Marsha Aizumi and Aiden Aizumi

Marsha Aizumi and Aiden Aizumi

PFLAG super mom Kathy Reim is already an expert on issues in the LGBTQ community, but what makes her an exceptional leader is that she’s always looking to learn more. As Regional Director for PFLAG Pacific Northwest, Kathy recently met seven moms with transgender children at a home north of Seattle to learn more about the challenges transgender children and their families experience in gaining visibility and acceptance.

“As I listened to their stories, I realized we needed to grow our understanding and increase our knowledge about the needs of their families,” said Kathy, who is also a Pride Foundation board member. “As we are also in the midst of changes in our local health care systems, I wanted to be able to speak on behalf of the transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual community with sensitivity and accuracy.”

Indeed there is a lot for the entire LGBTQ community to learn because the challenges are astounding.

According to a national survey on transgender discrimination, 97% of those surveyed have experienced harassment at their jobs including invasion of privacy, verbal abuse, and physical or sexual assault. In addition, only 40% of transgender individuals who actually have health insurance, can access these benefits because traditional health care benefits do not cover the needs of transgender people.

Last month, Kathy was one of 200 activists from Whatcom and Skagit Counties in Washington State who gathered to have a conversation about the needs of transgender people in their community at “Transgender/Transformations,” an educational event supported by Pride Foundation. The event featured the film “Faces and Facets of Transgender Experience,” followed by a panel of leaders, including Marsha Aizumi and Aiden Aizumi, a mother and son duo from California who shared their own story.

“Her support really has allowed me to do the things I wanted to do”, Aiden said thankfully turning to his mom during his presentation. The “Transgender/Transformations” event emphasized the need to strengthen support for the transgender community by involving and educating family and friends of transgender people as well as social service providers, educators, and legal service providers.

Kathy said that one of their next steps in local community efforts will be to start outreach to local businesses and service providers to consider providing gender neutral bathrooms. “We want to explain why these are important,” she said. “And we also want to make sure folks know where they exist.”

Lauren Mehl, Housing Programs Supervisor at Northwest Youth Services and a Mount Vernon, WA resident was inspired by all the shared stories and summed up the event: “In that room, for those few hours, it felt like a safe space for me to be queer and a trans ally. I can only hope that the conversation, education, and boldness can continue so that members of the trans community can have that feeling anywhere, anytime in the Valley and beyond.”

Congratulations to event organizers Skagit PFLAG chapter, the Skagit Valley College Rainbow Alliance, and the Washington Gender Alliance for a meaningful and successful event. Also, thank you to additional guest speakers Roberta Zenker (Pride Foundation volunteer and author “TransMontana”), Barbara Yaple, and Eleanor Hubbard (editor of “Trans-Kin”).

Uma Rao is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Western Washington. Email Uma.

Photo Credit: Frank Varga, Skagit Valley Herald

Posted In: Blog, Connecting Leaders, Blog, Washington