Iden Campbell McCollum is the founder of The Campbell Center, a peer-run resource center for people living with mental health challenges. The center serves the primarily low-income and African American community in Southeast Washington, D.C. McCollum, a man in his mid-forties with a bright smile, has been running the Center for almost five years now.1
He is also transgender, and one of five people featured in a groundbreaking new ad campaign that ran on 200 D.C.-area bus shelters from September of 2012 through January 2013.
While the definition varies from individual to individual, transgender people generally are those who identify with a gender that is different from the one they were assigned at birth. For McCollum that means while he was assigned female at birth, he has come to identify as male and has made steps toward embracing that identity.
Now he is part of the first ever city government-funded ad campaign to address respect for transgender people. You might find McCollum featured on a bus shelter, full bodied and larger than life, with the quote, “I love the wharf, listening to jazz at Westminster Church and playing basketball with other guys. I’m a transgender man and I’m part of DC.”2 Of the four other people featured in the series, two are transgender women; another is a transgender man, and the fifth person’s ad features language about gender nonconformity (“I may not fit some ideas about gender, and I’m a proud part of DC”).
McCollum says he was inspired to participate in part because of the murder of Campbell Center intern, Lashai McLean, in July 2011. A trans woman, she was fatally shot one evening while walking home in Northeast D.C. The details remain unsolved, but McCollum says he thinks her death may have been related to her gender identity: “Had [the assailant] been educated that trans people are people like anyone else, maybe they could have passed by each other in a safe manner.”
If it was a bias crime, that wouldn’t be unusual in Washington. According to the DC Trans Coalition, “Since July 2011, there have been over 60 attacks against trans people in DC, according to information published by DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Overall, anti-trans violence made up 14 percent of all anti-LGBT violence in 2011.”3 The Metropolitan Police Department keeps detailed statistics of bias crimes in the District, and anti-LGBTQ crimes top all categories by leaps and bounds. For example, in 2010, 57 percent of all bias-related crimes were based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The next highest percentage, bias crimes related to race, only accounted for 30 percent of crimes.4 And even these statistics may not reflect the true reality of crimes against transgender people specifically. Captain Edward Delgado of the MPD says that reporting for bias crimes against transgender people have historically not been representative of what police believe, from anecdotal reports, takes place in the city.5
This ad campaign, spearheaded by the city’s Office of Human Rights, is just one effort among a number that aims to improve conditions for transgender and gender nonconforming residents of Washington, D.C. Elliot Imse, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the Office of Human Rights, says the ad campaign came about after a group of transgender advocates sat down with recently elected Mayor Vincent Gray in August 2011 to discuss unemployment among transgender people in the district. According to those at the meeting, the new Mayor was eager to work with the community to improve conditions. One project that resulted was a specific job-training program for transgender residents. Another was the ad campaign.
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