Remembering the 'T' in the LGBTQ community
Despite a growing acceptance of gender variances and sexual orientation in the U.S., transgender individuals continue to face discrimination and harassment

By Elise Kaplan / CJ 475 Reporter
Posted Dec. 6, 2012

Thirty-seven percent of transgendered people report harassment or discrimination in hospitals or doctor's offices. Fifteen percent live in poverty. Forty-one percent of transgender people report attempting suicide, compared to 1.6 percent of the general population. All these statistics, horror stories and findings have inspired individuals on a local, as well as national level, to strive to create a more accepting atmosphere for those in transition.

A dance party for everyone
[+] Click HERE for slideshow w/audio
By Elise Kaplan

Pole dancers, hula-hoopers, drag queens and more performed at Dandykor's one-year anniversary.

"The way our society is treating our transgender population speaks a lot of negative about our society, but it's turning, it's tipping, we could come out on the right side of history as a culture here by changing this aspect," said Adrian Lawyer of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRC).

In 2010, Lawyer launched the TGRC to provide resources and support for the transgender or gender-variant community. Since gaining building space last February, the center has computers, a game room, clothing exchanges and is working to incorporate a GED program.

"We provide services, but the other piece of our mission is advocacy and an overall reduction in discrimination and disparity for trans people that results in some horrifying statistics," Lawyer said. "We're trying to be available for whatever they feel they need as trans people, but it tends to be disproportionately on the survival end of the spectrum. Not having enough to eat or a place to stay."

While Lawyer and his colleagues focus on the everyday needs of transgender New Mexicans, other groups are working on a more informal level to make sure everyone is included. Avery Kalapa started Dandykor, a cabaret and dance party that caters to the LGBTQ community. The event celebrated its one-year anniversary on Nov. 16 at the Kosmos Art Space.

"The original idea was I wanted to create a fun party that had performances, a dance party and an intellectual component as well," Kalapa said. "And, to create a safe space for people who are often other-ed, who often feel they don't belong, walking into a store, walking into a party, a classroom, a public space."

Although Dandykor is meant for the broader LGBTQ community and allies, Kalapa said she recognized the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, held a raffle to support the TGRC and strove to create a space where everyone can feel accepted.

"If and how Dandykor continues, I hope it can continue to serve the trans community just by creating a fun, safe space," she said. "A party that celebrates gender expression however it is."

Even as the national political climate has become more accepting of homosexual rights, the transgender community is still facing discrimination and oppression that is often ignored. By creating safe spaces for anyone who wants to participate, Kalapa strives to promote a feeling of inclusiveness and togetherness within Albuquerque.

Tiffany Starr, a drag queen who performs with the Jewel Box Cabaret, said that although in many ways New Mexico still embodies the "Old West" attitude, things are changing for the better.

"Being here 40 years, I've seen everything," Starr said. "I think it's gotten better because pride has gotten bigger every year. People are starting to come out, coming out of the closet and being proud of who they are."

New Mexico banned discrimination based on gender identity in 2003, and is one of only 16 states that currently have such protections. Lawyer said LGBTQ individuals tend to gravitate toward urban centers where they can find greater diversity as well as more funding for programs fighting poverty and homelessness. However for a city of its size, Kalapa said she finds Albuquerque lacking in events like Dandykor.

"I see the need for there to be more queer parties. I would hope that other people can start to do things too," Kalapa said. "I would love to see good things happening for our community."