San Diego Empowerment Event Focuses on Academics, Employment, Service

| Apr 8, 2019
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By Melanie Yarborough (Neutral Corner) Photos by Michelle Dungan (Neutral Corner)

San Diego’s 16th annual Transgender Day of Empowerment (TDOE) was held this past April 5th at the Hillcrest LGBT Center. It focused on three key elements of scholarship, work, and public service. 

Academic studies are always a centerpiece at San Diego’s TDOE event, and the Tracie Jada O’Brien scholarships are awarded to deserving trans youth. Event organizer Sarafina Scapicchio noted that in the last few years, they have provided 67 scholarships totaling $33,500. This year, 22 trans youth received scholarships for studies in such fields as Chemistry, language arts, nursing, psychology, and history. Former Trans Scholarship recipient Claire Russell summed up the importance of these funds: “When we give our trans-siblings the runway to soar, we don’t just change the lives of one person. We inspire the community.”

Michaela Mendlesohn

Employment for transpeople can be hard if not impossible to find. Even when found, workplace conditions can be difficult and threatening.  Keynote speaker Michaela Mendelsohn spoke on how “Financial security empowers us all” and current efforts to help transpeople find stable and rewarding employment.

Michaela is a well-known member of our community. She opened her company’s El Pollo Loco restaurant in 1988, later owned and operated 17 franchises, and served for nine years as president of the El Pollo Loco Franchise Association. As an activist, she serves on the Board of Directors of the Trevor Project which provides help to transyouth, and was Grand Marshal at Los Angeles 2018 Pride. She founded the group Trans Can Work ( This nonprofit organization trains business in the hiring of transworkers and related issues, as well as programs to help jobseekers. Michaela noted that at a recent Trans Job Fair held in Los Angeles, there were 76 employers and 500 job seekers, 200 interviews and 40-50 hirings. 

However, she sees one major challenge as the conflict of Policy versus Culture. It’s well and good for business to have at the corporate level trans-friendly policies. However, this helps little if on the entry level, the person in charge of hiring has personal qualms about trans-employees. The company official may think “I don’t know how to deal with this” or “If we do the wrong thing, we’ll be sued”. And so they find plausible reasons to deny the candidate the job. Clearly, policy changes aren’t enough- people’s hearts and minds need to be opened as well.

Community Service is another path to empowerment. Veronica Zerrer (President of San Diego’s Transgender Group Neutral Corner) presented a special recognition for transgender personnel serving past and present in our armed forces. Veronica noted “ I have had the privilege to get to know, and work with many of the sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen, you will soon meet…Know that this roomful of citizens, retirees, and veterans will not rest until this [current transmilitary] ban is overcome. And for those ROTC cadets in the room tonight, know this: That there will come the day when you too will take that oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.”

In addition, several trans-community service awards were presented: Angelle M Maua earned the Building Bridges award for starting a support group for parents of color. M. Valladolid received the Satin Styles Youth Award for serving as a role model to other youth. Van Ethan Levy, who works as a mental health clinician, was given the Community Service Award.

Special guests at the event included State Assemblyman Todd Gloria, San Diego City Council Member Georgette Gomez, Council Representative Tyler Renner (for Council Member Chris Ward), Field Representative Toni Duran (for President Pro Tempore of the State Senate Toni Atkins), and Nicole Murray-Ramirez of the Imperial Court.


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Category: Transgender Community News


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