Shari Noland: Why Ramona’s Story Needs to Be Heard

Ramona Hernandez-Perez

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be born one gender but feel like you are another gender inside. Being bold enough to live your true self for all the world to see must take incredible courage. Lately, it seems like transgender rights and fights have been all over the news and social media. Even on TV shows. About a month ago, Stan West, the writer of our cover story, came to me with this idea of featuring his cousin, Ramona Hernandez-Perez, in the Chicago Defender. As you now know from the story, Ramona is a dreadlocked, Black-Mexican-transgender rabbi and retired Northwestern University researcher.  I was intrigued.

I’m a big fan of Laverne Cox, an African American transgender activist and Emmy-nominated actress of the Netflix hit series “Orange is the New Black.” She has opened the hearts and minds of many about the discrimination transgender people face every day. “What people should know about these bathroom bills that criminalize trans people — like criminalize me using the women’s room — is that these are not about bathrooms; they’re about whether trans people have the right to exist in the public space,” Cox said on “CBS This Morning” a few months ago. “If we can’t access public bathrooms, we can’t go to school, we can’t work, we can’t go to health care facilities. This is about public accommodations and… public accommodations are always key to civil rights.”

And though Laverne Cox’s character, Sophia Burset, is in jail with questionable life choices, I still think she does give people, on some level, a better understanding of what it’s like to be transgender. I mean, really, how many Black transgender role models have you seen on TV? Right. And Laverne Cox is not Sophia Burset. She’s our Caitlyn Jenner.

Now Ramona has a real-life story to tell going back to the civil rights movement. She’s a native Chicagoan, a rabbi and a dedicated community activist. By sharing her story, she could have a real impact on people in the Chicago metro area.

But nationwide, Americans are about evenly divided on whether new civil rights laws are needed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, according to Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll conducted May 3-7. Fifty-one percent of U.S. adults say such laws are needed, while 46 percent say they are not. And when it comes to what public restroom access policies should be, the poll revealed that Americans are about as likely to say transgender individuals should be required to use a bathroom that corresponds to their birth gender (48 percent) as to say a transgender person should be allowed to use a bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity (45 percent). Seven percent have no opinion on the issue.

Whatever your beliefs, people should have the right to live openly without fear of being discriminated against or harmed. And we’ll get nowhere if we make snap judgments without having a true understanding of each other’s point of view. Ramona is expected to speak at “The Doc Show,” Thursday, May 25, 7-10 p.m., at Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark, where the documentary will be screened in front of its first live audience. You can see a teaser video of the documentary on  Watch it, hear her speak, and have an open mind.   

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