Kansas City leaders seek perspective, input at city’s first Trans Town Hall

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 10:30 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) – The Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center became a safe and welcoming space Wednesday night for people who don’t always feel either.

Wednesday afternoon, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed two bills into law that target trans and nonbinary Missourians. One would severely restrict gender-affirming care for children, prison inmates and Medicaid recipients. The other would prevent trans girls and women from participating in female sports teams from kindergarten through college.

But, the woman who founded the organization that spearheaded Thursday night’s event didn’t want to talk about that. The night wasn’t about responding but taking the lead.

“This is going to happen regardless of what’s happening in Jeff City and with Governor Parson,” said Merrique Jenson, the founder and executive director of Transformations.

Transformations began in Kansas City as a trans and gender-expansive youth organization. Originally geared towards all youth, Jenson said they realized they weren’t reaching those who needed them most.

“We’re shifting to focus on supporting trans young people in survival mode, who don’t have supportive guardians and families, as well as trans communities of color most specifically impacted by the epidemic of violence,” Jenson said.

The event was a mix of celebration and commitment to action. The Kansas City Health Department’s director was there to hear about how the department could better meet the needs of the trans community.

“We don’t have anyone in the city that’s providing what in the HIV world might be called linkage to care, connecting people to gender-affirming care,” Jenson said.

Four local leaders were recognized with Trans Icon Awards. One was Tre’shawn Roberts, a performer and ballroom house mother.

“I’m so thankful that Kansas City Transformations came to Kansas City and opened the doors and so many pathways for us, the trans women that have been putting in the hard work and that did not ever get the recognition,” Roberts said.

Another award recipient was Kelly Nou, a makeup artist who is on Transformations’ board of directors.

“It’s great to have this event so those individuals can be recognized by the community for the work they’re doing,” said Nou.

“I think today is about joy,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. “We spend a lot of time talking about the tragedies that befall the trans community. What we don’t talk about is the absolutely beautiful people that we get a chance to deal with, their talent and their impact in our community, a diverse community.”

Last month, the city signed a resolution to be a sanctuary city for gender-affirming care. The mayor said one purpose of the town hall was to listen particularly to trans women of color, whose voices often get left out of the conversation, and learn how the city can be more welcoming.