Santa Rosa radio show seeks to give LGBT community a voice

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Local radio show host Kaiya Kramer isn’t afraid to tackle divisive political issues such as efforts by some states to ban transgender people from public restrooms. Nor does she shy away from delving into why it appears that many high schoolers today are rejecting traditional gender identities of male and female.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding and rhetoric out there surrounding queer issues,” said Kramer, 26, who hosts a weekly Santa Rosa-based radio show called “The Queer Life,” which reaches listeners in 18 Northern California counties. “Why are we still talking about toilets? The fact that politicians are still talking about bathrooms is appalling. There are much bigger issues.”

Kramer, a transgender woman, has emerged over the past two years as a powerful and outspoken voice in Sonoma County on issues surrounding the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities — from local disparities in health care access to discrimination in the workplace and alarming statistics that transgender people suffer disproportionately from depression and anxiety, leading to higher-than-average rates of suicide.

From a cramped studio at Santa Rosa’s Spanish-English bilingual radio station KBBF, Kramer brings a sense of humor and unabashed candor to such complicated issues. Her shows feature stories targeting local audiences. Some aim to debunk widely prevailing stereotypes about the transgender community and others dissect LGBT stories that have captured national headlines, such as several recently about efforts to make it more difficult for transgender people to use restrooms.

Other recent shows include an in-depth interview with a founding member of the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and one on “how to spot a bigot.”

Kramer’s show, which launched in August 2014, was driven by a desire to address issues she said have made it difficult for LGBT people to have regular lives.

“I want queer people to know they’re not alone,” Kramer said.

“I want them to know that they can have an education, that they can have a successful career, that they can become doctors and artists and lawyers.

“I want queer people to know that we are just as amazing and productive as everybody else.”

Kramer’s show — a mix of national LGBT news, interviews and what she calls modern perspectives — is an integral source of support for the transgender community in Sonoma County, said Jacqueline Nugent, who runs several transgender support groups at the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit Positive Images.

“Kaiya has done a lot in Sonoma County to normalize being queer, and that normalization is really important for the community,” Nugent said. “It was Harvey Milk who said 30 years ago ‘Come out, come out wherever you are.’

“Kaiya has helped further that message by getting out on the radio to expose queer people and transgender people as people who simply have the same goals as everyone else,” Nugent said.

“It’s basic things like getting a job, having a family, having a house.”

Sonoma County lacks adequate support for those struggling with discrimination in the workplace, schools or in accessing health care, said Kramer and others.

“But the biggest challenge is letting the trans community know that there is help out there,” Kramer said.

Kris Spangler, a therapist specializing in gender issues and transgender care, said shows like “The Queer Life” can help people feel less isolated.

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“The biggest barrier is difficulty in everyday life — being able to use the bathroom and being called the preferred gender pronouns,” Spangler said.

“So it’s incredibly important for queer and transgender people to hear their lives reflected on the radio. So often, people feel so alone and oppressed.”

Support service

Services have improved locally in recent years, some said. Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, a network of local clinics, has doctors who specialize in transgender-specific health care, for example.

Positive Images hosts regular support groups for transgender men and women, as well as parents of transgender youth. One major source of distress, however, is transgender people being referred to in the wrong pronoun.

“Sometimes, just being around each other is enough,” Kramer said. “Like if you’re ‘misgendered’ at a restaurant, just being able to talk about how awful that is and have others understand is huge.”

A large portion of Kramer’s show is dedicated to dispelling stereotypes and offering advice to those who may be struggling with discrimination or various mental health problems.

Not every transgender person opts to have surgery or undergo hormone replacement therapy, Kramer said. And not every person who identifies as transgender fits into the box of male or female. Some trans people identify as somewhere in between, Kramer said.

Kramer, who came out as transgender in 2010, said her vision for “The Queer Life” was inspired by her own experiences coming out, struggles with keeping a job and navigating complicated medical insurance networks as a trans woman.

Sense of identity

Like many people who identify as transgender, she struggled with her sense of identity from a young age, which led to what she called “some really dark days.” Before she came out, she tried to hide her identity and appear more masculine.

At one point, she bullied other kids in school to fit in, and became an Eagle Scout to help protect herself from what others may say about her image.

“I did everything to make everybody think that I was cool and comfortable and enough of a dude,” she said. “It was like a chess game where you’re 10 steps ahead of everybody else. Most of us know we’re different at a young age, but I didn’t have the words yet.”

Kramer said at one point in her life, she was able to pull herself out of homelessness. She has since had gender reassignment surgery, often referred to as gender confirmation surgery, and is pursuing dual degrees specializing in computer science and film at UC Berkeley.

She is currently finishing up her transfer requirements at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Not everyone is able to pull themselves out of depression, however.

About 40 percent of the transgender population in the U.S. have reported at least one suicide attempt — nine times the national average, according to the 2014 National Transgender Discrimination Survey from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA School of Law. Kramer said that number could be higher in Sonoma County.

And the estimated 700,000 transgender people in the U.S. experience higher rates of poverty compared with the general population and others within the LGBT community, according to a 2015 report co-sponsored by the Transgender Law Center.

Kramer, who is Asian, said transgender people in Sonoma County — especially “queer people of color” — face similar struggles, and many still feel isolated despite an increasing awareness about transgender issues.

Large disparities

A survey by Sonoma County’s LGBTQI Task Force, part of the county’s Commission on Human Rights, conducted last year found large disparities in services for people who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, queer or intersex.

“From my experience, LGBTQI assistance is practically nonexistent in Sonoma County,” said one person who responded to the survey.

“There is more public support for the community, but it is still a lonely place when it feels like everyone who identifies with the (LGBTQI) acronym is hiding in the woodwork due to the lack of places and events to come together.”

Kramer said she is aiming with her show to address societal barriers that prevent people from pursuing health care services, an education or a job.

“I’ve heard all these stories and talked to all these transgender people, queer people and others from across the gender spectrum who don’t identify as male or female, and so many of us have struggled with depression and just acceptance of ourselves,” Kramer said.

“When you are oppressed by society for so long, you deny such a big part of yourself and that self-torture prevents us from doing things that truly inspire us. What I want people to know is the trans community is just like any other community.”

Kramer’s show airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on KBBF 89.1 FM.

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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