Denton Transgender Group Finds Voice in Austin
Denton Trans-Cendence directors Kathryn Winters and Daniel Bryant-Gawne left for Austin to testify against Senate Bill 6 and came back to Denton with a support system, an extended family, and a clear way forward for their community.
Winters and Bryant-Gawne, who are both transgender, visited their state representatives’ offices with hundreds of other protesters March 6 to speak out against the “bathroom bill,” which requires transgender people in public schools, government buildings, and public universities to use the bathroom that matches their “biological sex.” SB6 passed the Texas Senate with a 21-to-10 vote on March 14.
They also gave verbal testimony opposing SB6 on the senate floor the next day.
“Throughout the 15-plus hours of testimony, there were several times when slurs and verbal attacks on trans people were not only used, but allowed,” Bryant-Gawne said. “The senators were having conversations during some of them. They weren’t listening.”
Winters said she felt as though the senators were only going through the motions and openly treating people who had come to oppose the bill with indifference or outright hostility.
“It makes you feel like the system is geared toward a specific outcome,” Winters said. “The committee had already made their decision. For oral testimony, 44 people testified in favor of SB6, and 271 against it.”
Winters is originally from San Francisco, where she worked as a police officer for nine years before changing careers, moving to Texas, and beginning her transition. She began her career working with the Transgender Education Network of Texas in Austin. Recently, she and Bryant-Gawne became directors of the Denton chapter of Trans-Cendence International, a transgender support group.
“The last time you saw this big reaction was 2008, with marriage equality,” Winters said. “Now eight years later, marriage equality has been settled in the courts and they’ve moved on to the next target.”
According to a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 59 percent of transgender people avoided public bathrooms over the past year because they worried about potential confrontations. 12 percent of those surveyed reported they'd been harassed, attacked, or sexually assaulted in a bathroom, and 31 percent avoided drinking or eating to ensure they wouldn’t need to use the restroom in public.
Winters said that early in her transition, she experienced this anxiety firsthand. For the first month, she avoided drinking anything or using the restroom in public, suffering a urinary tract infection for the first time in years as a result. However, she says these restrictions would damage the transgender community in more permanent ways.
“So much of this has been framed in terms of trying to prevent pedophiles and criminals from gaining access to women’s restrooms, and this idea that trans people are somehow using these spaces for some reason other than just having to go to the bathroom,” Winters said. “It’s so incredibly dangerous, because before this conversation started happening, violence or opposition to people using the restroom was minimal. But now there’s people who seem to think they need to be the bathroom police.”
Winters said most of the testimony in favor of the bill focused on protecting women and children from sexual assault, but there is no evidence to indicate that it would. According to Rainn.org, 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming college students surveyed by The Association of American Universities in 2015 said they’d been sexually assaulted.
Winters also said she fears SB6 would erode local control. It states that local governments can’t set their own policies, and must follow the state’s law.
“We’ve seen that move a lot here in Texas recently. We saw that with the fracking ban here in Denton. The state legislature is saying, more and more, that local government can’t control what’s going on,” Winters said. “It’s dangerous, it sets a precedent and I don’t think we want to go down that road.”
Bryant-Gawne said he’s newer to activism. He started his transition last June, and became a Trans-Cendence director alongside Kathryn not long afterward.
“It was very fast to be put into a leadership position like that. But I’ve got a teaching background. I’ve got leadership skills and I’m also pursuing a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling,” Bryant-Gawne said. “I figured that since the group was there for me when I needed it, I would give back by leading it.”
He taught at Decatur High School and Tidwell Middle School before beginning his transition, but felt he had to leave the profession. As a teacher, he recalled having to remain fairly neutral on political topics, even ones that directly affect schools.
“These are kids we’re talking about here,” he said. “It’s time to stand up and speak up. What was ironic is that as a teacher, I was that adult that LGBT students came to. I never told them about myself. I wasn’t allowed to. But they got that accepting vibe from me.”
Bryant-Gawne said SB6 would be particularly damaging for transgender students, who would be forced to either risk punishment, risk bullying, or avoid eating and drinking for seven hours every weekday.
“Those are basic human functions they need to take care of to focus on their education and move forward,” Bryant-Gawne said. "But instead, they’re distracted by needing to go to the bathroom, being hungry, and being thirsty."
He also said that enforcing this law would only draw negative attention to transgender students and make them targets for bullying.
“With this bill, it’s going to mandate that schools police where children go to the bathroom,” he said. “It’s going to draw attention to these students by forcing teachers to call them out. We are asking teachers to be bullies. And that’s unacceptable.”
Both said they are afraid of what could happen next. They fear that even if SB6 isn’t passed, people will take it upon themselves to police restrooms and assault anyone who looks as if they don’t belong.
“Any time that discrimination is cloaked in this perception of being a security issue, it becomes more dangerous,” Winters said. “We’ve seen this throughout history. It’s always a moving target. What’s the next group? Right now, it’s trans people. Right now, we need to learn the lessons of the past, because we keep repeating ourselves.”
The pair said they were blown away when the community rallied to support each other throughout the long day of emotionally draining testimony. Complete strangers became friends. Parents of transgender children appointed themselves stand-in parents to anyone who needed it. Winters and Bryant-Gawne both said their Facebooks have been pinging with friend requests ever since the Austin trip, and they’ve made connections with other groups similar to theirs.
“The most important thing we did was share our stories. That’s the biggest takeaway I have, and why I keep telling my friends and family to keep telling my story,” Winters said. “What we learned when we did training for Lobby Day is that 10 percent of people are for this, 10 percent are against it, and then there’s a moveable middle. They’re not taking a firm stand one way or the other. But if they’re impacted in the right way, they will do something. Normalizing trans lives is what will help is to gain equality.”
Header image design by Christopher Rodgers