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Howard Brown experts discuss advocacy and allyship for Chicago's trans community
By Alec Karam
2024-03-14

This article shared 10141 times since Thu Mar 14, 2024
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Howard Brown Health's Trans & Gender Diverse People's Rights & Patient Care panel convened March 12 to discuss both resources for—and opportunities to provide allyship to—the city's trans and gender diverse communities.

The event hosted by the Vernita Gray Council, a philanthropy group spreading public awareness of Howard Brown Health's (Howard Brown) services, shared updates on the nonprofit's advocacy work and the services offered in support of transgender people, even as that community faces an onslaught of anti-trans legislation nationwide.

Alongside health services, Howard Brown's programming aims for building both camaraderie and a safe space for Chicago's trans community. A support group meets each Monday night for people to discuss their everyday lives with like-minded peers, as well as learn more about the services they can receive, according to Trisha Riddle, Community and Social Health Services Manager at Howard Brown.

With services that build trust, the nonprofit is able to develop relationships with trans and nonbinary people seeking care, Riddle said. One of those services is the Trans Accountability Project led by Ella Jasso, a trans and gender-nonconforming surgical health navigator. Funded by the Chicago Department of Public Health, the effort seeks to reduce health disparities for transgender Black and Latina women, as well as help with overall wellness and employment opportunities. The project also seeks to educate employers on how to create a safe environment for trans employees.

Howard Brown's services are not exclusive to Chicago residents, as people of any immigration status can access the same care, and the nonprofit utilizes translation devices to bridge language gaps.

"Nobody will be turned [away]. So, if you know someone who has immigrated here, feel free to tell them to come," Riddle said.

Alongside health services, the nonprofit's advocacy team works to help pass LGBTQ-inclusive laws and push back against bigotry. The team also sends out an email Listserv for those who want to get further involved and learn what's going on in the state and nation. Allies and community members who want to get further involved can also apply to be Vernita Gray Council members.

And community members and allies who want to ensure they're staying updated on local elections can utilize Howard Brown's get out the vote education work, which helps guide locals on making informed decisions with their ballots.

One of the biggest changes as a result of ongoing local advocacy is the inclusive bathroom bill passed in Illinois last summer.

Attorney Justin Sia, who authored the bill's original text and is a Howard Brown volunteer, joined the panel to discuss the legislation and how that's helping to create a safer state for trans and gender nonconforming people. The bill allows for buildings to label restrooms gender-inclusive, something that previously was not allowed by law, as restrooms needed to be assigned male or female. The bill went beyond that simple change, too, to help create accessibility for people with disabilities as well as an inclusive environment that goes beyond the bare minimum for transgender Chicagoans.

"If you're going to be inclusive, you need to know what the word 'inclusive' means, and you need to put your money where your mouth is," Sia emphasized. "We stood by all these requirements in the bill, because if you're implementing a gender inclusive restroom, it needs to be inclusive, period."

Sia cited a 2015 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality which found that two-thirds of gender-diverse people don't drink water during the day to avoid having to use public restrooms.

The panel encouraged allies to support trans people however they can, whether that's joining the nonprofit's AIDS Run & Walk team or attending the upcoming Trans Media Fashion show. The show, founded by Tony Long, started in 2016 and has flourished in recent years.

A young model who walked the show two years in a row caught the eye of a designer who helped her walk in a New York Fashion Week show, making her the first transgender youth to walk in the fashion week's history, Long shared. Just by attending, cisgender allies are helping to break stigmas and support the trans community, Long added.

"Our goal is to make sure that we bring visibility as much as we can," Long said. "I've seen trans and non-binary people cry when they walked off that runway because they never thought that they would ever see themselves in this light. The beauty is that the light is yours if you have the power to hold it, and it will continue to be yours."


This article shared 10141 times since Thu Mar 14, 2024
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