Website, political initiative offer support for transgender community

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 10, 2024
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Thomasine "Tamzin" Caroline Selvi bought the domain rights to Photo: Courtesy Tamzin Selvi
Thomasine "Tamzin" Caroline Selvi bought the domain rights to Photo: Courtesy Tamzin Selvi

San Jose native Thomasine "Tamzin" Caroline Selvi has been a tech entrepreneur since graduating from UC Berkeley in 2014 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. Years later Selvi came out as a trans woman and began to transition her gender.

She also became more vocal about being a trans advocate in the public sphere as she witnessed the transgender community come under attack in state legislatures across the country.

"Unlike them, we have something serious to lose. Their livelihood is not at stake," said Selvi, 34, who is demisexual and moved to the East Bay city of Richmond four years ago. "It is why trans people are going to step up and fight. It is why so many trans people are willing to join this effort and move forward. We are not going to let our rights be stripped away."

Wanting to put her professional skills to use in fighting back and benefitting the trans community, Selvi used her savings to buy the rights to the domain last year for $10,000. Years prior she had first become familiar with the site, which had been owned by JoAnn Roberts, a well-known trans activist and website designer who died in 2013.

In the late 1990s to mid-2000s, Roberts had co-owned 3-D Communications Inc. with two other trans women, Jamie Faye Fenton and Angela Gardner, and created several websites for the trans community. By purchasing Selvi was ensuring one of the women's legacy sites wouldn't be used for nefarious reasons, such as duping trans people into buying fake drugs.

"I really didn't see what else I could spend my money on and was more important than owning that domain. If I buy this, I can guarantee someone else will not buy it and use it for malicious purposes," said Selvi during a recent phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "We share in the mission and goal to give transgender people better access to resources and a support network."

She took over the site last August and set about making it a trans resource repository, similar to its original purpose when it first went live online.

"It was not as cutting edge as what we have now. But when it came out it was cutting edge to bring trans news to the digital realm," said Selvi. "This was back when there was not a lot of information about trans people or how to exist as one. It was a pretty important resource from that perspective."

Selvi put out a call via Reddit and other online platforms seeking help with maintaining and overseeing the relaunched website. A core group of people came together to quickly develop a preliminary redo for the website to get new and accurate information out there for people landing on it.

Andrea James is helping with the relaunch of Photo: Andrea James  

Among them was Los Angeles resident Andrea James, 56, who recalled in a phone interview with the B.A.R. how little information she could find about her gender identity at her local library in Franklin, Indiana when she realized she was trans at age 10. Back then the more common term used was transsexual, which she could find nothing about among the library's stacks.

"One of the things I really wanted to do when I came out as trans at age 27 was to help people find the information I wanted to find when I was 10," said James, who is also pansexual.

In the 1990s she bought the web domain, with the "ts" short for transsexual, to do just that while living in Chicago at the time. It served as "an information silo," she recalled, for the community.

"It was very web 1.0. This was in 1996. Google was not around. There was no good search engine, so it was very difficult to find good information," said James, who moved to Southern California in 2003 and has worked in the entertainment sector, currently handling publishing and editing duties with the gay-owned World of Wonder, which produces the award-winning global "RuPaul's Drag Race" franchise. "It became a pretty important source of information for a lot of people."

The site is still online and now goes by the name Transgender Map. Updating it is a monumental task, though, noted James, so she was excited to learn about Selvi's ideas for a nationally focused website when she reached out about her buying the domain.

"Tamzin has a lot of great ideas about how to aggregate resources using newer technologies than I had available with my work," said James, who signed on as an adviser and joined the board of the website's nonprofit arm, the Transgender Foundation. "I love that I have been able to help bridge that gap to this new generation and advise on some things I have learned over the years to help make sure the resources we are building at are the latest and greatest, and informed by best practices and newer technologies than when I started a generation ago."

One such advancement is using artificial intelligence to help curate the site, so it is not dependent on solely human curation, like her own site, said James.

