Parenting is never easy. For parents of transgender or gender fluid children, there are added challenges. That’s where the annual THEA Family Symposium comes in.
THEA — which stands for Transgender Health and Education Alliance — began in 2014 with a group of individuals who lived with either a transgender or gender-questioning family member. Each year, the organization invites families, trans elders, advocates, faith leaders and more to network and learn from one another, all while enjoying a kid-friendly environment.
“All these kids are thinking about is how their body and their brain are so mismatched that they’re not even deserving to live. That’s why THEA’s here. We’re here to tell those parents … look, you need to support that child. Whatever it is, you go with and let’s learn from them,” said Lisa Raman, THEA co-president.
The political climate was what “tipped the scales” and inspired THEA to go all out with this year’s symposium, Raman said.
“We have to absolutely teach our families how to be grassroots activists, how to understand legislation and speak up as one voice for this community,” she said. “It’s specifically because of the [presidential] election that our agenda changed up this year.”
This year’s activities include panels, children’s programs, keynotes from TransCentralPA President Joanne Carroll and “Modern Family” actor Jackson Millarker, along with three tracks of break-out sessions on healthcare and sexuality, family empowerment and the intersection of spirituality and science. Despite the heftiness of some of the topics, the conference will also provide a chance for families to let their hair down, whether that’s through dancing the “Electric Slide,” enjoying mealtimes or taking part in the program provided by Out Front Theater.
Carroll’s keynote speech will discuss the arc of moral history — how that arc has bent in the course of her lifetime, and how to change social justice, heat must be brought to the center of the arc. “I’m just telling our stories. Stories make the difference. It’s awful hard to hate somebody whose face and story you know,” Carroll said.
Later during the conference, she’ll have a workshop discussing the intersection between LGBT identity and religious freedom.
“I’m a Christian, so I have a unique perspective on what the evangelical right has to say about LGBT people and marginalized folks everywhere,” she said.
“We have leading endocrinologists, people who can teach about fertility and sexuality … We talk about transitioning from pediatrics to adulthood, but also social transition,” said Lisa Raman, co-president of THEA. “We also have people who will help us understand public policy and how they can engage in those conversations.”
That’s especially important for parents, who will be the go-to source for school-related questions about their child’s sexuality: what bathrooms they can use, pronouns, dress code, etc.
It’s not just families and parents who benefit from the conference, however.
“Originally we thought that our family conference would be for families that had children and teenagers who are transitioning or just gender non-conforming,” Raman said. “We’ve been truly amazed at the participation that’s coming from trans adults that say, ‘You know what, I didn’t get these opportunities when I was young, and these kids are our primary focus.’ We literally have [attendees] from 3 to 70 and we have their families and their loved ones.”