A Brief History: The San Antonio Gender Association

The San Antonio Gender Association began on February 7, 2002, with a small group of transgender individuals and their friends who accepted Christie Lee Littleton’s invitation to gather at the Metropolitan Community Church. Texas courts had voided Christie Lee’s seven-year marriage during 1999, declaring her male, as indicated on her birth certificate. Because of the notoriety surrounding the case, she had become a prominent spokesperson for the transgender community.

During the first months, Christie Lee served as the facilitator, and the group was known as “Christie Lee’s transgender support group.” Soon the group acquired more members and became the San Antonio Gender Association. SAGA observed its first Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 21, 2003, at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), an event covered by the Express-News. In addition to holding regular bi-weekly meetings, SAGA members conducted awareness sessions for churches and organizations, spoke at local universities, attended conferences, lobbied in Austin, and became more visible throughout the San Antonio area.

When the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, which also met at the church, renamed itself the Diversity Center and relocated in early 2004, SAGA followed. Membership increased to nearly fifty. Being part of the center worked well for a while, with one SAGA member serving on the Diversity Center board. Unfortunately, the center’s financial problems caused it to close in November 2005. After a few months of meeting at a local restaurant, SAGA signed a memorandum of agreement to resume meetings at the MCC in March 2006.

A low point was the tragic death of facilitator, founding member, and international trans activist Becky Cross in July 2006. SAGA held a memorial service for her at the MCC in August. In 2007, Equality Texas named one of two annual awards the Rebecca Cross Anchor Award to honor her activism.

Patient work during 2006 and 2007 preserved SAGA and encouraged new leadership, and SAGA’s membership climbed to over 160. Julia DeGrace and Antonia Padilla assisted Stonewall Democrats to provide sensitivity training for police cadets. Julia and Lauryn Farris represented SAGA in Washington. Stonewall Democrats honored Michelle Myers as a community volunteer. Ruby Krebs ran for city council in 2008. And, SAGA established collaborations with an AIDS awareness group, several local churches, a homeless shelter, the Human Rights Campaign, and other LGBTQ organizations.

In honor of SAGA’s community involvement, The Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology presented the organization with the Paul Wellstone Community Service Award at its October 2009 national conference in San Antonio.

SAGA members helped pass a non-discrimination ordinance at the San Antonio City Council in 2013 by working closely with the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA). Past SAGA president Lauryn Farris advanced a wording change that allowed the proposed ordinance to pass eight votes to three. GLAAD named Lauryn to the North American 2014 Trans 100 list of outstanding trans activists.

Sadly, in 2013, SAGA lost its treasurer Michelle Myers. A plaque in the MCC foyer commemorates her passing, and a special candle honors her at the annual TDOR ceremony. Founder Christie Lee Little Van De Putte, who died March 15, 2014, was remembered at that year’s TDOR.

SAGA continues its outreach efforts and bi-weekly meetings. Emmett Schelling, past-president of SAGA, is now Executive Director of The Transgender Educational Network of Texas (TENT). Current SAGA president Ashley Smith advocates for transgender people on a range of issues and encourages civic engagement. Most recently, Ashley and Emmett helped organize a press conference and rally in San Antonio on March 13, 2018, to demand justice for Kenne McFadden, a trans woman of color who drowned after being shoved into the San Antonio River.

The work of SAGA continues, as it evolves from a small group of concerned individuals to a sizable organization with a mission to serve the trans community and educate others to the reality of what it means to be transgender.