTQ Commission here in this County. To me and many LGBT individuals living here in San Mateo, this effort instilled a sense of hope for all of us. Slowly, SMC is getting it – that there are LGBTQ folks here and we are part of this community! But we all know one Commission with 11 people cannot do it all. It takes all of us together: the BOS, community leaders, constituents, county departments, etc to work together.
Many people know I do a lot of self-reflection, but not many people know I am also a dreamer.
I dream of the day when San Mateo will become a more inclusive and gay-friendly County – reflected through its LGBT supportive practices, programs and policies. I dream of having more services that focus on supporting LGBT people, including youth and older adults. I dream of seeing more transgender and gender non-conforming role models in different areas in the County – in elected office, as heads of County departments, in schools and colleges. I dream of seeing more people like me – and my LGBT colleagues – out and proud in public service, community organizations, research, law enforcement – in the area or field of their choice.
Most importantly, I dream of having more allies – who will stand and speak with me about these issues and help push for the change that needs to happen to help our County become more welcoming to any and every kind of person no matter who they are…
Because at the end of the day, this is our County and we are all in this together. – Rappler.com
Dr Jei Africa is a founding member of the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission, the first such organization in California. A licensed clinical psychologist, he directs the Office of Diversity and Equity within the Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Division of the San Mateo County Health System He is also clinical director of ALLICE Kumares & Kumpares. He was born and raised in Manila and attended the University of the Philippines before immigrating to California.
This article was republished with permission from Philippine News.
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