Echo Inducts Stevie Tran into Hall of Fame
By Staff, November 2017 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2017 here.
Stevie Tran is an attorney, published author, and speaker whose scholarship has been focused on the intersection of diversity litigation and social issues in the transgender community.
Tran called Arizona home from 2003 to 2010, and, during that period she left a lasting impression on the Valley of the Sun. She earned a Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, from Arizona State University in political science, with minors in Japanese and women and gender studies as well as a LGBT studies certificate.
In 2005, Tran became a member of Sigma Phi Beta Fraternity which offers “a unique social and educational environment for our members within the traditional Greek fraternity system, while providing all open-minded men in college with career and character building opportunities” to gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender men in college.
“Without my fraternity, I do not know where I would be,” Tran said, adding that she held various positions within the chapter throughout her collegiate experience, including chapter president.
As Tran’s gender expression became more feminine, members of her fraternity began to ask questions around membership as it pertained to transgender individuals. As a result, the fraternity formed a transgender working group that led to the National Council’s enactment of its Policy on Gender, which provides that any individual who identifies as male, regardless of sex assigned at birth, is eligible for membership in Sigma Phi Beta. It further provides that no member may lose their membership rights as a result of a change in gender identity or gender expression.
“Because of this Policy on Gender, I felt affirmed. I felt like I was seen. And I felt like my fraternity truly was living consistently with these values of lifelong Brotherhood,” she said. “To see myself in the words of the Constitution of my organization and to know that my Brothers have created a place for me was pivotal in the way that I viewed where I belonged in the fraternity. It was empowering to know that I would never lose my brotherhood along my journey of self-realization.”
It was through this research and subsequent validation, that other young trans folks deserved the same opportunity to experience the supportive friendships that she found in Sigma Phi Beta – especially when, like in her case, college serves as the first time they feel safe enough to be honest with themselves and those around them.
“My fraternity provided me opportunities to interact with other campus organizations and members in the community, even as I continued with my transition," she explained. "When I became chapter president, I regular sat together in meetings with the presidents of the other men’s organizations. There I was, visibly different – very different – from the men around me. Yet, I somehow found the confidence to enter spaces that may have never seen a transgender person, and I found my place at the table among my peers. I never thought I would have these kinds of opportunities. Despite my differences, my fraternity helped me to understand that I am capable, that I am able to have goals for my future, and that I have the skills and the experience that will support me in my future endeavors."
As part of the next chapter of her journey, Tran continued to examine the intersection of fraternal law and the role Title IX played in ensuring transgender individuals had access to these spaces. In doing so, she published several pieces on the topic, including “Transgenderless,” which was published by the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender.
“It’s inspiring to see how the fraternal community is not afraid to take the lead and address this issue within each of their own organizations,” she said. “Many have already determined that trans men and women have a place in this community, and I’m ready to support those who are still working through the research and development of their own policies.”
Web-Exclusive Q&A with Stevie Tran
Credit: Liz Cannon & Allie Broeniman.
Echo: Will you give us some background on your child hood in Arizona?
Tran: I spent 2003 to 2010 in Arizona. Arizona was where I came out to myself and slowly to the world. There, I obtained enough agency and autonomy to begin making decisions about my identity.
Echo: What were some of your most memorable experiences and/or accomplishments during that period?
Tran: One of my most notable accomplishments was finding myself and finding the courage to begin living openly with myself and with those around me. College was a transformative time because this was when I understood that my gender identity and expression did not align with my sex assigned at birth. On campus, I found my first opportunities to openly socialize with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and immediately, there was a mutual understanding of what it was like to grow up knowing that you are different. Through my coursework, though, I began to feel this disconnect with my peers, and it centered on this relationship I built with the idea of “gender identity and expression”—something that others did not seem to be spending much time thinking about. This was the first chance that I had to access words like “gender identity and expression,” and they stuck with me.
