Political battles, family support and living in peace

A World In Transition Pt.2
By 
Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, July 30, 2020
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Gwendolyn Gunn checks some of the products at Phoenix Pearl Tea, Red Lodge.

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Gwendolyn Gunn, a LGBT community leader in Red Lodge. Photos by Alastair Baker

Continuing the soul-searching transgender journey taken by Gwendolyn Gunn, masala chai specialist at Phoenix Pearl Tea, fantasy novelist and, a leading light of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Red Lodge. 
 
Small Town Acceptance
Gwendolyn Gunn has been in Red Lodge for 19 years, arriving here with parents Gary and Kathy Robson and sister Heather when 9 years old.
Gunn has nothing but admiration for the town she calls home.
“It’s always been a more liberal place than the areas around it. If I lived elsewhere this would be a different conversation. There are a lot of people in Carbon County that are not super stoked about my ‘people’ being here,” she said.
“By percentage Red Lodge should have more trans folk but it is a largely transplant community, a very white community, very straight but has an LGBT presence,” said Gunn.
Gunn spoke further on the LGBT community as a whole. “I am not just trans, I am a lesbian, I am also bisexual. It sounds weird but romantic inclinations and sexual inclinations are different and people can be, and are, multiple things. LGBT is a term for non-straight, non-cis (short for cis-gender, a term for people born of a gender and still identify as that gender) people. It is a banner term for people who share the experience of not being straight or not being cis.  We band together to make ourselves feel better and we know what we have each gone through,” said Gunn.
Several years ago, the Red Lodge City Council passed a non-discriminating resolution outlining protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The resolution was a major step in the right direction as far as Gunn is concerned as it protected the LGBT community from being persecuted because of their sexual orientation.
“That is now federally illegal and we are now a protected group,” she said.
“People who transitioned in America fought for their identity day in and day out for decades and it only became accepted to ‘normal’ people in 2010. I started transitioning in 2016, sometimes I wish I started younger, but if I had done this in 2006, this town wasn’t there yet or society and I’m glad I did this when I did. I started in Missoula, it is a nice place for that, as is Red Lodge. It’s only a recent development that life has been liveable for trans folk in the US.” 
 
Centuries-Old
Gunn is frustrated with the time it has taken for trans people to be accepted into society when she says it has been part of cultures for centuries.
“It is stunning how many people don’t know about gay or trans Victorians. The Crow (and other Native Americans tribes) have the term ‘Two-Spirit’, people that are between the genders and not considered men or women. They are considered their own thing, and are revered to be able to know both worlds and see things that other people can’t,” she said. “It’s been a part of their culture for a long time. There is stuff like that in India, all over the world but English colonists came in and said ‘no, this is the way life is,’ and started writing history down and decided (for them).”
“A lot of people think this is new and it isn’t. Us being taken seriously in America is new,” she said.
 
Fear And Loathing
One of the constant battles the LGBT community has is with governments, never more so than with the present (President Donald) Trump administration.
“The present administration has done everything to push it (LGBT Movement) back. It hasn’t worked entirely because I’m still getting my meds super cheap through insurance and still living my good life, and we just became a protected class by the Supreme Court of the United States,” she said. “Our president and vice-president do not want me to exist. The vice-president believes in gay conversion therapy, taking people away from society and brainwashing them to make them believe they are no longer gay because it is ‘inherently wrong’. I think it’s illegal (to do this) in several states. This administration hates me.” 
For Gunn, it isn’t just the thought of government bearing down on the LGBT community but also fear closer to home.
“What (Red Lodge Police Officer Al) Stuber did was disgusting. It made me feel completely and inherently threatened. A senior member of the policing staff posting a meme that anyone who doesn’t support the President should be arrested. We all know what they were talking about,” said Gunn. “I am trans. Democrats support trans people, for the most part, Conservatives don’t. The way I took it is that was he could come and arrest me for existing at any moment. Which is why I feel intensely uncomfortable around the police now. I don’t feel they are here to protect me. I’m worried about them abducting me off the street at any moment because Stuber said it was okay. And the (Red Lodge Police) Chief said there was nothing wrong and he got away with it. Just that alone made me uncomfortable. And the City should be disgusted with themselves with what happened.”
“My existence is a political issue. The fact that I’m trans and want to live is a political issue,” she said.
 
Good Family Support
Although the tide of the LGBT community ebbs and flows with hope and belief, one area Gunn can feel assured is the support she has received from her family.
“My entire direct family has been incredibly supportive. It’s a rough situation for a lot of people. I’ve been really lucky. I have good parents, a good support system, a good store, and a supportive customer base and not everyone has this,” she says.
“My extended family is a mixed bag.  Some supportive, some not, some are confused and don’t understand. Thankfully my parents are understanding but it wasn’t easy for them, but they took their time to understand it and they made the effort.”
 
And In The End
“This town needs diversity and it needs representation, and if I’m here to represent trans people, that’s one more. This town needs a trans voice. So here I am to answer questions,” said Gunn
“We’re just folk, we’re making it in the day, we are all just people. And yes there are very loud people who get in your face. And I was always raised to believe what you will, follow what you will, be the person you need to be, and don’t shove it down people’s throats.  You leave me be and call me the right pronouns and treat me like any other woman and that’s all. I’m here to run a business, have a drink, and go home. That’s all any trans people in history want; to live their life,” she said.