“I am Manhattan.”
This is such a simple phrase but it can mean so much. To say you are a part of something implies you are a member of a community. As in any com-munity, it does not mean you agree with each other, or even necessarily like one another. In a community, you respect and appreciate one another despite your differences.
Some of you may already have noticed a billboard on K-177 just across the Kansas River east of downtown Manhattan. On it, Adam O’Brien proudly proclaims, “I am an art student at Kansas State University and an avid tattoo designer. I am an older brother, a best friend, and a full-on nerd. I am Manhattan.” Sounds like a nice guy, doesn’t he?
Adam also says, “I am a transgender man.”
A majority of Manhattanites will have a reaction of “OK” and then get on with their lives. The Flint Hills Human Rights Project invites you to instead take a few minutes and consider that many members of the transgender community are not as fortunate at Adam.
Transgender youth are often rejected by their families and society. This leads to a higher rate of homelessness, poverty and suicide. They report being harassed by fellow students at a disproportionate rate. They have been denied medical services. It has been said they should not have access to basic public services, like restrooms or dressing rooms.
Are things getting better? Yes. Are there still challenges? Yes. There are members of our community who live in fear. It might be a person who is questioning his or her gender identity. It might be a parent con-fused by their child’s behavior. It might be a sibling keeping a secret for a brother or sister. Hopefully this billboard will give them comfort.
We are lucky that in Manhattan many members of the community stepped forward to support the billboard. Thank you to those who donated money, time and labor. It would not have been possible without your support. And, thank you, Adam, for your bravery and for being a member of the Manhattan community.
The billboard was sponsored by the Flint Hills Human Rights Project, a local organization dedicated to serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the community and their families and friends. The poster that inspired the bill-board was created by The Face of Trans. The Face of Trans is headquartered in Wichita and seeks to bring visibility of transgender people to the fore-front by encouraging and fostering interaction be-tween the transgender and non-transgender commun-ities.
We understand that many of you have questions. You may not be sure exactly what it means to be transgender. You may have questions about resources for persons who are transgender. You might just be curious. That is OK. The Flint Hills Human Rights Project is planning educational events on the subject, and the public will be invited. Watch for more in-formation on our Facebook page or website, http://www.fhhrp.com.
With education, compassion and understanding, someday everyone will be able to say with confidence and without fear, “I am Manhattan.”