Well, I hate to say it, but summer is coming to an end. And although I’m sad that I won’t be able to swim outside for much longer, I look forward to my favorite season, fall. This month, I interviewed Samantha Kay Ruggles, community center operations manager at the Kansas City Center for Inclusion (formerly LIKEME Lighthouse). In addition to being an activist in the LGBT community, Ruggles is the executive director of Transfinity KC Chorus, a choir of transgender people and allies. I am excited to share her interview with our readers!
Are you from Kansas City? If not, what drew you to KC?
I was born in a small town in south-central Kansas near the Wichita area. While working in the oil fields of Kansas, I started taking classes at the local community college. Eventually I went to Lawrence, attending the University of Kansas, earning a bachelor of science degree in business administration. Several of my friends lived in KC, so it was a natural fit and I like the Midwest big-city feel. A job transfer to Dallas and then [to] Nashville took me away for about six years during the early 2000s. When it came time for my children to attend grade school, we decided to move back in 2005. Out of the last 30 years, 25 have been in KC, and it’s considered my home.
How long has it been since you transitioned?
Transitioning is not an overnight occurrence, and defining the exact moment is difficult. In some ways, I have been transitioning my whole life and will continue indefinitely. The transitioning moment for me was deciding to go full time. It is that point in time when the desire (or necessity) to live authentically outweighs the fear of being authentic. To be true to oneself in ALL Ways Always. That date occurred on July 14, 2016, after attending a Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce B2B [networking] event.
There was a rally recently in Kansas City in support of transgender people serving in the military in response to President Trump’s tweet about reviving the military ban on transgender people. The event attracted people from the LGBT community, as well as allies. What do you feel brings people who might not even know a transgender person out in solidarity over discrimination?
Actually, the tweet declared that after consulting with generals, the U.S. government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. The tweet was misinformed rhetoric to incite hate and bigotry. There was no consultation with generals, and currently the proposed ban is under review, pending litigation.
Regarding the rally, I was impressed on several fronts. One was how fast this was put together by the City of Fountains Sisters, and two, the number of people that attended. The fight for transgender rights is a fight for human and civil rights. We all have a stake in this, as this administration is moving up the marginalization ladder. Everyone should be afraid, as they might be next.
What is your response to people who believe that the rise of people identifying as transgender, gender-fluid, non-binary, etc., is just a fad?
Really? Does anyone think it’s trendy to be assaulted, killed, scorned, lose friends and loved ones, be fired from a job and laughed at by many members of society? I don’t think so. Transgender-identifying folks have been around since the dawn of time. The language has evolved, but there has been evidence of gender variations dating back centuries, including all nations and all cultures. Today, more and more people are coming out as transgender or gender non-conforming in part because the next generation is open to gender diversity and not hung up on the gender binary. This is due to the many leaders that have come forward and spoken their truth, like Janet Mock, Angelica Ross, Laverne Cox and many others.
What can community members do to support transgender people in the area?
There are lots of things, but the first thing is to show up, stand up, speak up. Come out as an ally, not just at rallies, but in your day-to-day conversations. It is time for allies to get out of the closet, too.
Second is the dismantling of the gender binary. Gender is a spectrum with endpoints of male and female. This includes gender expression, gender identity, biological sex and attraction. Using personal pronouns to show respect even if you are cisgender is welcomed. Use your pronouns on business cards, email signatures, intake forms, etc.
Allies should also get involved with social justice. The disproportionate discrimination and violence toward trans women of color is appalling. Attend SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) meetings, Black Lives Matter rallies and other causes, as discrimination and marginalization have to start with those that are most affected.
Please describe your position as the community center operations manager at the Kansas City Center for Inclusion (formerly LIKEME Lighthouse).
My position involves keeping to our mission of providing a safe, welcoming, affirming space for LGBTQIA+ individuals, friends, families and allies. Direct services include referrals to other agencies for things like health care, HIV testing, shelters, support groups, therapists and affirming lawyers. We also offer meeting and event space for other organizations to utilize for a donation. My role is to keep things running smooth, manage volunteers, and keep our community resources updated. The other activities I get involved with are outreach, event planning and fundraising.
What has been your biggest challenge in this position?
My biggest challenge was the days and weeks after the election. We normally get three to four volunteer inquiries a month. By Saturday after the election, we had over 40 emails and voicemails from folks wanting to help. Traffic increased three-fold, to the point I had hotlines saved in my phone.
I understand that you are the executive director of the Transfinity KC Chorus. How long has this chorus been active in the area?
A group of trans-identifying individuals got together in late 2015 and decided to start a choir to sing our truth of peace and unity. Our first performance was at Pride in 2016, followed by a concert in December. We have performed at several venues, including several church events, a Transgender Health Conference, and then again at Pride this year. Our next season is just starting, and we are actively hoping for new singers. If anyone is interested in learning more, please check out our Facebook page, Transfinity KC, Friends and Allies or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does being executive director entail?
We are a startup nonprofit organization, so it entails a lot of things. Mostly the business aspects of an organization, including outreach, venue planning and promotion. Much like my role at the center, it is about keeping things running smooth and then getting out of the way.
And a fun one! What flavor of slushy would you be and why?
I am not really a slushy type person. I tend to be solid in my convictions yet flexible in my approach. Therefore, I will go with a frozen margarita, as I am sweet, tangy and salty around the edges while holding true to my form.