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Towards Full Equality: Transgender Identity in Northeast Ohio

On Tuesday, February 24th, we attended a City Club program titled "Towards Full Equality: Transgender Identity in Northeast Ohio" featuring a panel consisting of law professor Susan J. Becker; Dr. Henry Ng, M.D., President of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association; Ms. Stacey Parsons, Transgender Activist; and Mr. Darius Stubbs, Teaching Artist at the Cleveland Public Theatre. The discussion was moderated by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Ms. Connie Schultz. Dr. Ng spoke about the importance of education for doctors when dealing with the transgendered as patients. We were surprised to learn only 5 hours of four years of medical school dealt with assisting the transgendered. Dr. Ng has been at Metro for 14 years now and, earlier on that very day, had talked to some doctors about the need for sensitivity on transgender issues. He said that in some ways we have made progress and in other ways we have not. Later in the program, Mr. Stubbs said that Cleveland has an "amazing jewel in Dr. Ng" who has been at the forefront of educating others.

Professor Becker talked about legal protections for the transgendered and said that the United States was like a quilt with some states offering some protections but, sadly, not Ohio. But some of Ohio's municipalities have passed ordinances offering protections and Prof. Becker praised Cleveland for being a real leader with this. She also talked about the controversial public accommodations ordinance and said what it would and wouldn't allow and how a lot of information about it has been misconstrued.

For the most part, though, Ms. Parsons, a transgendered woman, and Mr. Stubbs, a transgendered man dominated the discussion which was a good thing because we believe that it was important for all of us to understand the often gut wrenching challenges that transgendered people face in our society.

Mr. Stubbs told us that no one at his place of employment knows that he is transgendered and believe that he came to this event today only to discuss the "bathroom issue." He was, understandably, afraid because the more that he divulged the more vulnerable he was to be hurt but, fortunately, his father was very supportive of him and was there at the City Club. He is also now struggling with what it is like to be an African American male thus often seen as a predator by white people.

Ms. Parsons talked about how difficult it was for her family to accept her because they were worried about the effect that this would have on her young son but her son is now 17 and doing fine. She, herself, has had some negative experiences with disrespectful doctors such as when one told her that he was going to treat her the same way as he would "any other man." At another point in the program, she talked about how her employer made her use the men's restroom where she encountered a man who had once tried to flirt with her and was now very angry. Needless to say, she was quite frightened as are other transgendered people placed in a similar position.

Regarding the restroom/public accommodations issue, both Mr. Stubbs and Ms. Parsons said that they use the restroom just to use the restroom (just as we do) and Mr. Stubbs told a funny story about how his dad and stepmother were at a concert and the line for the women's room was very long so his dad stood watch while the women in the group dashed into the men's room. Prof. Becker made it clear that those seeking to use the restroom for voyeuristic purposes would still be very much in trouble either with the public accommodations ordinance or without it.

It was good that the City Club was jammed full of people. Prior to the start of the program, City Club CEO Dan Moulthrop said, "today will be a conversation to help us move forward in the community. You are contributing by being here." It was also pointed out during the Q & A that Councilpersons Mitchell, Cleveland, Cimperman, and Johnson were all present and when asked what it meant to have such supportive city officials at this program, Mr. Stubbs said that it was immensely important because "public policy can change a city" and Ms. Parsons said that "your being here says a lot" and went on to express her appreciation.

We had a good conversation with Mr. Ed Kancler, a retired attorney who is on the board of PFLAG in Akron and Mr. John Grafton from Akron who took part in the panel discussion about Gay Games 9 that took place at the City Club the previous week. We shared a table with Mr. Dan Mullen and Ms. Chesa Sevastopoulos who are involved with Positive Education Program Schools (PEP Schools) that service the needs of special needs young people including a few who are transgendered.

Before the program started we talked to Mr. Chaz Henderson, a retired person who has recently completed a program at OSU that covered all aspects of community gardening because he plans to start such a garden in Tremont at the end of March, 2015 and donate much of what the garden produces to the food pantry at Pilgrim Church. If things go as anticipated, the first donations will take place in mid summer.

Probably the words that best caught the spirit of this program were when Mr. Stubbs said that transgendered people want to be treated just like they were before they became transgendered and Ms. Parsons said, "we're just people and need to be treated like everyone else...if adults treat us right, kids will accept us. All we want is to be loved and treated like anyone else."

Our good friend, Mr. Chris Axelroad invited us to a meeting on Tuesday night at the Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute in Shaker Square where plans were presented to the refurbishment of the Moreland Theater at 118th and Buckeye. The conveners were Mr. John Hopkins, Executive Director, and Mr. Lynell Washington, Deputy Director, of the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation and Mr. Brandon Edwin Chrostowski, the proprietor of Edwins.

It was explained that the development corporation purchased the theatre in 2007 but due to tough economic times and the lack of a strong operator and community team things have not started to come together until recently. The plan is to restructure the Moreland Theater into a multi-use facility with restaurants, shops, cultural offerings, sports, dancing, and theatre. Moreover, the conveners strongly believe that the Moreland could be the economic engine that could create "buzz" for the area and lead to more economic development on Buckeye and Larchmere as well as Shaker Square just as what Detroit-Shoreway and the Capitol Theater did for their surrounding area.

Certainly the history of the Moreland Theatre is a fascinating one. It was built in 1927 and was known as a Hungarian Theatre because it showed Hungarian films, plays, and operas for the people who had immigrated to Northeast Ohio from Hungary. In 1950 it was closed for lack of business but reopened several times over the years as a dinner theatre, dance hall and café, and finally as a meeting hall for the conventions of the Church of God in Christ. Mr. Hopkins remembers those conventions quite well and how people would come from all over to attend them and how local business thrived whenever they took place.

This gathering was attended by a dynamic band of Clevelanders who were very impressed by the plans that were displayed and the conviction and the passion of Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Washington, and Mr. Chrostowski. We believe that this just might be the beginning of a very successful enterprise.

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