As a transgender woman in the Cowichan Valley, Willa Atkinson hasn’t always been comfortable about putting herself out there.
She decided that had to change recently after a presentation against SOGI 123, a program designed to improve the safety and inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in schools.
“My bubble had been disturbed,” she said.
In response, Atkinson is organizing a Gender Identity Expression Day at the Cowichan Community Centre next Tuesday. Her hope is to bring Valley residents of all backgrounds together for a discussion “about transgender people and their place in this community and the world.”
“The conversation about transgender is dictated by the media and what people say on social media,” Atkinson said. “And we need to have a public conversation about this.”
Atkinson is the creator of Visibly Transgender, the first open and public group on Facebook for transgender people, and is also behind the Cowichan Valley Gender Identity Facebook group. At Tuesday’s event, she will host a public and open discussion about transgender people in our community, where participants are encouraged to ask questions and make comments.
“Having not spoken in public in 20 years, standing in front of an audience sharing my story and views is a form of my gender expression as I have found my voice and platform as a woman,” she wrote in the flyer for the event.
The special guest is Cynthia Fortlage, the CIO of GHY International who has been recognized by OUTstanding as one of the top 100 LGBT+ executives in the world for 2018.
“Her support and appearance at the Cowichan Valley Gender Expression Day is an honour,” Atkinson wrote in the flier. “She would be a wonderful transgender role model for everyone to meet.”
Fortlage’s next scheduled speaking appearance after Tuesday’s event will be at a global business leaders conference in Israel in June.
Other scheduled speakers include a Cowichan Tribes elder, Duncan United Church minister Keith Simmonds, and “transgender warrior” Bodhi Thompson Gardner.
Gender Identity Expression Day will take place on Tuesday, May 28 at the Cowichan Community Centre’s Somenos Room from 6-9 p.m.