Transgender Advocate Guest Speaker At Meeting

From left, Gregory Rabb, Jamestown City Council president and co-chairman for the city Strategic Planning and Partnerships Commission; and Terri Cook, author and transgender advocate, who was a guest speaker during the commission’s monthly meeting Thursday. P-J photo by Dennis Phillip

Terri Cook knows as well as anyone how difficult and how rewarding being a parent can be. Cook, of Syracuse, is a transgender advocate who authored a book — “Allies & Angles: A Memoir of Our Family’s Transition” — with her husband, Vince, about the transition of her youngest son.

Cook, formerly of Westfield, said she first started advocating for transgender rights five years ago when she spoke at a Syracuse Common Council meeting. She said it was a difficult and very emotional experience when she first spoke publicly about her experiences as a parent to a transgender child. Today, she said it is much easier and she is more comfortable speaking about her experiences.

“I didn’t always know I had two sons,” she said. “For 15 years, I thought I was raising a daughter too.”

Cook said six years ago her youngest son, who is now 21, started his transition. At the time, she didn’t know the challenges of being a transgender parent along with her husband. Cook said they did research by reading several books and papers on the subject, contacted several medical professionals and spoke to several transgender individuals to help understand what was happening.

“It allowed me to understand. I had to learn and understand something outside of my awareness,” she said. “I now know he has always been my son.”

Cook said understanding the transitioning of her son was something that she and her husband needed to know about or her son might not have survived. She said, at the age of 13, her son was battling anxiety and depression to the point that he attempted suicide.

“This was a medical necessity,” she said. “He needed to live as a boy.”

Cook said today her son is a college student who also works full time to support himself. She said no one today would even know her son was once considered a girl. She added that her son has a full beard that would even rival the one Paul Leone, commission member and noted local storyteller, has on his face. “My son is healthy and happy,” she said.

Cook said Gregory Rabb, Jamestown City Council president and co-chairman for the commission, has suggested a local ordinance to provide transgender individuals equal protection and services under the law. She said 60 percent of municipalities in the state have passed equal rights ordinances for transgender individuals. She added 15 states have also passed laws to protect transgender rights.

Rabb said, statewide, transgender people don’t have equal rights, which advocacy groups are fighting to change.

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, also known as GENDA, is a bill that if passed would protect people from discrimination based on their gender identity or expression. The GENDA Act would amend the state Human Rights Law to provide clear and explicit protections from discrimination based on gender identity/expression, including wrongful employment termination, refusal to hire, rental evictions and denial of public housing accommodations, refusal of business and services and threats of and actual physical harm.

Cook said the change to the state Human Rights Law hurts no one and provides transgender individuals equal protection. Helen Walther, a transgender woman who was also a guest of the commission’s Thursday, said it is also important for a local ordinance to be passed. She said it sends a real message that discrimination will not be accepted.