Mentoring/role modeling main theme at this year’s San Diego Transgender Empowerment eventOnline Only, Section 4A, Top Highlights Tuesday, April 18th, 2017
San Diego’s 14th annual Transgender Day of Empowerment ceremony was held Friday April 14 at Hillcrest’s LGBT Center. An estimated 200 + audience heard local professionals, community organizers, and youth leaders bring home again and again the message “We are here to help make it easier for you”.
Scholarships were awarded to give transyouth the tools to find fulfilling careers. Safe spaces and social activities are being organized across the county to give transkids and transteens affirmation. And perhaps most importantly, transmen and transwomen are sharing their stories of struggle and triumphs, to show others just beginning their journey that yes, their dreams can also come true.
SD Police Officer Christine Garcia was present to receive a special recognition award. She was accompanied by Cadet Lily Rubenstein. Lily had contemplated a career in law enforcement, but as a young transwoman was concerned if she could be accepted in the field. When Lily saw Christine’s example as an out and proud transwoman, she joined the cadet program, open to youth ages 16 to 21. Cadets wear a uniform, go through training, and do ride-alongs with officers.
The event was, however, marred by the entrance of a group of radical anti-police protesters. One shouted “We don’t want a pig in here”, and some carried signs saying “Empower Youth Not Oppressors” and “Revolution not Reform”. Officer Garcia responded to the group’s taunts by simply saying “I wear a badge every single day and I put my life on the line to allow them to say what they want about me. So allow them their right to free speech … as long as it’s peaceful”. The protesters found, perhaps to their surprise, that the audience directed a great number of boos at them and gave a standing ovation to Officer Garcia.
Daniella Nicole McDonald spoke of her past experiences as a student of theatre and biology. Daniella had contemplated a career in Medicine, but was concerned if a transwoman could succeed in the demanding medical profession. When Daniella saw renowned surgeon Dr. Marci Bowers on television, she found the confidence to go to medical school. Recently, Daniella organized a week-long seminar on transgender health issues for doctors, medical students, and other professionals. As it happened, her hero Dr. Bowers was able to come to San Diego to give a presentation.
The North County LGBT Resource Center was honored with a recognition award for their important work with transyouth. Project Youth Director Maria Mcgee Al-Shamma and Intern Amber Martinez were on hand to receive it. With a shout of “North is in the room!” Maria served notice that the Resource Center is an active player in San Diego’s trans-community. Project Youth’s ongoing work includes organizing youth support groups and social events. These programs give young people the validation to get through those early difficult years of self-understanding. They provide a safe space for crucial peer-to-peer relationships. And they give LGBT youth the courage to stand up to bullying or non-acceptance from others.
Several other individuals were honored for their work as activists. Melissa Kelley was the recipient of the Building Bridges award for her work with the disabled community. She has been an accessibility team leader for SD Pride as well as community educator on disability issues. She has shown disabled transyouth they can find appreciation and inclusion in the community. Adriana Ibanez and Zee Julius received this year’s Satin Styles Youth Award, given to those under age 20 who have served as role models through LGBT community work.
Special Guests included California State Senator Toni Atkins, California State Assembly member Todd Gloria, and San Diego Council members Chris Ward (District 3) and Georgette Gomez (District 9). Senator Atkins spoke about her work with two important pieces of pending legislation. SB 310 is the Name and Dignity Act, to ensure that transgender people will be legally recognized for who they are while incarcerated. SB 179 is the Gender Recognition Act of 2017 to enable transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to obtain state-issued identity documents that accurately reflect their gender identity. Assembly member Gloria spoke of his work to change current laws which criminalize HiV transmission. He reminded the audience that there are legislators who support the trans-community: “Whether we’re here in San Diego or 500 miles away in Sacramento, we’ve got your back”.
The Imperial Court was represented as well, by Empress Angel Fairfax, Emperor Jay Heimbach, Princess Royale Cheryl Lynn and Prince Royal Paul Rhodes. The Court has been doing fundraising and charitable work for over 50 years now, and Paul Rhodes was the recipient of the Community Service Award.
Twelve academic scholarships were awarded to the following individuals: Nadia Biglari (Chemistry/Forensic Studies), Zoe Blinn (Special Education), Charles Brown (Political Science/History), Sheila Devadasi (Chinese Medicine), Riley J Gibson (Communications), Oliver Marine Grandlund (Law), Adriana Ibanez (Law), Olivia Pamplin Petty (Psychology), Bambi Phu (African American Studies), Annelise Ryan (Studio Art), Stacy Stuart (Psychology/Biology), and Tiana Vargas (LGBT and Chicano/a Studies).
Several support organizations, professionals and vendors were present at a resource fair in a room adjacent to the auditorium: The Neutral Corner Inc, Trans-Family, Transforming Family (San Diego Chapter), Jennifer Rickard LMFT, Darlene Tando LCSW, Auntie Claire’s Electrolysis, and Dominique L’Amour McDaniel Beauty Specialist.
In an evening that presented a continual message of mentoring and support, young transmale speaker and activist Charles Brown summed it up best: “[The transgender community] as a collective are the greatest, bravest, most inspirational group of people in the entire world…Their resiliency and courage inspires me each and every day to contribute”.
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