LA puts spotlight on transgender issues with advisory council

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Los Angeles has created a special council to advise city leaders on critical issues facing the transgender community, the mayor's office said Tuesday.

The Transgender Advisory Council will advise the mayor, City Council, city staff and other elected officials on economic development, public safety and awareness, accessibility and other issues that impact the trans community in L.A., the mayor's office said. The council will work under the city's Human Relations Commission.

"The nine members of our Transgender Advisory Council will bring a new and important perspective to City Hall that will help empower trans Angelenos to lead stigma-free, productive, and meaningful lives," Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a prepared statement.

The council started as a working group that helped devise recommendations for the Los Angeles Police Department's interaction with transgender invididuals, said Council Chair Karina Samala.

Their recommendations were implemented and signed by Chief Charlie Beck almost two years ago, said Samala, who chaired the working group.

"Now I'm so grateful that the city of Los Angeles and Human Relations Commission are looking to the needs of our community and having us form an advisory council that would work on the problems and issues within our community," Samala told KPCC.

The mayor's office said L.A. was the largest city with a formal body to advise leaders on trans issues.

"There's not a lot of, you know, cities that have transgender advisory councils like this, so I'm extremely excited to be working with Mayor Garcetti and the City Council on this," said Vice Chair Talia Bettcher.

Transgender individuals in the spotlight

Transgender rights have come into focus in recent years as activists push for progress and the movement gains traction through several high-profile cases. 

Some headway has been made in the entertainment industry, for instance — at least in raising the profile of trans characters. Notable examples include the lead on the popular Amazon series "Transparent" and actor Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Lili Elbe, one of the first people to receive sex reassignment surgery, which earned him an Oscar nomination for the film "The Danish Girl."

And, of course, there was the transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner, which, while not without controversy, helped put transgender issues in the media spotlight.

The White House last year appointed a transgender member to its staff for the first time. The Pentagon recently moved to end its ban on transgender men and women in the military.

But many in the community still report facing isolation and crippling bias.

A study in 2012 from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force showed the unemployment rate for trans individuals was double the rate of the general population.

Of those surveyed, 63 percent said they experienced serious acts of discrimination, including loss of job, eviction, bullying, physical assault, sexual assault and homelessness.

"The business of the Transgender Advisory Council is going to be this: first to determine what is within the purview of the city of Los Angeles, and within our purview, to address what can we address, what can't we address, and how can we do that effectively?" Vice Chair Bettcher said.

Council spans age groups, ethnicities 

The council itself is diverse, representing different ages, ethnicities and experiences.

Councilmember Terri Jay, who is Navajo and a certified addiction specialist working in the field for 27 years, said it was important for her to be visible as a Native American.

The council chair, Samala, is from the Phillipines.

Councilmember Zoey Luna, at just 14 years old, is the council's youth member.

"I definitely think that this board wants to make sure that youth are included, because we're trying to be fair and equal to all trans people," Luna said.

Diana Feliz Oliva, who identifies as a trans Latina, said she felt she could be a role model for others who have struggled against the stigma and barriers many trans people face. She said she was at one time incarcerated but went on to Columbia University to obtain a master's degree and now hopes to effect change for others in the trans community.

Still, only two of the council's nine members are trans men.

Jaden Fields, who identifies as a black trans man, said he was excited to be a part of the council and hoped more like him would be part of the conversation.

"What really brought me to this was I wanted to elevate the voices of the trans masculine community and to show that trans men definitely need to be at the table when it comes to making decisions and influencing decisions on behalf of this community," Fields said.

The council held its first meeting Tuesday and will be looking to the community to help set its agenda moving forward, Bettcher told KPCC.

"I think that, you know, we need to actually get a sense of what the needs are in Los Angeles, so that's something that we'll be thinking about," she said.

The new council will gather once a month for a public meeting.

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