As a citizen of Shreveport, there are many myths that I am compelled to discount regarding comments made by the six candidates in Shreveport’s Mayoral race at a forum hosted by P.A.C.E (People Acting for Change and Equality) on Sept. 21st.
I want to preface this article with some basics about who I am: a citizen of Shreveport and a neuroscience student at Centenary College. I work on biomedical research, and I am a foster parent for many of the local animal shelters. I also actively participate in community service. I love supporting film festivals at the Robinson.
I also happen to be a transgender person.
When I first started as the leader of Louisiana Trans Advocates in Shreveport, I was encouraged by the number of transgender people we have in Shreveport. You may not believe me, but we walk among you. We attend the same schools, work the same jobs, go to the same grocery stores, and are governed by the same elected officials. Like you, we want basic rights, to be able to provide for ourselves, our families, and our beloved Shreveport.
Though I do not speak for all transgender people, we are a diverse group.
To be fair, I must acknowledge that many people in Shreveport do not know much about the transgender community; however, as a transgender person who votes in Shreveport, I was very discouraged by the responses from the candidates regarding transgender issues (especially questions about insurance companies covering transgender surgeries).
Many of the responses from candidates, such as Arpino and Slack, perpetuated the many myths that are hurtful to the daily lives of transgender people. Furthermore, the lack of education on the part of Tyler, Williams, Jenkins, and Provenza is also alarming (Jim Crowley did not attend the forum).
I want to address some of the comments made by Anna Marie Arpino and Melvin Slack.
The term transgender encompasses a wide variety of gender identities, loosely tied by the definition of having a gender identity different from what one is assigned at birth. For example, an individual may be assigned male by birth, but identifies as female, or vice versa. It could also mean a wide variety of identities in between, such as not identifying with any gender.
Contrary to Aprino’s “morphidite” comment, in which she said “don’t forget about the morphidites, they are there too”, being transgender is a different identity from being intersex, although it is not mutually exclusive.
Slack also perpetuated a myth that is hurtful to transgender people when he said, “Let me get this correct, the surgery we are referring to is when a person cuts off the male part to become female, right?” No, you are wrong Mr. Slack. I wish there was just one surgery, but there is not. Transitioning from one sex to another is complicated, both socially and medically. Socially, this might involve telling loved ones and coworkers to start using the pronouns the person identifies with. It means getting legal documents fixed and living life the way they were meant to live it. Medically, it does not involve just one surgery. It involves obtaining letters from therapists, hormone replacement surgery, chest surgeries, facial reconstruction, and a wide variety of surgeries on body parts to lower dysphoria. “Dysphoria” is a medical term used by transgender people and their healthcare professionals to describe the feeling of extreme discomfort with the body with which one is assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not undergo these surgeries due to financial or personal reasons.
And yes, Mr. Slack, I am religious like you. I come from a traditional, conservative background, but historically, Jesus would not approve of your lack of education and your belief that God’s work is just a choice on my part. I was designed the way I was for a purpose, not because I chose to be transgender.
Now that we have some basic issues addressed, let’s turn our attention toward the comments made by Tyler, Williams, Jenkins, and Provenza. I respected that this was not the first time these candidates had heard of transgender people and at least thought of us as a group of people who deserve rights. I appreciate that all of these candidates support the idea that being tolerant of the LGBT community is a part of being in the 21st century and bringing financial prosperity to Shreveport. As a young person, this is very appealing to me.
I respected when they each admitted that they did not know about this issue and would have to educate themselves, but would the lack of knowledge be acceptable in other circumstances? When I give talks about neuroscience, I do some research before I give a talk or respond to questions. If you are attending an LGBT forum, it is worthwhile to Google “LGBT issues” before you go. Surgeries related to transition is not a new topic. Plenty of governments, at various levels across the world, are discussing this topic. The information is there.
If you are someone who truly cares, I trust you to inform yourself.
I wish the candidates had left it at their acknowledgment of their ignorance, but they did not. Tyler, Williams, Jenkins, and Provenza all commented on fiscal matters of insurance companies covering transgender surgeries. The mayor can determine what is and what is not covered by insurance for city employees, which can set a precedent for the area. I don’t know about you, but I get nervous when politicians say my ovaries, hormones, or any body part of mine is not worth the cost.
Although I should not have to tell politicians and fellow citizens why my health needs should be covered just as cisgender people, I will address why their fiscal arguments are irrelevant and transphobic. Many of the candidates are proponents of being tolerant because young people bring money to cities that are accepting of LGBT folks, but yet they would not cover their health concerns because they cost too much?
I am going to assume that we are all compassionate people, and understand that transgender surgeries are not elective surgeries. I am also going to assume that we all know that being transgender is not the same as having cancer: I am not your charity case. Since I am not your charity case, but a citizen of Shreveport, I am willing to share with you the reality of surgeries that both cisgender and transgender people go through, but these procedures are covered for cisgender people and not transgender people. An example, is mastectomies. Mastectomies are often obtained by transmen and they are very costly to the individual, but yet mastectomies are performed and covered by insurance companies for cisgender women. No one should have to fight and convince others that their health concerns are valid and as equally important as theirs. Period.
However, let’s grant that these are elective surgeries. As transgender people, we are still being denied access to healthcare that cisgender people are receiving. For example, when a child sticks something up their nose, insurance companies cover it the same as if the child did not choose to stick something up their nose. This example can be applied to many groups of people. It can be applied to people who get into car crashes, do drugs, and — by means of personal choices — get hurt. This happens, and it would be unethical for a doctor to refuse them treatment or for an insurance company not to cover it. So, why is it different for transgender people?
Why do I have to fight to get the treatment I need when everyday cisgender people get covered for health concerns that were optional?
I want a candidate who delivers in support of my rights: healthcare rights, marriage rights, adoption rights, and my right to work. The part about us walking among you? I mean it. I work in medical research. Just think the cures people like me could find if we weren’t worried about covering our basic healthcare needs or convincing elected officials we have rights too. Like Slack, I am a religious person. Unlike him, I know in my heart what historical Jesus would want. He would want me to stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. He would want me to educate myself and be a humble servant for the goodness in people. A miracle is healing the blind, not being tolerant of a group of people. That is expected.
I believe in Shreveport.
I believe in Louisiana.
I also believe that if we do not educate ourselves and move forward with action, we will be left in the dark.
This issue is not going away. Do the right thing. Go to the Bible we all love to preach by but never act on. Embrace and love your neighbors like historical Jesus would have done. Go to Google, educate yourselves. I highly suggest organizations such as Louisiana Trans Advocates, Lambda Legal, and National Center for Transgender Equality.
Be on the right side of history.
Eli Capello is a member of Centenary College‘s class of 2015 where he is a Neuroscience major. Capellos is also a Diversity Intern on campus and a Point Foundation Scholar. In addition to advocating for LGBT issues in the community, Capello works as a biomedical research assistant.