Transgender climate scientist, humanist and activist Dr. Mika Tosca's keynote kicked off the day-long "Being a Stronger Ally: A Trans/GNC Affirming Symposium" Feb. 22 at the Chicago Waldorf School in Andersonville. Andersonville Chamber of Commerce's Trans/GNC Affirming Task Force hosted the event.
Tosca is a School of the Art Institute of Chicago assistant professor and Jet Propulsion Laboratory climate researcher who was featured on WTTW's Chicago Tonight show last summer to talk about her work combining art and science. Her research focuses on how human activities and climate change intersects.
Andersonville Chamber of Commerce Community and Events Manager Laura Austin welcomed approximately 80 people and spoke about the formation of the chamber's Trans/GNC Affirming Task Force in the fall of 2018.
"[The task force was created] in response to feedback that our transgender and gender nonconforming residents and visitors were being misgendered and mistreated frequently at our businesses," said Austin. "They felt unrepresented and unseen. Andersonville has always been a safe and welcoming community so we asked ourselves how and why this was happening, what changes needed to be made and what does an inclusive LGBTQ neighborhood and city look like."
Austin reminded the audience about the first "Being a Stronger Ally" workshop they held last February that helped more than 70 businesses with the tools to create safe and welcoming spaces for their transgender and gender nonconforming ( GNC ) customers. She also spoke about being the mother of a transgender child and wanting a better world for them.
Tosca asked audience members if they have ever misgendered someone or been misgendered themselvesand almost all raised their hands. She also asked how that made people feel afterward, adding that everyone should keep that in mind during her talk.
Speaking about her work as a climate scientist, Tosca said the proclamations people have made that the world is ending really mean to her "No, the world is not endingjust this world is ending. But, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make the next world better, and more equitable."
Tosca added that her journey as a transgender woman has shown her the "important parallels between the existential crisis facing the planet and the existential crisis that confronts many transgender folks as we begin to reckon with and acknowledge our own gender."
In terms of the high rates of transgender people who have attempted suicide, Tosca said she is among that percentage because of instances in her adolescence where she "was hopeless and confused and dreaded the idea of transition."
Tosca said her thoughts at that time were centered on being disowned, not having any friends or not living a "normal" life. She spoke about the journey transgender people go on from realizing their gender identity to needing allies and support because they are vulnerable and scared to needing access to things like healthcare, jobs and public spaces including bathrooms.
When Tosca moved to Chicago two years ago, she said she was a "newly hatched egg" and chose to live in Andersonville because of the inclusiveness of the neighborhood where LGBTQ people were able to live their lives openlyalthough that has not stopped her from being misgendered even there.
"[That incident] sent me into a spiral. 'I am not passing. I will never pass. Nobody sees me as a woman. Am I unsafe using the bathroom,'" said Tosca about an incident in a neighborhood Starbucks. "The fantasy was ruined."
Tosca said the best way she thinks cisgender people can be better allies is to stop using gendered pronouns and instead use they/them or to not use pronouns at all. She added that being a better ally also means hiring transgender and gender-nonconforming people and treating them with respect among many other actions.
Following Tosca's remarks, About Face Theatre's Education Manager Amy Sheahan introduced troupe members Nico Quinn, AngelÃca Grace and Aimy Tien, who performed their Power in Pride spoken-word act and answered audience member's questions.
Chicago Therapy Collective trainers facilitated each sessionTrans 101 with Chicago Counseling Associate's Blue, Trans-Inclusive Customer Service with The Care Plan's Jackie Boyd and Well Intentioned Organizations and Hostile Work Environments with University of Chicago's Dr. S. Simmons and Youth Empowerment Performance Project's Bonsai Bermudez.
Brave Space Alliance's Stephanie Skora and composer Allie Stephens led a civic engagement panel featuring Ald. Andre Vasquez ( 40th Ward ), Cook County Circuit Court judicial candidate and attorney Jill Rose Quinn, community activist Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, Helix Cafe's Caitlin Botsios and Big Jones Chef Paul Fehribach.
Among the symposium sponsors were Chicago Waldorf School,Women & Children First, Pet Food Experts, First Midwest Bank, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy ( 14th District ) and Total Wellness Chiropractic Clinic's Dr. Kimberly Beith.
See Andersonville.org and ChicagoTherapyCollective.org .