National trans leader brings message of unity to Philly

National trans leader brings message of unity to Philly

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National Center for Transgender Equality director of policy Harper Jean Tobin is ready to bring a message of progress and strength to this year’s Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference.

Tobin, NCTE director of policy since 2009, will serve as a keynote speaker for the conference, delivering her address at 1 p.m. June 13 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Tobin has attended the conference since 2010 and previously conducted workshops, and said she was humbled to deliver the keynote along with opening keynote speaker Janet Mock.

She said she hopes they both will bring a message of unity and empowerment.

“As a community and movement, we have made and are making tremendous, unprecedented progress,” she said. “We still have so far to go and, to get there as a community and movement, we have to go further, think bigger and make ourselves stronger, louder and more inclusive.”

Tobin grew up in Louisville, Ky., and said both her family and hometown were progressive in their views. Her sister, Shannon Fauver, is serving as lead attorney in the case challenging Kentucky’s ban on marriage equality.

“I grew up in an environment and then went to college in an environment where I had a lot of freedom and support to be myself and to live an authentic life,” she said. “I’ve always known how lucky that has made me and even so, how long it still took me to come out and come to say who I am. And even as fortunate as I have been, I still faced some prejudice along the way.”

Tobin received degrees in law and social work from Case Western Reserve University. She said she wanted to make a difference in social and legal services for marginalized communities.

“I asked myself what piece of the puzzle can I be to make that change I want to see in the world and, for me, that was working in public policy, working to change laws and educating people in government about trans people and our loved ones and the challenges we face,” she said.

Tobin had been working at a health-care nonprofit when the NCTE opportunity arose.

She said the organization has been integral in providing direct support to trans individuals who have faced discrimination and in advocating for more endemic issues, such as pressing for reforms in the criminal-justice system.

While she found her calling at NCTE, Tobin said she believes all LGBT people should find the opportunity to take a stand for themselves and their community.

“I really believe that everyone in our community has to be a part of making that change in the world and our own lives,” she said. “No matter where we come from or do for a living, all of us can make a contribution and take some action towards that world we want to see.”

Tobin said PTHC is critical in helping people realize their potential, while also giving them vital information.

“Trans people are in many ways a big and diverse community but we are also very spread out, invisible, marginalized and isolated,” she said. “The PTHC has been critical for trans people and their loved ones, partners, parents, professionals, allies and activists who work on issues that affect trans people.”

Witnessing that unity, she said, is powerful.

“If you come to PTHC, it is the most wonderful thing because you see the diversity of the trans community and you see people from all types of backgrounds and of all ages, parents with young trans kids and trans seniors who are just coming out later in life, and community elders who have been around for decades,” she said. “It can be difficult to find somebody else to talk to and find a place not just on the Internet. PTHC is a place to come together and share. It is about building relationships and policies, and all of that happens at PTHC.”

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