Colorado Springs' 15th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance will memorialize individuals who, according to Peak Area Gender Expressions spokesperson Dana Stevens, "have lost their lives violently due to ... hatred, or a lack of understanding." And it will do so with two prominent speakers at the podium: City Councilor Jill Gaebler, and former state representative and current state Senate District 11 candidate Michael Merrifield.
It's a big deal in an area that still makes national news for a lack of LGBT support — from mayors' annual refusals to sign PrideFest proclamations to Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis' fight to gain equal treatment for their transgender daughter in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 ("Elementary education," News, April 17). The November issue of Rolling Stone featured the Mathises' story, and woven throughout are quotes from Focus on the Family's gender issues analyst Jeff Johnston, whom the magazine describes as the leader of "Focus' charge to push people back into the closet."
The Mathises now live in Aurora, and they're hardly the first to look elsewhere for a more welcoming environment. But Gaebler ran for office in Council District 5 (from the Old North End east, beyond Powers) as someone who's "socially moderate," and she sounds like it when she says of the LGBT community, "They're just my people."
Of the Day of Remembrance, scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20, Gaebler says, "I'm there as much to learn as to speak. I think speaking before them lets them know that I am listening to their voice, and hear their voice. I want to learn about their voice so that I can amplify it in the community. ... I think that's powerful to groups that have experienced so much discrimination and are misunderstood."
Merrifield, who thinks his own reputation for being sympathetic to the LGBT community is why he was invited, says he's "really gratified" that Gaebler is coming: "I think it hopefully shows that the city of Colorado Springs is moving gradually to be more accepting of people regardless of their sexual preferences, their gender, et cetera."
Colorado Springs is home to three transgender support groups through Colorado Springs Pride: PAGE, BRIDGE (Building Real Identities and Gender Expressions, for those in their teens through their 30s), and the Transgender Family Group. According to Stevens, who chairs all three, PAGE provides a safe meeting place for transgender individuals; Gaebler has attended in the past, to hear what they're talking about.
The group welcomes guest speakers to discuss "all the normal life things," like adjusting to the Affordable Care Act, or jobs assistance. But Stevens adds they'll also talk about such issues as mannerisms and deportment, "the differences for those expressing a gender that's opposite their biological body. How to basically blend in and just fit in and live your life the best you can."
Beyond that, Stevens says, they just try to raise awareness so the community will "recognize these people exist. They're just like everybody else. They try to go to work. They try to support their family, do all the normal life things everybody in the world does.
"Is our presentation a little bit different? Yes. But in the day in age that we're supposed to be celebrating diversity, that's a good thing."