Local organizations promote understanding of transgender residents with billboard

Caitlyn Massy | The Collegian A billboard sponsored by the Flint Hills Human Rights Project stands behind Manhattan Aquarium Co. off K-177/K-18

In an effort to help raise awareness and visibility of the transgender community, a billboarding featuring Adam O’Brien, senior in fine arts, was constructed alongside K-177 by Sunflower Pets.

The Flint Hills Human Rights Project funded the sign, which launched on March 31, International Day of Transgender Visibility, which reads, “I am an art student at Kansas State University and an avid tattoo designer. I am an older brother, a best friend, and a full-on nerd. I am a transgender man. I am Manhattan.”

The billboard, displayed through the month of April, was part of a series called the “i am project,” with other billboards displayed in Wichita, Kansas City, Lawrence, Overland Park and other major Kansas cities.

The series of images in the “i am project” originally began as an Internet series promoted though The Face of Trans website and social media accounts. The Face of Trans, a state wide organization, has focused on changing the stereotypes of the LGBT community and encouraging equality and acceptance since April 2013.

The idea behind the billboard and event was to spark conversations and promote open communication between members of the Manhattan community.

“It’s easy to dismiss transgender people when we feel we cannot or do not relate to them,” Elle Boatman, founder of The Face of Trans, said.

There has been mixed reaction to the billboard from the Manhattan community, but the Flint Hills Human Rights Project has expressed excitement that people are talking about the issue nonetheless.

The Flint Hills Human Rights Project held an event, Beyond the Binary, on April 24 to promote open discussion about the issues faced by transgender people in society and in the Manhattan community. The event hosted more than 50 people, and featured Boatman as its speaker, followed by a panel discussion with O’Brien, Dorinda Lambert, director of Counseling Services, and physician Dr. Diana Brightbill. The panel spoke of the challenges transgenders, gays and lesbians face, particularly about how hard it is for them to have open conversations about themselves when so many do not understand their perspective. Each person shared stories of how the community of Manhattan had impacted them and allowed guests to ask as many questions as they wanted.

The reaction caused by the panel’s message was positive from many people.

That’s incredible,” Rebecca Lu, Manhattan resident, said. “Here in conservative Kansas, no less.”

Others, however, said they did not agree with the message.

“I don’t see why we have to be so tolerant,” Dan Martin, junior in agricultural communications, said. “I mean, do what you want, but it would be a different story if I told you my religious views.”

The Flint Hills Human Rights Project is a grassroots organization that locally supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. According to their website, they “seek to promote a society where people of all classes, races, sexual orientations and gender identities can enjoy complete sexual and reproductive freedom and expression, as part of their full enjoyment of life, without fear of harassment.”

The organization offers membership to anyone who identifies as LGBT or an ally of LGBT rights, and uses donations for the Praxis Scholarship Fund. The Praxis Scholarship is open to any student or a Flint Hills area college or university that has demonstrated support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex and questioning (LGBTTIQ) individuals.

“Transgender and LGBT issues are being talked about openly in a way that encourages understanding,” Kara Wilkes, sophomore in elementary education, said. “It’s about students starting to use higher levels of thinking about these issues.”