Jed Ryan (he/him) was looking for a continuing education opportunity when a Google search of transgender healthcare brought up the Equitas Health Institute’s Transforming Care Conference (TCC).
The words “joy” and “resilience” caught Ryan’s eye.
“Being joyful is part of the LGBTQ+ community. It should be a part of humanity,” he said. As a post-surgical nurse at New York University Hospital, many of Ryan’s patients are members of the trans community. He sees the need for advocacy, resilience, and joy in his work – and in the wider community. That’s what brought him to Columbus for his first TCC.
Speaker Chase Strangio’s focus on building resistance and expressing joy in the fight for trans rights resonated with Ryan and many others. Over three hundred people attended this year’s TCC virtually and in-person at The Ohio State University’s Fawcett Center on Oct. 4.
“His speech challenged me to become more involved, to learn, and to do more for my community,” said Francesca Schumann (she/her). This was Schumann’s seventh TCC. The community advocate for trans rights has a passion for learning and activism.
“I left feeling empowered and refreshed. I was like a sponge, soaking up all of the knowledge he shared. Now, it’s up to me and all of us to respond and take action,” she said.
Strangio (he/him) is the deputy director for Transgender Justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. A renowned trans rights advocate and attorney, he has represented the trans community in a number of pivotal cases to come before the courts and state legislatures. He led the ACLU’s challenge to North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom bill” (HB2) and the case of Aimee Stephens, the first transgender civil rights case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Time Magazine named Strangio one of the 100 most influential people of 2020.
A dynamic speaker, Strangio said he felt at ease the minute he walked into the room of healthcare providers, LGBTQ+ activists, and community members. Their attendance gave life to the speaker’s key points. He talked about the need to remember our history, work together, and arm ourselves with joy against anti-trans groups and lawmakers.
“We are the antidote when we work together,” he said.
Strangio pointed to our country’s history of holding onto systems that treat people like chattel, sighting slavery and the U.S. prison system. “We have a long history of restricting bodily autonomy,” he said.
Recent anti-trans laws have further restricted that autonomy. Strangio gave a timeline of proposed bills and actions that began in 2016 with North Carolina’s HB2. That bill banned transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Other state legislatures and school boards have drafted similar rules. Lawmakers have now introduced some 50 anti-trans bathroom bills, said Strangio.
The speaker drew laughs when he told the group that nobody really wants to be in a public restroom. “All we want to do is leave that space,” he said.
He puts some of the blame for the rise in anti-trans legislation on the mainstream media’s lack of understanding of transgender people. He also believes the LGBTQ+ community got a little too comfortable after the Supreme Court approved same-sex marriage in 2015. Many thought the fight for LGBTQ rights had ended, Strangio said.
In the meantime, the anti-LGBTQ+ movement kept building its strategy. Anti-trans groups went from introducing laws about bathroom use to locker room use, sports, and healthcare. They took the focus off of people and presented transgender as an ideology, not an identity. This led to bills that would ban trans women and girls from sports and limit or deny access to gender-affirming healthcare.
“I have never seen anything like what we saw in 2023. We now have 22 states with bills banning gender-affirming healthcare,” Strangio said.
“Our communities have survived so much for so long. If we stay connected to our histories, the blueprint is there. We have the tools in our community,” said Strangio.
He laid out a plan for resistance that includes:
“I believe strongly in art, creativity, and narrative disrupters. We have a history of doing things to demand attention,” said Strangio. He pointed to the protests of ACT UP. This grassroots organization that formed in the late 1980s changed the way government and the media talked about AIDS. Their actions helped improve the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS.
Finally, Strangio reminded the audience that joy is their best defense. Joy threatens the anti-trans groups and lawmakers.
“They try to cast us as miserable. They want to save us from ourselves. We can defy them with the truth of our joyful existence,” Strangio said.
Those words spoke to Adrianna Udinwe (she/her), who was at her first Transforming Care Conference. Udinwe is associate general counsel at Equitas Health.
“I was impressed by his views acknowledging the challenges of our reality and still finding joy and purpose and belonging in that reality,” she said.
“The way Chase balances advocacy, care for the community, and shifts from ideology to the practical boots-on-the-ground work is empowering,” said Jared Smith-Valentine (he/they), a therapist for Equitas Health and a sex therapist for Tandem Columbus.
“I left incredibly fired up!”