By Chris Stone
Fearing for their safety, David Vance rarely steps outside of Hillcrest.
As someone who identifies as nonbinary — not male or female – Vance finds comfort and support only on the job and in that gay friendly community.
“I’ll be honest and say I almost never leave Hillcrest because I feel uncomfortable almost everywhere else,” Vance said Saturday.
Speaking between two workshops that Vance led at She Fest in North Park Community Park, Vance talked about enduring rude comments, “death glares” and car horns honking elsewhere in San Diego.People let you know they aren’t comfortable with you in many ways, Vance said.
“And for a lot of people, unfortunately, that can turn into violence against them,” said the community engagement manager of the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
She Fest was the kickoff of San Diego Pride Week, which will include a mixer Wednesday at San Diego State University, Light up the Cathedral at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral the same day and a Pride Kabbalat Shabbat Service at Ohr Shalom Synagogue and Spirit of Stonewall Rally, both on Friday.
The Pride Parade is Saturday and festival July 13-14.
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“When I do leave Hillcrest, usually North Park is the farthest I will go,” Vance said, “especially if I am going out, if I have makeup on, if I am looking more gender queer. I certainly don’t feel safe going downtown. I certainly don’t feel safe going to places like PB.”
She Fest, in its sixth year, is designed to uplift people who are typically marginalized, Vance said. It also gives people a safe place to come together.
The event included commercial, women’s sports, business and information booths, entertainment and workshops with topics such as women’s leadership, midwifery, job interviews, sobriety, self-care and women’s reproductive cycles.
Vance led a group focused on gender pronouns for nonbinary people and a discussion group for people questioning their gender. Some people prefer the pronouns “they” and “them” and “Ze, Zer and Zirs” — instead of he/she, him/her and his/hers.
Vance, who prefers the pronouns “they” and “their,” says the biggest misconception is that “not every single person on the planet is a man or a woman.”
“It’s basic, but I think it is the thing that most people still have the hardest time understanding and wrapping their heads around, and we really have to get past that and realize how many people really do have this experience in gender.”
The idea that nonbinary people don’t exist is ingrained into every layer of social institutions and culture — even legal definitions in most states, said the 26-year-old.
“You’re dealing on a daily basis with the fact that the vast majority of the world doesn’t think you’re real,” Vance said.
“So every day is essentially an act of resilience and resistance simply being non-binary and identifying that way and living that way openly and freely because you face so much resistance from other people, institutions, the law,” the LGBT community manager said.
One of the most painful aspects of life is that people don’t make the effort to address nonbinary people properly and try to understand them better, Vance said.
“I think that is largely rooted in fear and in a discomfort with the idea that not everyone fits in one of two boxes,” the Hillcrest resident said.
Asked advice to the general public about treating nonbinary people, Vance said, “Open your mind, ask questions and listen.”
Black transgender women face “extremely grotesque disproportionate violence,” which has led to five recent murders throughout the country, Vance said. “It isn’t talked about nearly enough.”
State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, who spoke at the event, echoed concerns about personal danger.
While California has some of the most progressive laws in the nation, Atkins said, “We’re not done because there are people in our community that do not feel safe.”
Having just returned from a trip to Stonewall Inn in New York City, Atkins said young people’s speeches gave her hope and aspirations.
“I cannot tell you what it felt like to be in that dive bar, the feeling of being in that place surrounded by members of our diverse community,” she said.
Stonewall Inn was the scene of a series of gay rights protests and riots in 1969. The 50th anniversary of the beginning of the gay rights movement is the theme of the San Diego Pride Parade on July 13.
“It is up to all of us that everyone feels safe and secure and supported,” the state senator said.
“There are others across the globe who don’t have that opportunity to be out and celebrate without fear, not only of being arrested, of being beaten and even killed,”
The former San Diego councilwoman added. “Our work is not done, but we are up to the challenge.”
Dr. Jen Campbell, a new City Council member, listened to Atkins’ remarks among the audience of hundreds.
“It’s a wonderful event,” she said. It’s very uplifting.”
Asked what She Fest meant to her, Campbell said: “It’s just to be free, to know that we must all be fighting for our freedom.”
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