By Hannah Brandt
Fresno nonprofit organization and advocacy group Trans-E-Motion has been busy lately. On April 15, the community celebrated the annual Transgender Day of Visibility. When interviewed on 88.1 KFCF’s “Stir It Up” by host Pam Whalen, Jordan Fitzpatrick, secretary of Trans-E-Motion, said it was “a day to celebrate the lives of transgender people.” He also described it as “a convention or mini-Pride Day.”
The event brought people from the trans community and allies together for workshops and speakers and to share their work and creativity at event booths. Attendees could get information about health and human rights at one table and buy “Rainbow Unicorn Poop” bath crumble (a colorful bath product similar to bubble bath) at the next. This juxtaposition demonstrates the solemnity, solidarity and fun the day encapsulated.
Trans-E-Motion was founded in Fresno more than a decade ago. Fitzpatrick said, “We have community socials once a month and support group sessions throughout Fresno three times a month. The group holds trainings for schools and businesses to teach trans competency.”
In May, the group organized a Know Your Rights forum focused on empowering the trans community during this period of increased adversity. A few weeks later, at a new downtown Fresno meeting space for nonprofits called Common Space, Trans-E-Motion held an art night. With a bounty of supplies, people made joyful signs for Fresno’s upcoming Pride Parade.
Sadly, the trans community is all too familiar with tragedy. Due to the high rate of murders and suicides of trans people, the community pays tribute to lives lost on the Transgender Day of Remembrance every November.
Two years ago, on July 23, 2015, Fresno mourned the killing at Blackstone and Shields avenues of a transgender woman known to the community as KC Haggard. Trans-E-Motion Chair Zoyer Zyndel told Your Central Valley that it was difficult knowing KC had only recently started coming to support group meetings and “living her life as her authentic self.”
Zyndel wrote a cover story about the tragedy in the August 2015 edition of the Community Alliance. He wrote that before getting confirmation, some officers in the Fresno Police Department announced the victim was a man wearing a dress although members of Fresno’s trans community attested that she identified as a woman. In addition, some people disputed the possibility that her death was a premeditated hate crime despite its brutal nature.
For members of the trans community, this crime was terrifying. Individuals who identify as trans often feel marginalized and face discrimination, but violent hate crimes have an extra chilling effect. People fear for their lives.
In May 2017, another awful murder occurred in central Fresno. In this case, the police initially reported the individual as a transgender woman before corroborating that information. The few who knew him said he identified as a man and sometimes dressed in drag.
Merced-based WeCed Youth Media published an article by one of its youth reporters in April on the topic of discrimination in schools against gender-nonconforming students. “Layla Ornelas is 15-year-old art enthusiast and youth reporter. Passionate about LGBTQ and human rights, she feels strongly about making a difference in her community. She comes from an activist background, serving as a junior Brown Beret, and likes to help others.”
Lately, I have noticed more people dressing to their own comfort level, which means sometimes going outside of gender norms. But, I have also seen that most are being punished or discriminated against for how they dress.
That is the case for students in the Merced Union High School District.
One of my peers, who wishes to stay anonymous, has struggled with being forced to change clothes on school grounds because the clothes do not meet the school “dress code,” even when those clothes do not break any of the rules.
Other students at the same high school might show too much skin and break many of the clothing rules, but they don’t get written up. Students like my friend, who dress in a more gender fluid way, constantly get written up.
Many trans students can relate to that kind of discrimination. In Merced, trans students who are seen going into a preferred restroom are pushed away and sent to the facility they’re “supposed” to be in. Some are even written up or forced to go home since their clothes do not match their gender. What is worse, many students get dress coded just for wearing LGBT pride apparel.
That isn’t fair. Schools are supposed to be environments where you learn, not where you are punished for what you wear.
Unfortunately, there are many situations in schools throughout the country where students are discriminated against because of what they wear, who they love, and who they are. These students are bullied and they are humiliated, resulting in both physical and emotional scars that will haunt them for a long while.
It’s very upsetting to see schools turn away from the kind of progress made in recent years when it comes to things like LGBTQ+ rights and gender stereotypes. More and more, students are again becoming afraid, keeping their identities and their views in the shadows.
I do not want people to be afraid that their rights will be taken away from them. I want students to go to school without worrying if they will be written up or sent home simply because they refuse to conform to gender norms.
People shouldn’t be afraid of who they are and schools should never force students to be who they are not. (www.wecedyouth.org/2017/04/merced-schools-punishing-students-dont-fit-gender-norms/)
Co-chair of Trans-E-Motion, Jess Fitzpatrick, had a high note to add. “Recently Trans-E-Motion had success in helping a Sanger High student (who wishes to remain anonymous) have their correct name spoken at their upcoming graduation.” The community celebrates each and every victory.
Hannah Brandt is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @HannahBP2. Follow the paper on Facebook at Community Alliance Newspaper and on Twitter and Instagram @fresnoalliance.