by Jadenne Radoc Cabahug
To honor transgender people and educate communities about transgender issues, United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA) Washington is hosting a series of in-person and hybrid community events, including workshops and health clinics, for Transgender Awareness Week from Nov. 14 to 18.
UTOPIA is a grassroots organization led by queer and trans People of Color that centers on the “struggles, challenges, strength, and resilience” of the queer and trans Pacific Islander (QTPI) community in South King County. The organization provides resources to help transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals with employment, housing, health care, and more.
Tepatasi Vaina, UTOPIA program director, says Transgender Awareness Week is about bringing awareness to the challenges trans and gender-nonconforming people face in public settings as well as in smaller circles, like within their communities and families.
Previously, UTOPIA has primarily focused on the QTPI community, but Vaina says this year the organization wants to expand its outreach and services to communities outside of South King County by livestreaming Transgender Awareness Week events on its social media pages to reach rural and other Black and Brown transgender and gender-nonconforming people — making its resources more accessible and widespread.
“We definitely noticed that we were one of the few organizations who were actually holding space for Trans Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance,” Vaina said. “We see a lot of newsletters and social media campaigns, but as far as having actual events in person, or things trans people can access, we didn’t really see a lot of that in previous years.”
Vaina says this year’s Transgender Awareness Week has involved more community members and volunteers helping with preparation, education, and facilitation at events throughout the week. And as it grows, UTOPIA is also partnering with other organizations to offer a broader range of resources to the transgender community.
“With the growth of UTOPIA, we were able to also grow in terms of building community and relationships with other organizations,” said Fania Sipili, UTOPIA community care program manager. “And in doing so, we were able to really tune into the resources that they offer and have them be available to serve our community.”
UTOPIA will start Transgender Awareness Week on Nov. 14 with community outreach through its Sex Worker Empowerment Initiative (SWEI), for which volunteers will distribute safety kits, safe sex supplies, and personal protective equipment to sex workers across King County. The event will begin at its Mapu Maia Clinic, where volunteers will split into groups to go to various locations throughout King County.
On Nov. 15, UTOPIA will livestream “Intergenerational Talanoa: Combating Sexual Violence” on Facebook and YouTube. Sipili explains that talanoa means “to talk” in Samoan, and that this space is meant to allow the community to open up about the challenges trans communities face in work, public, and family settings.
“We decided that it was very important to have a mixed conversation about the different folks from different generations,” Sipili said. “And so when we speak about ‘intergenerational,’ we want to make sure that we kind of really lay out on the table conversations that are hard to have.”
Vaina says these hard conversations could bridge the gap between different generational experiences. “We also need to break the generational gaps that exist, that [don’t] allow you to be able to speak up about these things to the older generations, and bringing the two together could help foster a more supportive circle and a more supportive community where, when we are not able to find those in given families, we hope to find that in our chosen families,” Vaina said.
UTOPIA will host a “Name Change and Citizenship Clinic” on Nov. 16 to help people change their names and gender markers on identity documents. Vaina says the organization likes to call this a “one-stop shop” since it will have a doctor and, occasionally, an attorney. Over the years, the organization has been trained on the process of which forms are required, how to submit them, and how to help people navigate the court systems.
Vaina says when these services are accessible, the transitioning process has always proven to improve the mental health of trans people. Vaina also shares that this clinic has become a tradition in UTOPIA’s Transgender Awareness Week events, and the organization wants to continue removing hurdles for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.
“We truly believe that it’s not equitable, that trans people still have to pay and jump through these barriers to be able to access a name change, and be able to identify in a way that makes them feel safe,” Vaina said. “Having documents that reflect the gender that you identify as is a measure of safety as well. And so we are making sure that we are doing our part to try and remove those barriers for a lot of trans communities.”
On Nov. 17, UTOPIA will host “Navigating Ecosystems of Care” to offer a more informed approach to providing health care to trans people. The services offered out of UTOPIA’s clinic will be free to all trans and gender-nonconforming people and will include COVID-19 and MPV vaccines; HIV and STI testing; hepatitis A, B, and C testing; mental health counseling; and more.
“It’s not a secret that one of the biggest issues in the trans community is competent health care,” Vaina said. “And so one of the things that UTOPIA is trying to elevate is that there needs to be a more informed approach to providing health care to trans people.”
Vaina says the community will plant a tree on Friday, Nov. 18, in remembrance of trans people who have passed on and to celebrate their existence beyond the traumatizing details of their deaths.
That same day will also be the premiere screening of Le Nofo, a performance recorded in August that features many community members, with a focus on the trans community and how their leadership is often undermined.
“What I’m looking forward to the most is just kind of seeing everyone there, looking at the screen, and watching it all together, because it was definitely an emotional roller coaster,” Sipili said. “It’s gonna be nice for everyone to kind of recall their hard work and kind of see it [as] a very good quality and end product.”
For Transgender Day of Remembrance, UTOPIA plans to give a presentation at Auburn Riverside Theatre about how many trans people are killed every year globally, featuring people from around the world and their stories, along with a candle lighting ceremony.
“It’s a night of community coming together to raise awareness, but also coming together to remember and honor the lives of trans people who are gone too soon because of anti-transgender violence,” Vaina said.
Sipili says there will also be performances from community members, and a place where people can build connections with the community and bring their family members to better educate them on these matters.
“It’s really kind of nice, that TDOR is a place that everyone can agree that they can come to because they want to not only raise awareness, but be present to honor the lives of the victims,” Sipili said.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated to correct the acronym for Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Jadenne Radoc Cabahug is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Communications: Journalism and Public Interest and double minoring in international studies and French. She began her journalism career at 15 in Seattle through NPR KUOW 94.9 FM’s RadioActive Youth Media Program producing radio feature stories and podcasts. Since then, she has moved to print and online journalism, writing for local Seattle outlets like Crosscut, the International Examiner, the Daily and breaking international news Factal.
📸 Featured Image: UTOPIA’s Paint and Platter event during Transgender Awareness Week 2021. (Photo: Mel Ponder)
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