Dr. René Richards At Equality Forum

| May 8, 2007
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A major international GLBT event Equality Forum began in 1993 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as PrideFest Philadelphia, a non-profit organization hosting 15 regional organizations presenting programs on GLBT issues over the course of one weekend each year. In 2003 the organization, which had expanded its event to seven days, became Equality Forum to reflect the inclusion of international programming. This year Equality Forum happened from April 30th to May 6th in Philadelphia.

Leslie Townsend

Equality Forum has always made an effort to include the “T” from GLBT and this year on May first they presented a panel titled Visibili-T featuring Brent Bilodeau (Moderator) Director, Office of LGBT Concerns, Michigan State University, transman Jayden Sampson, Margaret Stumpp (MtF), Chief Investment Officer, Quantitative Investment Management Associates, and Leslie Townsend (MtF), author of Hidden in Plain Sight.

On the final day of the event, May 6th, Equality Forum presented A Conversation with René Richards. Dr. Richards is a TG pioneer who was forced into the national spotlight when the U.S. Tennis Association denied her entrance into the U.S. Open after she underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1975. The New York State Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977, and Dr. Richards went on to become a trailblazer for the transgender community. After retiring from tennis as a player and coach, she became a leading ophthalmologist specializing in eye muscle disorders. She is the author of an autobiography, Second Serve, and a memoir, No Way René: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, published in February.

Dr. Richards chatted at the Constitution Center with the Facilitator, Katherine Sender, for the first part of the program and then took questions from the audience. She spoke about what it was like to change gender over thirty years ago. Back then she said that there was no such thing as transition. Richard disappeared from New York City and René appeared in California. When her new employer, a California eye doctor, found out that she was a transsexual his first impulse was to protect her and make sure that no one learned her secret.

Speaking of her very public outing in 1975 she said that she hadn’t had any plan to compete in women’s professional tennis but when she was told that she couldn’tDr. Richards with Equality Forum big wigs. compete in the US Open her friends and associates urged her to fight for the right to play. She said, “People started coming up to me and saying, ‘You’ve got to protest and say you’re entitled to play in the US Open. You’ve got to carry that fight all the way to the Supreme Court!’ She added, “I did. I had a lot of misgivings about doing it.”

When asked what she thought of the transgender movement in the 21st century Dr. Richards said that if you looked around it seemed like, “The whole world is becoming transgendered.” She went on to explain that she feels it is not that there are more transgender people today but that we hear about them more since the world is beginning to, “catch up” and TGs are gaining more acceptance.

When one of the audience asked her if she saw anything that she didn’t like about the transgender community she admitted to being bothered by “youngsters experimenting with in between” lifestyles where they may use hormones and surgical procedures to spend time in both genders or an androgynous state. Her fear seemed to be that this may be teenage experimentation along the lines of tattoos or piercing and that it might cause damage that couldn’t be undone. Whether her fear is groundless or not will have to wait for the test of time.

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Category: Transgender Community News


About the Author ()

Angela Gardner is a founding member of The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc., the former editor of that organization's newsletter and magazine, Transgender Community News. She wrote the Diva of Dish column for TGF in the late 1990s and was the Editor of LadyLike magazine until its untimely demise. She is currently the Editor of TGF. She has appeared in film and television shows portraying TG characters, as well as representing Renaissance on numerous talk shows. In her idle hours she keeps busy producing her monthly TG parties, Angela's Laptop Lounge.

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