My freshman year, specifically, I did drag—or what could be considered drag based upon my gender identity and expression back then. I had no idea what drag was, so my inexperience was sloppily painted across my face with the makeup that I wore. I found this hideous black dress and some not-so-stellar heels—in many ways, like a child playing dress up in my parents’ closet. But when I stepped into my plain, unsightly dress, I paused as I saw myself in the mirror. It was like I was seeing myself for the first time. In that moment, I felt more myself than I had ever felt in my entire life. At the end of the night, everyone else wiped away the glitter and sparkles without a second thought. But it wasn’t so easy for me. The next morning, I felt like I had to step out of my own skin and back into a costume of masculinity. That person in the mirror that evening: that was me.
Echo: How did your transition fit into your academic timeline? Did this experience ignite your ambitions in equality or was this just a step toward a goal you'd had for much longer?
Tran: I became a member of Sigma Phi Bet Fraternity in 2005, and I held various positions within my chapter during my collegiate experience, including chapter president. Today, I currently serve as the President and Chairman of Sigma Phi Beta National Fraternity ... It may sound trivial, but on a personal level, it meant a lot that, during this period of my own internalized transphobia, I always had people who I could study with, sign up for classes together with, go out to eat with, sit around and waste time with, and, in many ways, just do normal things that friends do together. Finding myself was a difficult and painful process, filled with near-daily moments of self-doubt and sef-hatred. Why am I this way? Why does being myself come with so many stares, questions, ignorance, and bigotry? My chapter accepted me as I struggled to figure out what it really meant to accept myself.
Echo: This interview will be published in our November issue. In the spirit of Transgender Awareness Month, what's one thing you'd like our LGB siblings to know about the trans experience (in general)?
Tran: It’s so important to remember that trans folks are a part of this community – not only to remember, actually, but to make active efforts to combat that dangerous perspective that, somehow, trans people do not belong. We have been a part of this community since the beginning. When gay and lesbian folks are discriminated against, it is most oftentimes on the basis of their gender – others perceiving them to be too “flamboyant” or “butch.” These transgressive behaviors are, then, conflated with assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation. As a result, we all must be involved in efforts to protect trans people and prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. This is because these protection will also protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and all individuals who are discriminated against based on their transgressions of gender norms.
Credit: Liz Cannon & Allie Broeniman.
Echo: Our readers may not know that you're a published author, with most of your work addressing transgender membership policies that address fraternal law and related title IX protections. Are there links to the following pieces that we might be able to share with our readers?
Tran: Nathan T. Arrowsmith & Stevie V. Tran, Implementing a Transgender Membership Policy,FRATERNAL LAW (Manley Burke, Cincinnati, Ohio), November 2013
Jessica Pettitt & Stevie V. Tran, Your Title IX and Trans-Inclusivity Questions Answered, ESSENTIALS (Ass’n of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, Fort Collin, Colo.), September 2014
Stevie Tran, Transgender Membership and Title IX,FRATERNAL LAW (Manley Burke, Cincinnati, Ohio), November 2013
Nathan Arrowsmith & Stevie V. Tran,Title IX Empowers Fraternities to Include Transgender Members, ESSENTIALS (Ass’n of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, Fort Collin, Colo.), May 2013
Stevie V. Tran,Embracing Our Values: Title IX, the “Single-Sex Exemption,” and Fraternities’ Inclusion of Transgender Members, 41 HOFSTRA LAW REVIEW 503 (2012)
Stevie V. Tran & Elizabeth M. Glazer, Transgenderless,34 Harvard Journal of Law & Gender 399 (2012)
Echo: Congrats in you collection of valuable work! With all these achievements to you name, how do you define success?
Tran: This is something I have been reflecting on more and more recently. My first success is being able to live openly and authentically each and every day. I am only able to do so because of the privileges I have in my life: access to full-time employment, trans-competent healthcare, stable housing, and supportive, loving friendships. Navigating safety and acceptance will be a life-long struggle for me, and so I can’t ignore this milestone—especially when so many trans folks and so many others in our community are fighting just for survival every day. Toward that end, there is still work to be done to share the lived experiences of trans people. If I am able to change one heart by my story or by the mere fact that I am courageously existing in public space, then I consider that to be a success.