The transgender and non-binary community in Akron has long been overlooked, but local writer H.L. Comeriato and photographer Shane Wynn are changing that narrative through storytelling. #TransAkron, an interactive project that hopes to build awareness of the transgender and non-binary community, was unveiled by The Gay Community Endowment Fund (GCEF) at their annual meeting on Thursday, April 19.
One of the subjects, Rylee Jackson, is excited to be part of the project because it will help educate the community on some of the struggles she and others face.
“I think the message of [#TransAkron] is that we are human beings just like everyone else. The community needs to be aware of the type of people we are and how to help us. Not shunning us but accepting us and coexisting with us.”
The project has taken roughly nine months to complete. Right now, it’s a book, but the subjects and their stories will be published as an online interactive educational resource. H.L. expects the online resource will help people better understand the transgender and non-binary community.
“I really hope the online resource gives people the basic tools to be respectful and to cultivate compassion in their lives,” said H.L. “I think some people see someone who is androgynous or gender nonconforming and they just stay away because they’re afraid, but that serves to marginalize people further.”
H.L. graduated from The University of Akron last year with a bachelor’s degree in English. Through the EXL Center, she was able to pair up and work with Shane Wynn. #TransAkron shares personal stories about the subjects alongside their photographs and statistics about transgender people. It also teaches people how to respectfully interact with the transgender and non-binary community.
“There can be confusion just with the pronoun, how to address someone, different people’s identifiers and I think people shut down because they have anxiety about not doing right. And I want people to know that the point is to try to respect people,” said Shane.
Shane’s photographs work to capture the attention of viewers and encourage them to read the subject’s stories and learn more about their lives. Whether it’s through her #overlooked photo series or #TransAkron project, Shane aspires to cultivate compassion by putting a local face on national issues.
“I want Akron to be a beacon of hope in a sea of disaster.”
The project started after GCEF reached out to Shane for help in telling their story. That’s when they reached out to the EXL Center to find a writer. H.L. was recommended by UA professor Heather Braun, who has worked with H.L. through UA classes.
Heather edited the writing portion of #TransAkron.
“[H.L.] is fantastic and we worked together for years. Every class she took with me she would write about these issues. So when the internship with GCEF opened up, it was perfect.”
At GCEF’s annual meeting, the subjects of #TransAkron were recognized and the project was unveiled. Stand-up comic Karen Williams emceed the event and attendees enjoyed a performance by the North Coast Men’s Chorus.
Board member Cynthia Christman says the project is ultimately about acceptance and compassion.
‘It’s not just about tolerance. There isn’t anyone who wants to be just tolerated. You want to be included, to realize that you are as important in the world no matter who you are.”
Over the next eight weeks, GCEF will release individual profiles on transakron.com. Learn more about the project by visiting transakron.com or by visiting gaycommunityfund.org.