The University of Missouri St Louis (UMSL) hosted the Transgender Spectrum Conference on Nov. 9. Harry Hawkins, a supervisor at UMSL and conference organizer, said their mission was to “educate and empower.”
Hawkins said by educating the public, people will get a better understanding of transgender people’s experiences, leading to empowerment in the St Louis transgender community.
“It is a tough time for underrepresented minorities in this country,” Hawkins said.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Missouri does not prohibit housing discrimination, employment discrimination, public accommodations, school anti-bullying, transgender healthcare or conversion therapy. The only issues the state supports are marriage equality and punishment of hate crimes, according to the HRC.
Beth Gombos is from the Metro Trans Umbrella, an organization that has participated in the conference many times as part of education about the basic of transgender policies and community.
“The education that people can get is from every field,” Gombos said. “If you’re in social justice, if you’re in healthcare, if you’re in education, there’s something that everybody can learn from here.”
Hasmik Chakaryan is a professor and director of the clinical program of the Department of Professional Counseling at Webster and a conference board member. Chakaryan said she works with many students who have clients who are members of the LGBT community.
The end goal for Chakaryan’s students, she said, is to learn about the culture and appropriate approach when it come to minority groups who identify as LGBTQ individuals.
“It is very important for us to start with education,” Chakaryan said. “As a counselor supervisor, an educator, I can start teaching my students, my supervisees, how to learn about these issues, what kind of challenges trans individuals and LGBTQ individuals are facing on a daily basis.”
Professor of psychology Amanda Kracen, who was also a board member of the conference, said stereotypes tend to keep society apart. Kraven said she first interacted with the transgender community in graduate school by reading and learning about other people’s experiences.
“From a psychological perspective, I think we set our minds to want certainty and to want clarity, and we want to be able to categorize very quickly,” Kracen said. “It’s a learning process and that can be a challenge for people. I respect that people struggle with it, and I think that in my classroom trying to get those discussion going and trying to understand that maybe that the rigid binaries the problem as opposed to people.”
Like Chakaryan, Kracen said she invited her students to the conference for them to learn and hear stories about the transgender community.
“Research shows that developing relationships and hearing people’s stories can be very powerful,” Kracen said.
One of her student who went to the conference was Sarah Zadjali, a graduate student at Webster.
“The fact that I’m present [at the conference] is to learn and expand my knowledge,” Zadjali said . “I think that says a lot about wanting to learn and support and advocate on their behalf.
Zadjali said she wanted to attend the conference with curiosity and be open minded.
“I’m from South County, so I don’t see a lot of that kind of population in that area versus St. Louis City or you know, all these other places. So being here is an eyeopener,” Zadjali said. “I think that’s the first step of wanting to learn is just being present and getting out of my comfort zone.”