"There is still room for human curation like mine. But what we hope to do with is take all these sites like my personal site and bring them all together to one global resource that has everything and is easy to keep up to date because it is automated," said James. " is designed to be as flexible as possible so it can guide you towards the most salient resources."

Debut amid onslaught of disinformation
The website debuted amid an onslaught of not only disinformation campaigns about trans people, but also a coordinated political attack against their rights that is ongoing. As B.A.R. Transmissions columnist Gwen Smith notes in her January 11 column, 125 anti-trans bills have already been introduced in statehouses around the country. It is likely the number of transphobic legislation in 2024 will surpass the 589 taken up by lawmakers in 2023, Smith predicts.

Nick Loveland is working on marketing for Photo: Courtesy Nick Loveland  

"I think that the more visible the community becomes, the more we become targets of hateful legislation and things that seek to erase us," said Los Angeles County resident Nick Loveland, 26, who is transmasculine and bisexual, in a phone interview. "That has really highlighted this huge need we have in this community for reliable safe spaces. But in particular reliable safe spaces on the internet."

Loveland now serves as the website's marketing lead and secretariat of its nonprofit board. The Southern California native came out as trans in college at age 20.

"As queer trans people, a lot of our self-determination and self-discovery takes place on the internet. It is where we can connect with people who are like-minded and do research," said Loveland.

He had reached out to Selvi to offer his support after seeing her post the open call for help on Reddit. He had been working on his own similar project, and they agreed to combine their efforts, which Loveland had begun to work on for a web design platform that ended up not hiring for the position he had sought amid a downturn in the tech industry.

"I know how to market a product but not how to make it. I kept my eyes open for any kinds of development or people to reach out to," recalled Loveland, who was laid off in 2022 from a tech job. "One day I ended up opening my Reddit email address, which I don't normally do, and saw Tamzin's post looking for people to help them with"

When he was coming out as trans, Loveland found it difficult to find information he could trust and that was accurate. He turned to Reddit and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, where he was able to access gender-affirming care.

"Providing a centralized area for people to go, whether it be allies or trans people, where they can have these resources and have reputable information, but also ways to connect to other people in the community, is so vital," he said.

Relaunching last summer became even more important, noted Loveland, when there was a blackout on Reddit due to the company's decision to charge third-party developers who wanted access to its data. Operators of its forums, known as subreddits, made them private in protest.

Need for a clearinghouse
It resulted in many users being unable to access them and highlighted the need for a web clearinghouse about trans info that wouldn't be blocked, Loveland told the B.A.R. not only provides people with important resources easy to find in one place online, he said, it can also foster a sense of community.

"It has become a place already, even though it has not been up for very long, where people can find this information and disseminate it to other people, and it becomes a force for change," said Loveland. "Each person who finds it and shares it combats the hate and anti-trans movement with truth, empathy and connection."

Wanting to ensure it remains an asset for the trans community, Selvi created the nonprofit Transgender Foundation and recruited board members like James to help guide the operations of it and

"No one should own this. This should be owned by the community," said Selvi.

It also allows her and the board to fundraise in order to cover the website's operating expenses, which Selvi has been paying for with her own money. If successful, Selvi told the B.A.R. she would like to hire someone to manage the day-to-day operations, as she plans to remain in a volunteer capacity with the website and nonprofit foundation.

"We have a lot of dreams to do much more than provide resources. We want to create a social site for trans people that we can aggregate around and not have to rely on Reddit," said Selvi. "There isn't really a de facto social hub that exists for trans people. It is pretty spread out, so being able to centralize things and make it accessible to people is our main goal."

James noted how critical it is to have a website that is independent and run by a nonprofit.

"So having a resource like that we completely control as a community and is not beholden to a corporation is critically important to maintain the integrity of the information and make sure it reflects the needs of the community and not some person trying to make a profit," she said.

One way it is achieving its goal of fostering community is via its #EndTransHate pledge. It is the first thing users of the website see when they log onto it, with a prompt to take the pledge and add their name to the list. (There is a separate sign up for the website's email list at the bottom of the homepage.)

