Mom and childThis October, I was honored to participate in an event that is a great model for transgender advocacy and community building: the Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit (TIES) organized by Federation member Equality Virginia. I’ve asked James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, some questions about this inspiring event to share the wealth of knowledge:

Roey Thorpe, Equality Federation: This is the second year Equality Virginia (EV) has hosted TIES. What was the inspiration for this event?
James Parrish, Equality Virginia: Transgender visibility is fundamental to EV’s strategic plan to bring lived and legal equality to all LGBT Virginians. To address what needs and barriers the transgender community faces in order to increase visibility, EV embarked on an 8 city tour in 2014. On this tour, EV partnered with local transgender resource groups to meet trans people in their community. The conference was created to help provide the resources and information based on recommendations from these community meetings.

James TIESRT: You invited me to come and do a half day training with some of your more experienced spokespeople, and they were really impressive. But the program had something for everyone, no matter their background. Can you describe some of what you packed into the day?
JP: TIES is a daylong conference with many components. The workshops, panels, and caucus spaces include a variety of sessions to provide support and resources for trans identified people, parents of trans and gender expansive youth, as well as advocates and allies. The Resource Center provides one-on-one support to participants to change their gender marker or name on a variety of identification documents and answer questions about insurance coverage through the Marketplace. The Community Partners Terrace provides a space for local transgender support and resource groups, as well as other partners, to table and share information with attendees. The closing reception provides an informal opportunity for attendees to build on relationships made during the course of the conference.

RT: I was surprised by how many people came from all over Virginia–how would you describe the crowd?
JP: More than 300 people registered for TIES 2015, including 141 who self-identified as trans, 29 as partners or spouses, and 26 as parents of trans or gender expansive youth. This represents about a 50% increase from our first TIES conference. Thirty-four people accessed the Resource Center; 23 transgender support and resource groups tabled at the conference; and, 10 trans people participated in the ½ day long spokesperson training that you led.

RT: It must be quite a challenge to pull together a gathering of people from all over Virginia, and you did it quite successfully. How?
JP: We make a concerted effort to provide programming that addresses the needs identified by the community and provide daylong tracks for parents, those just starting their transition, and folks ready to be advocates for change. This approach requires quite a bit of work on the front end to identify and secure qualified presenters to facilitate specific workshops, panels, and caucus spaces.

Sara SimoneRT: I was so moved by the personal stories I heard, and the eagerness of people to connect with each other and to learn. What has inspired you most about TIES?
JP: Our theme this year was “what TIES us together” and watching members of our community come together, make connections, and grow personally is powerful. At the closing, one attendee spoke of how last year’s conference saved her life – now she has started a support group in her rural community, found love, and participated in our spokesperson training. Her story alone makes every effort Equality Virginia undertook to produce TIES worthwhile.

RT: We’re living in a time when transgender people are under attack on every level, and transgender visibility is one of the keys to success in our movement. What do you think the movement in Virginia has gained from TIES?
JP: A stronger and more connected trans community prepared to advocate for full equality in their communities and at our General Assembly.

The work of the LGBTQ movement is far from over. But with groups like Equality Virginia and many others who are committed to achieving full, lived equality for all, the future looks bright.

Photos from the second annual Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit.

Posted by Equality Virginia on Sunday, October 18, 2015

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