The Hawaii House of Representatives has approved a bill to ban conversion therapy, which attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation, on youth.

House lawmakers added amendments to the bill to clarify its intent — that banning “sexual orientation change efforts” include attempts to alter a person’s gender identity, gender expression, or gender-nonconforming behaviors.

The amendments also specifically identify which therapists, counselors, or health professionals are prohibited from engaging in conversion therapy. For example, if a person is a licensed therapist or mental health professional but is acting in a role as a spiritual or religious advisor — and not in a professional capacity — they will not be threatened with discipline or the loss of their license.

The bill now heads to conference, where House and Senate lawmakers will hammer out the differences between the bills. Once both chambers agree on a single version, and vote to approve the changes, Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill into law.

“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is nothing short of child abuse with life-threatening consequences for countless LGBTQ youth,” JoDee Winterhof, the senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “It is time Hawaii join the growing number of states who are enacting laws to protect LGBTQ youth from this dangerous and discredited practice.”

Eleven states and the District of Columbia currently have statewide laws or regulations that protect youth from being subjected to conversion therapy against their will. Maryland is expected to become the 12th state banning the practice once Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signs a ban into law there. Several municipalities in states without bans have also banned the practice of conversion therapy.

A federal judge in Texas has ruled that workers can't be discriminated against based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Judge Lee Rosenthal — the chief judge in the Houston-based Southern District Court of Texas — ruled that workers are protected from such discrimination under the federal employment law that protects workers based on their gender, The Dallas Morning News reported.

The decision came during a case in which a woman claimed she was not hired by Phillips 66, an energy company, because she was transgender.

Rosenthal ruled that the woman, Nicole Wittmer, couldn't prove that she wasn't hired because she was transgender. But she also ruled that if Wittmer could prove she was discriminated against due to her gender identity, she would have cause to sue under federal law.

Wittmer's lawyer told The Dallas Morning News that while they were disappointed the ruling did not go in their favor, the decision that a worker could sue under federal law for discrimination because of gender identity was a big deal.

"The silver lining here is it has helped to define the landscape for people who have been discriminated [against] in the workplace due to their transgender status," lawyer Alfonso Kennard Jr. said Monday. "This ruling is earth-shattering — in a good way."

The decision marked the first time a federal judge in Texas has said that LGBT workers cannot be discriminated against under Title VII, which bars sex discrimination in the workplace, according to The Dallas Morning News.

"Within the last year, several circuits have expanded Title VII protection to include discrimination based on transgender status and sexual orientation," Rosenthal wrote. "Although the Fifth Circuit has not yet addressed the issue, these very recent circuit cases are persuasive. ... The court assumes that Wittmer's status as a transgender woman places her under the protections of Title VII."

The LGBTQ center launched a new Trans 101 Safe Space Ally Training that serves as part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training lab.

Increased work with transgender people has revealed a lack of awareness or proper recognition of the validity of transgender identities.

Katie Mattise, program coordinator for the LGBTQ center, said the need came from a lack of sensitivity and knowledge of the transgender community at Kent State University.

“It’s so easy to offended someone when you simply just don’t know what to say, the problem is no one ever feels safe enough to express that they don’t know what to say,” Mattise said.

The Trans 101 training, part of the ongoing Safe Space Ally Training, consists of presentations and exercises put on by the supporters and members of the transgender community.

The training serves as a workshop for students, staff and faculty, giving them the opportunity to learn about identities related to sex and gender. They also hear experiences from members of the transgender community and have a chance to ask  questions within a safe space.

Emily Mupinga, graduate counselor education and supervision major, did the training to better understand a community she may have interaction with during her career.

“The training was wonderful and very informative,” Mupinga said. “Learning about the distinctions between and among terms such as sexuality vs.  gender, transgender vs. cisgender vs. agender vs. genderqueer, gender identity vs. gender expression was very interesting. It was also an eye-opening experience when we discussed the many stereotypes and barriers faced by transgender individuals.”

Students aren't the only ones taking advantage of the training. Members of the Kent State University Police Services have also participated.

“This information was really cultural to me. As an officer, I want to know everything about anything, and that includes gender, it helps to know things when I’m out on the field,” said Kent State University Police Services community resource officer Tricia Knoles.

Along with Trans 101 training, the LGBTQ center also has Trans*Fusion: a group for trans-identifying students and allies of the community.

The highlight of the training for most participants was the Cisgender/Non-trans privilege exercise. The exercise showed the struggles of different genders when it comes to resources and rights in everyday society.

 

“It was so eye-opening,” Mupinga said. “I got an opportunity to seriously reflect on my own gender identity and situate it within systems of privilege and realized how privileged I am in comparison to transgender individuals.”

Mattise looks forward to the growing development of the training.

“The results are the best part for me, people come out with a new understanding of the community and that’s all we can ask for,” Mattise said.

Training on transgender identities ensures proper recognition and validity of the transgender identity. Though training helps with awareness, it doesn't stop all issues in the community.

“Basic rights that we may take for granted and not realize that those in the trans community fight for. Hopefully one day, they will no longer have to fight. In a perfect world, right?,” Knoles said

ST. BONAVENTURE — Danica Roem approaches her role as a Virginia delegate the same way she approached being a professional politics reporter for a decade and a student journalist at St. Bonaventure University before that.

A disinterested, neutral, third party.

“Disinterested doesn’t mean you don’t engage, you don’t get thorough. You should be very interested in what you’re writing, but you have to have that level of detachment so you can analyze facts,” Roem, D-Prince William, told St. Bonaventure students, faculty and community members Thursday night on campus. “ … I don’t care what your opinion is. I care what the facts are.”