"It is interesting that this seems like such a simple ask, but I have never seen any kind of pledge of this kind before, if that makes sense," said Loveland. "This simple act of asking people to stand up for the trans community and be allies is a simple ask but one not asked before. It is important we do ask that of allies and start to form a community of advocates to stand up against this very well-coordinated and financed anti-trans movement."

Separate legislative initiative site
To separate out the informational from the political, the nonprofit also created the website to focus on the onslaught of anti-trans bills at both the state and federal levels. That site enables it to highlight its efforts to pass bills supportive of the transgender community.

"If we can establish a national presence here to fight anti-trans legislation and all these bills as much as we can, it will not only help the transgender community. But it will send out waves to the rest of the world to challenge these types of bills in other countries," said Loveland. "It will create acceptance, if you will, and protect the rights of trans people worldwide."

The website is still a work in progress and will be added to and updated this year. It has a 501(c)4 organization attached to it, allowing it to raise money and take political stands in the various legislative fights.

"We can endorse candidates," noted Selvi of the various actions it can take. "One is registering as lobbyists in a lot of different states to talk to legislators and to be able to communicate about a lot of the policies going forward."

With 2024 being a presidential election year, Selvi said the political arm of the website wants to make trans issues a key focus of the campaign.

"We think it is extremely important that federal trans protections are on the table for the 2024 election. We would like to see the Democratic Party come forward at the front of the 2024 elections with some type of plan to protect the community with legislation federally," she told the B.A.R.

It is also supportive of pushing for a constitutional amendment at the federal level to enshrine trans rights. While acknowledging it is unlikely to receive the necessary support at the state level to come to pass any time soon, Selvi argued it would be a conversation starter at the very least.

"It may never work out but will create awareness," she said. "There is a lot to discuss right now. It has never really been done, and we don't know how it will play out."

One political development it will be watching this year is if a group representing conservative parents can qualify a statewide ballot measure on California's November ballot that calls for educators to out trans students against their wishes to their parents or guardians; the banning of gender-affirming care for minors; preventing trans women and girls from participating in women's sports; and repeal of a state law allowing trans students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. It has a May deadline to turn in the required signatures it needs to collect to state election officials.

"I am quite worried that these things will come to pass, especially in California," said Loveland. "I think a lot of people are under the impression in California we are safe because we are a blue state. But that is very far from the truth, just look at Huntington Beach and look at what they have done against the LGBTQ community. It has been particularly heinous for California, and people need to pay more attention to that."

The City Council in the oceanside city last February banned the flying of the Pride flag at City Hall. Last month, it advanced a policy that would effectively ban Pride celebrations in the city, along with other events like Black History Month and Women's History Month. (The Los Angeles Times reported last month that the City Council, after seemingly voting to omit the honorary months, will recognize Black History Month and Women's History Month after all. City officials said the earlier move was a "miscommunication.")

While he doubts the statewide ballot measure effort will be successful this year, Loveland told the B.A.R. he is far more concerned about seeing more local cities and school districts in the Golden State advance anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ policies in the coming months.

"I think what seems to be working for the anti-trans movement is going more local with school boards and cities. They are doing a bottom up approach rather than trickle down," he noted.

James told the B.A.R. that she has lived through several cycles where trans health care access has become a political issue. The pendulum of late has swung back to it being under attack rather than protected, she noted, with the proposed ballot measure just one example.

"Our community's rights require eternal vigilance," she said. "We are committed to doing everything we can to see our rights are not eroded during this time of challenge in many forms. Certainly, the political action we intend to take is a very important part of that."

One initiative it has underway is using technology to identify the different factions and groups behind the anti-trans legislation and efforts being undertaken across the U.S. Not only is daylighting their activities important, noted James, doing so will help the Transgender Foundation know where to zero in with its limited resources.

"We are also working on some data driven work around identifying anti-transgender networks. That's the piece of the equation I am very excited about," she said.

While the foundation leaders, for the time being, didn't want to disclose much more information about that aspect of their work, they did express their hope people will visit their two websites and sign up for updates to stay engaged.

"It is time to get involved," said James. "I hope people read this and check out what we are doing and find out what they can do to help. Join us in this fight."

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