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San Mateo County making strides on transgender issues

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by Brendan Bartholomew
Sometimes the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is asked to enact laws to protect the rights of marginalized residents, but during this year’s International Transgender Day of Visibility, Stevie Jolie Stallmeyer had a simpler request:

“The next time you see a trans person and happen to catch their glance, please smile and show that you mean no harm.”

Celebrated annually on March 31, the Day of Visibility was started by transgender activists hoping to provide an uplifting counterpoint to the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors victims of hate-motivated killings every Nov. 20.

Last month’s all-day event marked the first time the Day of Visibility was officially recognized by San Mateo County.

Stallmeyer, who is a member of the county’s recently formed LGBTQ Commission, said there is some irony in devoting a day to visibility, because for many transgender people, trying to pass as the gender they identify with can be a struggle. And those who are visibly transgender are often met with hostility in public spaces.

A friendly smile can mean a lot to transgender people, who have grown accustomed to the angry glares of confused passersby, Stallmeyer noted.

Among the events hosted by the county was a Transgender 101 class in which health care workers, county contractors and members of the public learned about issues affecting transgender people.

Educating people about transgender etiquette is something that can help avoid confusion and awkwardness for those who are not transgender, Stallmeyer said.

For example, if you are unsure whether to refer to somebody as “he” or “she,” ask that person, “What are your preferred pronouns?”

“This question is always welcome and appreciated,” Stallmeyer said.
A panel discussion moderated by Stallmeyer was also on the agenda. Panelists included Alameda County Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski, the first openly transgender trial judge in the U.S.
Another panelist was Mission College women’s basketball coach Gabrielle Ludwig, a Navy veteran who holds the distinction of being the first person to play collegiate basketball first as a man and then as a woman.

Also on the panel was Rayden Marcum, a Palo Alto-born transgender man currently attending Humboldt State University, and JoAnne Keatley, director of UC San Francisco’s Center of Excellence for Transgender Health.

Peninsula supervisors Carole Groom and Dave Pine stuck around for the panel discussion question-and-answer session, said Stallmeyer, who characterized the entire board’s commitment to LGBT rights as “extraordinary.”

Although the Day of Visibility is meant to be a bit cheerier than the Day of Remembrance, threats to transgender lives could not be ignored, Stallmeyer said, and hate crimes are not the only hazards members of the community face.

The National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2010 National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed that 41 percent of transgender respondents had attempted suicide, Stallmeyer noted.

But despite the challenges, Stallmeyer remains hopeful, noting that the demise of gay marriage bans around the country has freed up time and energy for some LGBT activists to focus more on transgender rights.
“It’s very difficult to think about changing society or culture,” Stallmeyer said, “but I think it’s being done very rapidly.”

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