Organizing for Transgender Equality in Arkansas
May 12, 2014 by Guest contributor
Post submitted by Andrea Zekis, HRC Project One America organizer in Arkansas
Stay tuned to HRC Blog throughout the month as we continue to highlight some of the heroes of HRC’s Project One America.
One truth I learned early on during my life in Arkansas: Arkansans can be counted on in a crisis. I moved from Indiana to Arkansas in August 2005, a couple weeks before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, so my first impressions of the state came from the outpouring of support, compassion and hospitality for thousands of evacuees escaping the destruction on the Gulf Coast. My new bride and I came seeking a fresh start, she as a graduate student and myself as a television producer at a local station. Yet, I was also a person in crisis. Anxiety ridden, shy and lacking confidence on the outside, I fought constant stress, suicidal thoughts, sadness and the lingering feeling of something missing. By age 30, I had a wonderful home, marriage and new career. Yet I couldn't keep up the inner struggle, so I came out as a transgender woman.
Peers told me to prepare to lose everything while transitioning. Over the next few years, I lost my home, divorced my wife and lost connections with friends and former co-workers, but I gained so much more. My parents embraced me as their daughter and my brothers as their sister, as our bonds became much stronger since my coming out. Meantime, I developed a strong support system with new compassionate healthcare providers, a new faith community and new close friends. As my mother recovered from a parathyroid tumor she had for decades, my friend Karen became a second mom for me when I needed her.
The most important news came at work as I agonized for months over potentially losing my job, because Arkansas does not have a transgender-inclusive employment non-discrimination law. To my surprise, my current employer, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, supported my gender transition. The Department put a bathroom policy in place and made a strong statement against workplace discrimination and harassment. I don't think I could stayed in Arkansas or have afforded the care not covered by my health insurance without keeping my dream job, where I've been for five years.
HRC and I believe LGBT people should not be fired for being who they are or whom they love. In 2013, I worked with HRC to help gain U.S. Senator Mark Pryor's vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Now, I am proud to again join with HRC to advance transgender equality in the South through the Project One America campaign. The positive experiences working alongside HRC have empowered me to start the Arkansas Trans Equality Coalition, a statewide transgender organization that has grown significantly in a short time. I believe HRC understands the importance of transgender stories, voices and involvement in the movement towards real equality in Arkansas.
Arkansas is my home now and I love the people, places and culture which make this place a great place to live, yet I hear Arkansans wishing to leave because of the lack of protections for LGBT people. Hope is so important. I have hope for future change for Arkansas and I know HRC does as well.
To join the driving force for equality, add your voice in support for HRC Arkansas.
For more on HRC’s comprehensive, multi-year campaign to dramatically expand LGBT equality in the South, visit http://www.projectoneamerica.org
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