Panel discussion set this week

Published 10:32 pm Friday, December 6, 2019

A first-in-Suffolk event coming to the city this week will highlight issues related to living as a transgender individual in Virginia and allow people to find out more about what it means to be transgender.

The “Ask a Trans Person” panel on Tuesday at the East Suffolk Recreation Center, hosted by Equality Virginia, will include four Hampton Roads-area residents who are transgender and allow people to ask questions of them.

“We know that there’s a huge gap in the amount of knowledge people have about the transgender community,” said Thalia Hernandez, program coordinator for Equality Virginia’s 2-year-old Transgender Visibility Initiative.

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Research has shown nearly 9 in 10 people know someone who is lesbian, gay or bisexual, Hernandez said. But far fewer people — only about 16 percent — have met someone they know is transgender.

“Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done so people know who’s in their local community,” Hernandez said.

Many people are surprised to learn that transgender people — and indeed, those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual as well — have no protections in Virginia in the realm of housing, employment or public spaces. That means they can be fired, evicted or denied service in restaurants or stores because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We’re hoping to highlight the need for that change in terms of the experiences people have had,” Hernandez said. “The panelists’ stories really highlight the necessity of that change.”

She said prior events in this series across the state have drawn a good turnout of people who asked good questions. People have asked everything from how they can support the transgender community in their everyday life to how the panelists chose their name when they transitioned.

“It’s been a great response,” Hernandez said. “I do think all around, it’s a great, engaging learning experience for everybody. Having knowledge you didn’t have before is empowering for all of us.”

The event will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the East Suffolk Recreation Center, 138 S. Sixth St.

Registration is required. Visit by Dec. 9 to sign up.