Adian Key’s work as an author, speaker and community organizer for transgender rights allows him to see minds and hearts change all the time.
Key, who grew up in Juneau and is two decades into his own transition journey, said that when working with school districts to form trans-inclusive policies he watches acceptance grow. He said even people initially opposed to the idea of allowing transgender students to use restrooms based on identity have eventually warmed up to the idea that putting a policy in place protects all students.
“I have watched people move forward,” Key said. “I’m not saying they’re happy. They’re not waving the pride flag at the end, but they’re calmer.”
Key, who now resides in Seattle, spoke at University of Alaska Southeast following a screening of transgender rights documentary, “The Most Dangerous Year.”
The movie tracks the progress and impact of “bathroom bills” introduced in Washington state in 2016. It also follows Key’s work as director for Gender Diversity, a nonprofit that increased awareness and understanding of gender diversity in children,with a school district attempting to craft policy that would allow all students, including transgender ones, to feel safe and comfortable in restrooms and locker rooms.
Key and the film found a receptive audience in Juneau.
People inside the lecture hall clapped when “bathroom bills” failed to become law, and had audibly hostile reactions when an on-screen talking heads made transphobic statements.
After the 90-minute documentary, Key spent about 45 minutes taking questions from the audience and talking about his personal experiences working as a transgender civil rights advocate and sort of de facto ambassador for the community.
Topics ranged from comments about the movie to questions of what role cisgender allies play in making the world a less transphobic place.
“Part of what we need to feel more comfortable is for you to take care of everyone else,” Key said. “You just keep talking to people. Inspire that conversation.”
“The Most Dangerous Year” primarily focuses on transgender children, who express themselves in ways that line up with cultural expectations for the gender with which they identify. Key was asked how progress could be made for transgender people who express themselves differently or don’t necessarily “pass” as their identified gender.
Key said as someone who is two decades into his transition journey, he plays some role in making people aware that transgender people are just everyday people.
“It’s not people like me who are suffering,” Key said. “But if people meet people like me, it helps move us forward.”
Key also addressed how the young people he works with are coping with proposed national policies, such as a military ban, that treat transgender people differently from other Americans.
“I work my butt off with the children I work with to ensure the kids are not aware of the devastation to trans rights,” Key said. “The parents shoulder the stress of gender transition.”
He said those who transition during adulthood or late adolescence also grapple with questions of what the future holds, but in his experience transgender youth are navigating the obstacles in their life with determination and grace.
“I’m watching them move through their difficulties coming through fighters,” Key said. “These kids are really stepping up. My hope is we can show them love, acceptance, support and the beautiful human beings that they are.”
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.