More than 200 people gathered in the Dresser Auditorium of the John J. Murphy Professional Building to hear Roem, a 2006 St. Bonaventure graduate and one of only a few openly transgender elected officials in the world, lead a wide-ranging discussion during a free event sponsored by St. Bonaventure’s Damietta Center for Multicultural Student Affairs.

Elected last November to represent her native 13th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, Roem, 33, spoke passionately and at-times humorously as she took questions from the audience before sticking around to speak one on one and take photos with dozens of students lined up to meet her.

While offering advice on both journalism and civic engagement, Roem talked about how reporter skills she first gained in lecture halls like the Dresser Auditorium both inspired and prepared her for her political career.  

“The most important thing about being a reporter and an elected official is you are working for the people who either, as a reporter read your product, or as an elected official are your constituents,” Roem said.

Roem, who went by Dan Roem while attending St. Bonaventure, also spoke on her role as the first openly transgender person to ever be elected and seated in a U.S. state legislature.

Although noting being transgender brought plenty of media coverage and donations, Roem said she used the attention to also shed light on her campaign’s hyper-local issues, which included alleviating traffic congestion on Route 28 in Virginia.  

“‘We can talk about transgender issues,’” Roem said she told an NPR reporter who wanted an interview during the campaign. “But we’re going to do that while we’re stuck in traffic on Route 28.”

While focused on issues like transportation and education, Roem is far from reluctant to be a “champion” of the transgender community.

A St. Bonaventure student asked Roem if transphobic insults made online or by political opponents faze her. Roem’s opponent in the election, then-incumbent delegate Bob Marshall, who called himself Virginia’s “chief homophobe,” referred to Roem with male pronouns.

While she can “brush it off,” Roem said her mind races to the transgender teens who have reached out to her in the last year and who also have heard the insults against her.

“What those people need at that point isn’t just for me to sit here and just talk to you about all of my campaign positions like water infrastructure. … At that point they need a champion and someone to say, ‘What you are doing is wrong and this is unacceptable because other people have to read that stuff, too. And it might not affect me in a visceral way, but it might just be that last thing that pushes someone further back into the closet or further off the edge,’” Roem said. “That’s why that kind of hate speech has to stop not just in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but across the United States, period.”

Individuals walking past Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall on the evening of March 28 witnessed a line of enthusiastic students, faculty and staff stretching from the auditorium doors, around a corner, through a field, all the way to the entrance of the university’s Integrated Science Center. Groups were clustered for hours, eagerly awaiting the event of the season: William & Mary’s 2018 Atwater Lecture, featuring transgender artist, actress and advocate Laverne Cox.

Made possible through by Alma Mater Productions, the W&M Student Assembly and the Janet and Peter Atwater Lecture Endowment, this year’s lecture was highly anticipated. Auditorium tickets were gone within hours of their early-March release, and for weeks, ticketholders awaited the arrival of the ground-breaking activist and award-winning actress to the William & Mary stage.

“I stand before you tonight a proud, African-American transgender woman,” she said over roaring applause at the beginning of her speech. “From a working class background, raised by single-mother, I stand before you an artist, an actress, a sister and a daughter. I’m not just one thing, and neither are you.”Cox, known for her role as Sophia Burset on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” has repeatedly been recognized for her work as an actress, producer and advocate for transgender rights. Her resume is wrought with “firsts.” The first transgender woman of color to perform in a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show, the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category and the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine, Cox has a young career marked by significant achievement. Her path to achievement, however, was neither simple nor painless.

She explained the shame, marginalization and abuse experienced by transgender people in America, reciting haunting statistics about violence and harassment targeted at them.

“Far too often, to be a transgender person in the United States of America means you are under attack,” she said. “But in the face of all this, we are a resilient people.”

Exposing the presence of the political, institutional and cultural forces that serve to deny transgender women their womanhood, Cox embraced the words of Sojourner Truth, stating, “But, ain’t I a woman?”

The crowd burst into emphatic applause.

“I stand here tonight and claim my womanhood in a context that typically ignores it,” she said.

Cox’s lecture was comprised of anecdotes about her experience as a child in Mobile, Alabama, a gender-nonconforming college student and a transgender woman embarking on a career in performance. She described being bullied, taunted, chased and beaten as an elementary school student. She explained the true meaning of shame and revealed how the condition of shame was imposed on and ingrained into her developmental experience. Through desires to appease her family, desires to “fix” herself and desires to not be alive, Cox spent her young life navigating an intense internalization of unworthiness and vulnerability, she said.

However, Cox explained that she found safety in her imagination.

“I always had music in my head. Dance was my escape.” she said. “I truly believe that, because I had something that I loved to do, that saved my life. I think if we can find something in this world that we are truly passionate about, it can be life-saving.”

Cox told stories of purchasing a fan on a field trip so she could recreate “Gone with the Wind,” being told that if she wasn’t careful, she’d “end up in New Orleans wearing a dress,” and facing individuals who attempted to suppress her gender and sexuality.

She concluded her lecture revealing the antidote to shame: empathy. Cox implored her audience to dialogue with those different than them.

“Go out into your communities and have those difficult conversations across difference,” she said.

Before she departed, Cox engaged in a brief question-and-answer period. Asked to describe the advice she’d have given herself 10 years ago, Cox said, “I would remind myself 10 years ago that without a test, there’s no testimony.”

She explained that a decade ago, as her career was beginning to advance, she was being tested.

“Right now, this is a test,” she said, as if speaking to her former self. “One day, you will have a powerful testimony. One day, you’ll get to stand in front of hundreds of people at the College of William & Mary and tell your story.”

Cox peered over a crowd filled with young people, staring silently, captivated by her words.

“Maybe, someone out there will feel like they’re not alone, and their dreams are possible too,” she said.

 

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