Documentary filmmaker Randall Jenson, 32,RandallJenson.com, of Kansas City received a 2016 Rocket Grant from the Charlotte Street Foundation for an online video project by SocialScope Productions. The video campaign will present uplifting messages from transgender and nongendered (TGNC) youth. Jenson also started a support group for TGNC youth; find information at trans.report/tgncyouth.
Jenson was raised in Lake St. Louis, and was kicked out of the house at 17 when he came out as gay. He completed high school while living in shelters and couch-surfing and was offered a full-ride scholarship by DePaul University, where he earned a bachelor of arts in women and gender studies and anthropology with a minor in LGBT studies. Jenson returned to St. Louis to work as an LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) activist before being recruited to Kansas City in 2014.
Jenson works nationally as well as locally on anti-violence initiatives and youth advocacy, appearing on “Oprah” in 2006 and writing articles in publications such as Out.
This conversation took place on the balcony of his home and studio in midtown.
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Q: What has been the response among Kansas City’s LGBTQ community to the (June 12) mass killing at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando?
A: Unfortunately there have been instances of appropriation of the massacre. We are not Orlando and using “WeAreOrlando” hashtags is completely wrong and it erases the violence that happened there.
There have been instances of white LGBTQ people in Kansas City making it about themselves. That is called “white fragility.”
Q: What does “white fragility” mean?
A: It’s where white LGBT folks say, “I feel unsafe now walking outside,” when, if we look at what happened in Orlando, if it was a hate crime against LGBTQ people, it was also absolutely a racist hate crime against a specific community, namely latinx (“la-teen-ex”) Puerto Ricans. (Nearly half of those killed had Puerto Rican ties, according to The Associated Press.)
Q: What does “latinx” mean?
A: Latinx is an inclusive term that makes room for trans and nongendered people in Spanish, which is a gendered language. That was the targeted community in Orlando, and the latinx community in Kansas City is the community that needs to be heard from, particularly when they have been the target of violence here and murder, in the case of Tamara Dominguez.
Q: What can people outside the latinx community do to help?
A: If you are a donor, make sure the money is going to the community the organization says it is going to. Ask to see the books. Ask how often they check in with the clients they serve. Ask how involved the board is: Do they talk directly to staff and clients, or is everything filtered through the executive director?
Ask to talk to the clients.
It’s too easy to say, “Oh, I wrote that check. Oh, I got my photo with the rainbow filter.”
Being supportive requires action steps. It requires holding people accountable.
Q: Who comes to your new support group for trans and nongender youth?
A: We’ve had kids from as far away as Harrisonville, Missouri. We had 12-year-olds to 19-year-olds there. I would say the average age was about 13.
Q: How did the 12-year-olds get there?
A: Their parents brought them! So you have youth whose families have rejected them coming from shelters, and youth whose parents are fully accepting coming together. And a really cool thing that is happening is, some of the parents are staying and meeting in a separate room and basically forming a parent support group.
Q: Your parents were not supportive when you came out. Do you have contact with them now?
A: No. I think the best thing for me was realizing that sometimes the parents we are given in this world just aren’t good parents. I made the choice to accept that this is who my mom is, but it doesn’t mean that I have to interact with her, and the same with my dad.
I am privileged and lucky to have a lot of self-created family. It’s difficult at holidays and birthdays. At the Rocket Grant celebration, I didn’t have any official family there, but I had “family,” I had people who love me.
Q: What is your vision for your Rocket Grant video project?
A: Since trans people of color in Kansas City are at the epicenter of feeling unsafe, I want to lift up their voices. And the LGBTQ youth of color tell me they really want to hear from adults in that community who get it and who can teach them about appropriate boundaries.
My video campaign is not going to be the typical thing where trans kids talking about feeling unsafe or sad. Those stories are important, but I’m going to focus people feeling strong and wise and how they are surviving and thriving.