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Lisa Scheps - Changing the world

Changing the world 
The activism of Lisa Scheps
By Jessica Soukup of for KOOP

Headshot of Lisa Scheps
Lisa Scheps
Few would argue that the climate has improved for transgender people.  We all understand that there's still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done, especially for trans people of color and trans youth.  Nevertheless, just a few years ago if you wanted to transition, you planned and organized, moved away abandoning your old life, and started over in a new place. 

As I transitioned, I still had to worry about the safety of my job and about the likely loss of relationships I have had for many years but, all trans people stand on the shoulders of activists who publicly transitioned and fought for trans rights at a time when open discussions of trans rights were not a thing.

I first met Lisa Scheps over dinner at a Texas Roadhouse in South Austin.  She was working to find a new executive director for the Transgender Education Network of Texas. When I met her, I frankly hardly had any idea who she was and of her history of trans activism.  Since then I have heard her name echo through the trans activist community in Texas.

I bumped into her most recently as she was preparing an original trans written, produced, and acted play for the Ground Floor Theater in Austin called Transom.

She very graciously agreed to answer some questions for me about her life as an activist.

JS: Do you consider yourself an activist?  Why or why not?

LS: I do consider myself an activist.  I believe anyone who is working to make a difference is an activist…  Some think the word has a negative connotation, but I do not.  To me, anyone who has come out to friends, family, and coworkers is helping to move us all forward.  The biggest roadblock for gender diverse civil rights is ignorance so by coming out or speaking up or being a VOCAL ally, you are being an activist.

JS: Please tell me your favorite story of Activism

LS: One day this person came up to me and said, “do you remember that talk you did at my university on Transgender education?  Well, you should know that I had a very close friend that was in that class and they were deeply trouble and was considering harming themselves…  After your talk, they felt better… more connected and had a better outlook on life…  you saved their life that day.”  I can’t tell you what it means to hear stories like that.. to know that the work we do actually touches individuals make it all worthwhile.

JS: What is one dream you have for the future?

LS: To not be needed as an advocate for the gender diverse.  I think we are gonna get there, but we all have to continue to fight…. Especially in states like Texas.  I don’t think that we will no be facing bigotry and bias in our lifetimes, but I do believe the world is heading in a direction of love, acceptance, and respect.

JS: Who is one friend you look up to?

LS: It is hard NOT to look up to Mara Keisling (she is 6’ tall).  Mara is the Executive Director and Founder of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

JS: How did you meet?

LS: I met Mara when I was struggling early on in my transition and worried about coming out to my nieces and nephews as I was their favorite uncle and didn’t want to lose the ‘favorite’ part.  I posted a question on a trans group and Mara answered it and told me she was giving a talk at Southern Comfort that year.  I went to see the talk and introduced myself to Mara and went on my way.  During her talk, I learned that she was in a similar business to mine and she had not lost any clients.

When I was losing my business because of my transition (my partners were forcing me out), I contacted Mara for advice…  She didn’t hesitate offering her assistance in ANY way she could even though she and I did not know each other at all.  I ended up losing the business.  A few months later, we met again at a conference that I organized in Chicago and I ask if I could take her to dinner as a thank you.  We went to my favorite haunt , Club Lucky, and we became fast friends.  I witnessed, first hand, Mara’s generous spirit and caring. And was there when she started NCTE (I am a founding board member).  Mara continues to amaze me with the incredible work she is doing.

JS: What is the most scared you have been when trying to make a difference in the world?

LS: I don’t know if ‘scared’ is the right word here.  When I am working in the advocacy space, I am focused on what I am doing and don’t really pay attention to the dangers.  That being said, I am not a transwoman of color and I have all the resources afforded me by my privilege, so I am lucky that way.

JS: What do you say to people who say they want to make a difference but they don't know what to do