Black History Month: Panel discusses black transgender community

Category:  News
Friday, February 12th, 2021 at 2:47 PM

Being part of a community not only means support, but love, life and a sense of belonging in a world that can seem rather cruel. This was the main focus of the Zoom panel, “How the Black Transgender Community Became a Catalyst for Social Justice,” held on Feb. 4 through Edinboro University. The featured speakers were Dena Stanley (TransYOUniting, Pittsburgh), Dr. Will Koehler (chairperson of Edinboro’s social work department, A Trauma Informed Life), Dalen Hooks (Central Outreach Advocacy, Erie), and Dr. Kevon Bruce and Dr. Adrienne Dixon, co-chairs of the Frederick Douglass Initiative at Edinboro and members of EU’s Department of Counseling, School Psychology and Special Education. The event was part of Edinboro’s Black History Month celebration.

The panel description stated that “African Americans continue to experience bias, discrimination, and prejudice at all levels of society” and “LGBTQ African Americans often live at the intersection of racism.” Further, it read: “In 2020, there was an unprecedented number of trans murders. or gender non-conforming lives - the majority of which were Black transgender women. This presentation will explore the intersection of gender and race for black Trans and the implications for the social justice movement.”

The group began with a discussion on trauma and transgender activism.

“Activism is very important because it’s getting a message out there ... We’re being heard. We’re being seen,” said Stanley. She believes advocates are dealing with individuals who are “scared” or “not really understanding” gender changes. Her organization, TransYOUniting, is a transgender non-profit organization that focuses on educating allies and transgender people.

The group tackled the idea of how gender, as Stanley stated, is expansive and ever-growing. Hooks added that “a lot of people fear what they don’t understand and there’s a lot of miseducation out there.” He also stated that activism isn’t just fighting, it’s educating those who don’t understand and turning fear into acceptance, or just a balance.

Hooks went into how activism builds support within the community and among allies, which is a vital element for transgender and non-binary people. He explained that it’s about building this “second family” that becomes a second-line support.

“A lot of folks feel unsupported and that also adds to their trauma,” said Hooks. He works at Central Outreach in Erie, which specializes in helping people overcome trauma.

Koehler talked about his work experiences, saying that as an ally, “I am always looking for ways to empower folks.” One of those ways is through individuals “telling their own narrative from an empowered perspective after they’ve had opportunity to heal and reconnect with a community that they felt like they were perhaps ostracized from.” Empowerment is a big part of what Koehler does, both for individual healing, but “also to connect you, empower you to find your own voice and to share that story of growth and survival, and then reconnect with a family, a family of choice.”

Beyond working at Edinboro, Koehler is also “a respected clinician in our community who specializes ... with the LGBTQ community,” said Dixon. Koehler’s research focuses on LGBTQ violence and bullying on campuses and in communities. His practice is called Journey To A Trauma Informed Life and it’s located in Erie.

Bruce talked about being in a school setting. He gave gender-neutral bathrooms as an example. People often tell transgender kids that they can’t use the women’s restroom or the men’s restroom, but there is nothing in between. To keep the student in this example safe, Bruce said the counseling department fought for the student to use a staff bathroom.

Stanley then brought up the point that there needs to be “bills put in place to protect trans folks and LGBT folks.” Specifically, she mentioned a non-discrimination bill — “a federal level bill” — so that the bathroom situation wouldn’t happen again.

“There is a constant battle with gender fluency right now, because folks don’t want to really educate themselves a lot of times, or they’re scared to educate themselves,” said Stanley. She said this battle leads to trauma and violence. Hooks added that he believes many schools don’t have policies around gender, around pronouns, or around discrimination.

There are 27 states with no non-discrimination laws, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. In those five states, there are also anti-LGBT curriculum laws (No Promo Homo laws), which ban teaching of LBTQIA+ sex and health education, along with banning support groups within schools. Some states even portray LGBTQIA+ people in a negative light in teaching.

“We have young people coming up in queer bodies and not feeling comfortable and maybe being singled out because the curriculum and the teacher teaching the health class singles them out,” Koehler explained.

Koehler mentioned the idea of teaching kids that bodies can be different from a younger age (kindergarten) may help both the transgender kid and the misgendered kid. Koehler brought up dysphoria as this feeling of not fitting in with your body and with everyone else.

The panel also discussed non-discrimination in the U.S. military. Stanley added that previously, transgender people were stripped of their titles and not allowed to enlist. U.S. President Joe Biden recently repealed that ban with an executive order. “It granted trans folks back all their privileges and rights in the service,” she explained.

Writer's Note

Transitioning for transgender people isn’t simply physical, as there are severe mental aspects to it. Physically, you may think of a new hairstyle, wardrobe, name, pronouns, but there are hormones and surgeries too. Mentally, there’s the preparation to come out, the backlash of coming out, the fear of coming out, the social transition, the deadnaming, and the list may go on and on. It is not an easy road, so make it a little easier by supporting and educating. Make it one less thing that a trans person has to carry.

Pronouns are important. Pronouns are the start of a conversation. It’s better to ask than to be incorrect. If incorrect pronouns are used, quickly apologize and move on. Trying is better than nothing. Transgender and LGBTQIA+ people would be happy if you put forth an effort to make them included and safe. Hooks stated, “People try to shy away from these conversations because they’re uncomfortable to have.” These are the conversations that need to be held.

There are many resources if you need to seek help, whether feeling lonely, experiencing a dangerous home life, or undergoing things like hormone therapy and HIV treatment. There is always a place.

Alexander Beatty is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at

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