Opening speech

Opening speech by Jochem Verdonk

Spreker: Jochem Verdonk

Dear people,

I proudly welcome you to FREE PATHH, the Free Event on Practicing Actual Transgender Health and Human rights!

How it came to be

When the entrance fees for the WPATH symposium were announced in March we were all surprised as the fees were exceptionally high. A ticket for one person could cost as much as 1000 Euros. Students could get a discount of "only" 300 Euros.

This is a rather unfortunate course of action for a symposium about transgender healthcare. For with such fees, transgender people are effectively shut out. After all it is a well known fact that the financial situation of many transgender people is far from rosy, as research by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) (2011) and The Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) (2012) shows.

I quote: It is striking is that there is a high number [of transgender people] that is declared unfit for work (12%) or unemployed (9%). Over 40% of the [over 450] respondents have trouble making ends meet. Of single transgender people, one third has an income below the poverty line. Among the wider Dutch population aged 18-64, this is 14%. (SCP, 2012)

Those are shocking figures. And this is the case, even though the SCP concludes in the same report that: Transgenders are relatively often highly educated. 44% [of over] 450 respondents have higher education qualification. The majority (61%) does paid work.

This illustrates the very distressing situation of many transgender people.

Filled with indignation, we said to each other we would put together a protest. Soon after, the idea came about for a parallel symposium, with free entrance as a matter of principle, so that our symposium would be accessible to everyone. Now, 3 months later, this ambitious plan has become reality: FREE PATHH is here!

Starting point

Today, we will engage in a conversation on healthcare for trans people and their human rights, just as they do at WPATH. However, unlike them we will approach this theme from the perspective of the clients: Today, the transgender perspective is front and centre.

Our starting point is of course, self-determination: having control over a potential medical treatment. That is to say, being in charge in matters concerning your own body and your own life. Today, our needs and wishes will be front and centre, not what doctors see as right or necessary. Nor the interventions that they would want to perform, of which I silently suspect now and then...

Today, we offer you a high quality programme on trans healthcare and human rights issues that are relevant to us, but which often get insufficient attention. It should be clear that today we surpass the level of peer support. We are here to exchange knowledge and experiences, discuss the current situation, find out where the difficulties lie, and - wherever possible - draw conclusions and make suggestions for the future.

The speakers, panelists and workshop leaders who contribute to the programme of FREE PATHH are each experts in their own field. But all of them also speak from personal experience as healthcare users. This just goes to show that these things go very well together. What is more, I am convinced that there is added value, lacking in most professionals at WPATH.

Because today is all about taking matters in our own hands, we do not have some fancy politician opening this event. Instead, I stand here, trans activist and front runner, just like you, to welcome you to this conference on trans healthcare and human rights.

Words of thanks

I'd like to call your attention to our funds and sponsors. Thanks to contributions from the Bob Angelo Fund, the Stichting Trut Fund and the Action Fund X min Y, FREE PATHH has been made possible financially. AVC Pim Verdonk have offered their audio-visual services for free, and the IIRE conference centre has let us access their facilities for a very generous price.

Another big thank you to our speakers, panelists, and workshop leaders, for they too all contribute today selflessly. We feel honoured that so many people are willing to share their time, expertise and experiences with us for free, "for the good cause".

Finally, I would like to thank our volunteers, for all their helping hands. They also had their input into the preparations, were tirelessly committed and have inexhaustible enthusiasm. They too do this in addition to their daily activities, which isn't always obvious nowadays.

House rules

Even a day like today has to have house rules. I will keep this as short and concise as possible.

Camera / photo policy

Everything what is said and done today will be filmed. Hence the camera crew. It is our intention to make all the information provided today available, in word and in film. In this way, we can make all the information online available to professionals, trans* activists, and other interested parties, in word at our website, and in image on DVD.

Those who absolutely don't want to be filmed close up, can sit behind the two cameras. Since the moving camera will not take close-ups of that part of the public.

Lunch

To be clear, as is stated on our website as well, we don't serve lunch for our visitors. So, if you didn't bring any food, during the lunch break you will have an hour to get something to eat in the area.

Bilingual

Today, some visitors will speak little or no English, and other visitors don't speak Dutch. This is why we try to offer as much of the programme as possible in both languages.
Almost all lectures and panels will be in Dutch; therefore we will try to provide a simultaneous translation or a summary into English.
This afternoon there will always be one workshop in Dutch, and another workshop in English. We realise this is a limited choice for those who speak only one of both languages. But given our limited budget, this was the best we could achieve.

These were the house rules.

Playful action

Finally, we would like to make the opening of the FREE PATHH a joint action at least symbolically. Hence the postcards that all of you received at the entrance. The idea is that you write down a message or a wish for the participants of the symposium of WPATH. How do you see ideal trans health care? What do you want to tell to participants or professionals of WPATH? Write this down, in English, on your postcard.

You can hang your postcards on the wall during the lunch break. All your wishes will be visible to us throughout the day. We'll make photos, so your messages and wishes won't be lost.
At the end of the day we will gather all your postcards. Frederique will take these to the other symposium, and will put them down on the tables over there. Of course, we hope that participants will be curious and will read messages from multiple post cards. It would be nice if they realise that transgender people are largely absent as a participating group at the symposium, and that we have our thoughts about this.
We might not be physically present at the symposium of WPATH. But by these post cards we are visible in a different, creative way!

I wish all of you an interesting and inspiring day! Thank you.