Within moments of speaking with Kamyon Conner, 33, social worker, activist, daughter and friend to many, I can easily surmise that her candid way of speaking and gregarious aura are contagious.
She’s a rare breed of human who can temporarily make you forget about all those things that seem so bad and instead, help you to focus on the good.
“I really do apologize, I’m usually more on top of it,” Conner says about having to re-schedule our interview. Working three jobs, volunteering and maintaining a healthy relationship is enough to keep anyone’s plate full.
“When I went to the University of North Texas, I went there thinking that I was a cisgender [denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender] heterosexual woman. I remember going to my first GLAD meeting and I thought, ‘Wow. Being around all of these people facing the same issues as me allowed me to feel that it was okay to be myself and that I was not alone in my struggle.’”
Now busy serving as a steering committee of OUTreach Denton, a program devoted to providing mentorship and a safe space for LGBTQA youth, and the Texas Equal Access Fund, Conner’s community involvement is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
“I didn’t come out for a long time,” says Conner; “While I was in college, it seemed that there was this culture of people being out at school but not at home, which can be common. The ability to move away from a familiar environment can allow you to grow and cultivate the most precious parts of yourself.”
After a pause she picks back up, “Coming out to my family took time and for me it also took some healing in regards to childhood sexual trauma. I remember coming out to my mom during the Vagina Monologues and divulging not only was I a lesbian but also a survivor of childhood sexual assault. I also told her that I had undergone my first heart-wrenching break up and that I had a very hard time healing from the loss of that love because I felt I could not share my grief with her for fear of being shamed for loving a another woman.”
When asked about her community involvement, Conner first mentions OUTreach Denton. “Our organization started the first transgender day of remembrance in Denton. It’s sobering when you actually hear the names of all the transgender people who were killed in the past year and how also hearing descriptions of their murdered such as, ‘blunt force trauma to the head,’ just makes it all…” Conner trails off. “Surreal, devastating and enraging. There is also mourning for those we lost with music, poetry and speakers. These events are held all over the country and the next TGDOR is going to be on November 20th so it is coming up soon.”
According the Texas Department of Public Safety’s web page, hate crimes in Texas have risen by 22.9% for reported incidents, 22.8% for reported offenses, and 13.1% for reported offenders followed by 8.0% for reported victims just up in one year, from 2013 to 2014. This doesn’t even take into account the incidents that were not reported.
“The total number of reported Texas hate crime incidents in 2014 was 166. This represents an increase of 23 percent when compared to 2013. These incidents involved 190 victims, 198 offenders, and resulted in a total of 167 offenses.” (http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/crimereports/14/citCh6.pdf)
“In 2014, the largest percentage of hate crime reports in Texas were race/ethnic/ancestry in nature. The second most commonly reported bias motivation was sexual orientation. The third most common bias was religious. The fourth most common bias was disability.” (http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/crimereports/14/citCh6.pdf).
To that end, Conner said, “There are a large number of transgender people who are also people of color—everything is an intersection of something else.”
So, what is the Texas Equal Access Fund? What role does Conner play in this organization?
“We help provide funding for people in North Texas who can’t afford an abortion.” Abortion continues to be a controversial, polarizing topic of conversation especially in Texas with the passing of HB2. “There are 1 in 3 women who get abortions. We probably receive anywhere from 70-90 calls per week per week from individuals in north Texas seeking abortion access, so it’s not like no one is having abortions. We only hear from those who are truly in need of financial assistance and we are never able to assist everyone who requests our help. The idea that abortion is rare or that it should be rare is an archaic notion. The truth is you’re not faced with that situation until it actually happens to you and at that time we make decisions with our futures, our families, our religion, our health and our safety in mind. I remember when you had your abortion and how badly I felt that you were there all by yourself and more so that I could not be there with you during that experience,” she says.
Wait, you remember it that vividly?
“Yes, of course. We talked that day and the next. I remember you telling me that when you sat and looked at all the other women waiting next to you, you were temporarily bonded, but knew that you would all part ways and probably never talk about it again, and possibly never tell anyone. More people should talk about it.”
Conner and I met at Wichita Falls High School, during the school year of 1998-1999, also known affectionately to residents of Wichita Falls as simply, “Old High.” After becoming fast friends, we have kept in touch all these years.
“Reproductive healthcare is my life,” Conner says, summing up her involvement. Conner is the intake coordinator and board member for the Texas Equal Access Fund, Co-chair for OUTreach Denton, and a board member for the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Conner isn’t all work and no play. She has a personal life, too.
“I have an addiction to reality television. It is so terrible and I know with all my feminist sensibilities that I should give it up. I often say it is social work research.” she says, laughing. Earlier in our conversation she spoke of her recreational involvement in the Vagina Monologues. “Doing the Vagina Monologues was a really healing experience for me. It was the first time I’d talked about sexual trauma in a group setting.” Saying it was cathartic is an understatement—it seems to have been life changing for Conner.
“I’d been holding back things from my mom that were impeding us from becoming as close as we could be. I told her about the childhood sexual trauma and that I had been in a relationship with a woman for almost 2 years but that we’d broken up a few months prior. That’s how I came out to her in 2006,” she says with a quiet laugh. “It’s also when I told her that I was dating Jackie, my current partner.”
“My mom and dad are pretty accepting. They like Jackie—they treat us like a couple and we are so grateful for that. There are many people who do not have any support from their families in regards to their relationships.”
So, what are some of the daily challenges she faces?
“Being out at work. Everybody’s pretty accepting, but there’s still that sense of privilege that the people who aren’t LGBTQ have. There is also the difficult experience of having to constantly tell every new person, staff or intern, BTDubs, I’m a gal lady.” She continues to say, “Also dealing with people from all parts of your life on social media requires a lot of skill. I have started deleting people that say ignorant and harmful things. As a current LGBT leader in my community, I cannot and will not condone hatred on my news feed. The activist and social worker in me always tries to educate people prior to deleting them, but sometimes you have to preserve your own sanity.”
How does she handle adversity and stereotypes?
“I have done a lot of work with the aging community and people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. I was with one of my clients in a waiting room and Ellen was on the television. She said something like, ‘I always liked her, but I heard she’s a lesbian!’ and I responded by asking her what she liked about Ellen before and if she now thought this woman was a bad person just because she was a lesbian when she had always liked her before. She said, ‘Well, no, I guess not. Maybe being a lesbian isn’t a bad thing.’ So I tried to come at the situation from a place of education and relatability.”
Thoughtful, sharp, and eager to educate as well as learn, Conner is a kind, caring soul who is dedicated to her day job of social work and helping out others through her volunteer work. She just also happens to be a pretty cool lesbian.