Richmond organization addresses, provides advice after leaked transgender memo

Bryauna Kralik
Contributing Writer

Side by Side, a local organization dedicated to uplifting LGBTQIA youth, is offering services to those who need it in light of the Trump administration’s plan to ostensibly erase transgender identification.

“What we’ll be doing at Side by Side is coordinating with our many community partners to provide a space for education,” said Ted Lewis, executive director of Side by Side. “To really learn what the potential implications of the administration’s shift in defining sex and gender are.”

The organization held a “Trans/Non-Binary RVA Community Forum,” Oct. 28 at Diversity Richmond. The event — which Lewis moderated — allowed members of the LGBTQIA community to express their feelings about the recently leaked memo that explained the administration’s plans and receive advice and support from panel members.

“Every day I wonder what challenges the transgender community will face because it feels as though there is something new everyday making it harder,” said Caleb Lopez, a transgender VCU student. “We have been declaring our existence for years and we will not let this administration erase that.”

The leaked memo exposed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ plans to explore changing the legal definition of an individual’s gender to be based on genitalia at birth. Current Title IX laws protect individuals from sex-based discrimination in federally-funded education programs.

If the plans were to become law, people identifying as anything other than male or female would be affected. Panelist and attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center Kim Rolla addressed questions about whether the federal government possesses the power to define gender, since state law controls the information on birth certificates and driver’s licenses.

“One of the ironic things about the rhetoric coming from this administration is that they want to supposedly return these decisions to the rightful place of the state,” Rolla said. “But it is state law when you can amend what is on your birth certificate to reflect your gender identity.”

As a measure to further protect their rights, Rolla urged attendees to update their legal documents promptly.

“I absolutely recommend people changing their name and gender marker on passports and other federal documents because the rules are the same as they were under Obama,” Rolla said.

Other panelists at Sunday’s forum included Associate Director for LGBTQIA Campus Life at the University of Richmond Lee Dyer, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia Claire Gastañaga and Program Coordinator at Equality Virginia Trace Hernandez.

Jenkins acknowledged further inequalities the transgender and non-binary community could face — including future travel, employment and educational opportunities — if the changes were implemented.

“One of the issues that we haven’t dealt with yet is that these rules do not affect all of us equally,” Jenkins said. “When we’re looking at the people who are most going to be affected by
these kinds of changes, it’s going to be the black and brown people who are living in our communities.”

Side by Side has served Richmond LGBTQIA youth and young adults for 25 years through support groups, counseling services and safe zone trainings. More resources for the LGBTQIA community and its allies can be found on Side by Side’s website at sidebysideva.org.

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