Elder conference to
focus on trans issues
by Matthew S. Bajko
Born in San Francisco in 1949, Tamara Ching has lived throughout the U.S., spending time in Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.
In 1993 the transgender activist moved back to her hometown. Today, Ching is one of two transgender people she is aware of who were born in San Francisco and still living.
The 63-year-old is multi-racial, having German, Hawaiian, and Chinese ancestry, and a former sex worker. She has consulted about trans and HIV/AIDS issues with a number of health organizations, from the Vietnamese government to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As part of Women's History Month, state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) announced last week that he had selected Ching to be included in a book being published by the upper chamber's women's caucus titled Women With Impact: A collection of stories about women who made a difference in the lives of Senators.
"Tamara's life has been anything but traditional," Yee writes in his submission for the book. He added that for as long as he has known her, "nothing can keep this lady down."
She will be sharing details about her life, from transitioning from male to female to navigating the city as a senior with mobility issues, during the second annual Howard Grayson LGBT Elder Conference.
The March 30 event, hosted by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, is focused on transgender issues this year. Grayson was a longtime Milk club member who died in 2011. He worked for many years as a home care provider and was involved in senior issues.
Ching will be taking part in a panel discussion titled "Getting Old Ain't For Sissies: Trans Life in Our 60s, 70s, and Beyond."
She plans to discuss "how aging with grace is only one perk, but will mention some of the negative stuff. As a Milk club member, nothing needs to be whitewashed ... only the truth should be told so our younger generations can benefit from our endeavors. It is also very empowering."
As the Bay Area Reporter has noted in several stories about LGBT seniors, information about transgender elders and the issues they are grappling with are often missing in studies researchers and academics have conducted. If they are included, the sample size is often miniscule.
It is something the city's LGBT Aging Policy Task Force hopes to correct with a survey it will be conducting in April. It is pushing to see many transgender seniors fill out the online questionnaire.
The issue is one that has been front and center over the last year for Sue Englander, a Milk club board member who is organizing this year's elders conference. She said she was struck last summer when she heard trans activist Felicia Elizondo, also known as Felicia Flames, speak on a panel during a Milk club meeting.
"Felicia said, 'I am very frustrated. The T in LGBT is silent.' I think it was a very decisive moment," said Englander, 60, who is bisexual and a former nurse.
By making this year's conference trans-focused – it is titled "Transitions" – Englander said the organizing committee aimed to give voice to trans people and "hoped the rest of the community would listen too."
The program includes welcoming remarks by Veronika Fimbres, a transgender activist and veteran who was embroiled in a fight last year over her request to fly the transgender flag over the Castro.
Joining Ching for the panel discussion will be Steve Toby, a certified therapist who has helped transgender clients during their transition, and Sandra Hall, director of mental health at Lyon-Martin Health Services, which has long served both trans women and lesbian patients.
"We think that the community can learn from the specific approaches to trans life," said Englander. "While the issues can be different, they can also be similar."
The event will also feature a resource fair with informational booths by a number of local agencies and groups. Among those participating are the California Alliance for Retired Americans; the Asian Pacific Island Queer Women and Transgender Community; the city's Department of Aging and Social Services; and Senior and Disability Action.
Castro store Hot Cookie will be handing out samples, while Bolerium Books, where Englander works, will be advising people on how to donate or sell their papers of historical value.
As the B.A.R. reported last week, historical archives need clear instructions in a deceased person's will or other directive in order to accept their collected ephemera and papers. Without such documentation, it can be difficult to safeguard such material.
"We will be encouraging LGBT elders to donate their papers and remembrances," said Englander, "or sell them if you really need the money."
The conference is free and open to the public. It will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 30 at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street, San Francisco.