Equality Virginia holds first transgender summit

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“Living in the closet is like living in chains and shackles, and when you finally come out and make your disclosure, it’s like the chains and shackles have come off and out of the dungeon and you’re in the beautiful and bright sunlight – and you finally get to be who you are.  I never understood how significant that was until I went through the transition,” said Donna Price, Hampton Roads resident and U.S. Navy veteran who recently transitioned to living fully as a woman.

Price spoke last Saturday at Equality Virginia’s first ever Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit, held at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.  She spoke on a panel with Thomas Coughlin, a trans-identified psychotherapist from Washington, D.C., where they each shared their experience about coming out as transgender.

“Conferences like this are a powerful way of reminding people that they are not alone.   I am here to share some experiences and information that will help other people through their own transitions,” Price added.

Around 200 people across the state attended Saturday’s event, representing all parts of Virginia from Abingdon, to Hampton Roads, to Fairfax.

“We are overwhelmed with the turnout for this summit,” said James Parrish, executive director with Equality Virginia. “We are so grateful for all our sponsors, presenters, and community partners for working with us to make this day possible.”

In addition to offering seminars and workshops for transgender individuals, significant others, parents of transgender youth, and advocates, Virginia TIES offered an opportunity for transgender individuals and advocates to come together in support of each other and for a more inclusive commonwealth.

“I am here because information for the transgender community is really hard to come by,” said Connie Rice, down from northern virginia for the event. “Even though in some respects, I’m done with my transition, I think it is really important to be here to support the community and to learn more about what’s going on in the movement,” said Rice, excited to make contacts, talk about medical care and health insurance, and the broader political trans-movement.

The event covered topics including: health care and insurance, coming out, parenting transgender children and teens, advocacy. There was also an onsite Summit Resource Center which gave conference participants the opportunity to meet individually with representatives from Enroll Virginia who provided guidance signing up for insurance under the new ACA guidelines.

Additionally, Whitman-Walker Health and the National Center for Transgender Equality trained and coordinated with local lawyers from the Virginia Equality Bar Association who provided name and gender marker change services.

“Many people need access to resources that are provided here, and some people who want to get more involved in activism can connect with others who want to do the same,” said Mara Keisling, founding executive director of National Center for Transgender Equality. Keisling is no stranger to trans-issues, and her efforts nationwide have contributed to victories at congressional hearings in DC, the passage of “transgender-inclusive federal legislation,” and changing guidelines for the state department when it comes to changing gender markers on passports.

“This summit is a community building tool and is a way to be there for each other and to be here with each other,” said Keisling who kicked the summit off with a warm welcome to participants and gave an overview of where the movement currently stands.

While many folks picked up some great info and made some good connections for the future of their transition, a feeling of pride was felt throughout the event – being part of the first transgender conference here in Virginia meant a lot to people.

“I grew up in the Midwest where there was never anything like this,” said  Aydan O’Connor who came up from  Ford, VA, to present and attend.

O’Connor called the day an empowering and touching experience, and thanked EV for holding the event saying he hoped it “marked the beginning of a movement for transgender individuals where we will no longer be scrambling for information about ourselves, and where we, as a community, will be better able to stand up for our rights.”


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