June 20, 2017 at 11:37 am PDT | by Karen Ocamb
Gender Odyssey conference in Los Angeles explores transgender issues

Gender Odyssey conference director C. Michael Woodward. (Photo by Baya D. Wall)

Thanks to the popularity of such visible media and entertainment figures as Janet Mock, Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox, Americans are becoming more and more familiar with people who identify as transgender. Additionally, last month, Billions TV star Asia Kate Dillon came out as “gender non-binary,” broadening the understanding of gender expression.

The discussion around the ground-breaking movement for transgender rights has not been confined to the field of entertainment. On Tuesday, June 13, history was made in Virginia when Victory Fund-endorsed transgender candidate Danica Roem won her difficult four-way Democratic primary to take on proud anti-LGBT incumbent Bob Marshall in the District 13 Virginia House of Delegates race.

“Over the next five months, Victory Fund will work to make 2017 the year of the trans candidate – by supporting Danica and the unprecedented number of out trans candidates across the nation,” Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, President & CEO of Victory Fund, said in a press release. “Trans elected leaders are the antidote to the anti-trans legislation and policies proposed at all levels of government – so we must elect more of them.”

California has been advocating for the “T” in LGBT for many years. In 2010, Vicky Kolakowski’s 21 years of vast legal experience proved the margin of victory in her tight race for Alameda County Superior Court, becoming America’s first elected transgender judge. Three years later, Gov. Jerry Brown signed out Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s historic School Success and Opportunity Act—the first law in the country giving trans youth the opportunity to fully participate and have equal access to all school activities, including sports teams, programs, and facilities.

Now, for two days at the end of Pride #Resist month, Los Angeles will become the hub for a major conference on transgender issues. On June 28 and 29, the 15-year old internationally-recognized Gender Odyssey Conference will hold scores of sessions and workshops geared to advancing understanding of the transgender community and experience.

“As our visibility has increased over the years, more trans and gender diverse people have to access the resources they need to live authentically,” Gender Odyssey conference director C. Michael Woodward told the Los Angeles Blade. “That means more adults and more kids are figuring out why they don’t fit the gender cookie mold – because finally they are able to look around and see others who reflect their experience. Due to this swell of self-recognition–coupled with growing family support–schools, doctors, counselors, surgeons and others are all finding themselves serving – or at least responsibly responding to – the needs of trans people.

“Gender Odyssey has been addressing those kinds of professional and personal situations since 2001,” Woodward says, “but the need has never felt so widespread. We are excited to bring GO Pro [Gender Odyssey Professional] to Los Angeles this year, with diverse programming and rich discussions about the challenges facing gender-diverse communities.”

The Gender Odyssey programming is targeted toward medical and behavioral healthcare providers, teachers and school administrators, social workers, caregivers, service providers, fiduciaries, guardians, attorneys, employers and recruiters, government employees, and students preparing for these professions, according to the press release, with continuing education credits available in a number of career fields.

However, non-professionals are also welcome—especially parents and educators, who get a special discount. With the incredible rise in the visibility of transgender youth, there are special sessions on schools and a popular teen panel. Additionally, reduced priced tickets are available for students/low income participants.

In fact, the keynote address will be delivered by former Democratic California Rep. Mike Honda (Silicon Valley) and his daughter, Michelle Honda-Phillips. In Feb. 2015, Honda tweeted a photo with his granddaughter: “As the proud grandpa of a transgender grandchild, I hope she can feel safe at school without fear of being bullied.”

(Rodrigo Lehtinen came out as trans to his mother, Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and father, Dexter Lehtinen, a former US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in a letter in 2007.)

“She has never hidden who she was,” Honda-Phillips, 39, told the Mercury News about her 8-year old daughter, Malisa. “The only thing that’s changed is her pronoun and her name. She’s been exactly the same.”

Honda-Phillips told the paper that they watched her for years as she was “insistent, persistent and consistent” about her gender. In 2014, they enrolled Malisa as a third-grader in a new school and, “with the support of administrators, registered her as a girl.”

People will say, Honda told the Mercury News, that “it’s just a phase or they’ll grow out of it. But we have to be a little bit more in tune with what youngsters are telling us. From there, we can develop better solutions, be more thoughtful.”

Being thoughtful about transgender people and their issues is what Gender Odyssey exists to address.

Among the presentations and panels are:

State of the Movement panel, featuring: Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center; Bamby Salcedo, Latina transgender speaker and activist; Chandi Moore, trans health advocate and media personality; and additional speakers; Medical related presentations and discussions ranging from assessment of trans youth to “Trans Medical 101,” to the latest in medical research and practice; Workshops on a range of education-related issues including how to create welcoming school environment, trans-themed books for children and navigating anti-trans bias in school; A panel of teens, “Tales from the Front,” giving voice to the personal experiences of trans youth; and several panels that address the diversity of trans communities, including Two Spirit culture, Latino, immigrant, elder and disabilities.

To see the full schedule of sessions and panels go here: http://www.genderodyssey.org/los-angeles/pro/

The Gender Odyssey Professional Los Angeles runs from June 28-29, 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank, 2500 N Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA 91505 To register, go to genderodyssey.org

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