Flashes of Pride: Pelz

Carrie George

Erica Pelz, a facilities mechanical systems specialist for Kent State laboratories, came out as lesbian many years ago, but her story doesn’t stop there.

“There’s a lot of fear or angst or nervousness associated with coming out,” Pelz said. “Coming out is just having a difficult conversation with somebody. It’s a conversation that you have to work yourself up to.”

At 14, Pelz told her mom she didn’t feel like she fit in her own body and she didn’t feel like she belonged.

About a decade later, Pelz transitioned from male to female.

“It was hard to talk about at the time because we didn’t have the language that we have today; we didn’t have people we could talk about,” Pelz said. “The typical trans person was somebody on Jerry Springer.”

At the time of Pelz’s transition, members of the trans community faced even more risks than they do now, Pelz said.

“This was the mid-90s, so views were a bit different,” Pelz said. “At that point if you could step away from your previous life as it were and start fresh and be taken for cis, that was a survival skill.”

Those instinctual “survival skills” kept Pelz quiet for so long.

“It’s still a little bit more of a scary thing to come out to people as being trans, because being trans is still not as accepted as being gay,” Pelz said. “There’s a possibility that it’ll damage a working relationship, somebody that you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.”

Pelz said many trans people also face violence and aggression for opening up about their identities.

“There’s very real threats still to trans individuals,” Pelz said. “It’s not something that should be approached without at least acknowledging that there are some risks.”

Pelz saw people leave her life because they did not accept her identity.

“I had an entire portion of my father’s family write me off,”  Pelz said. “My uncle basically told my grandmother that she had to choose between his four kids and me.”

Despite the backlash from part of her family, Pelz still found a strong support system from her mother, her stepfather and her “family of choice.”

“Honestly, it stung at the time, but with a little bit of time and distance those weren’t the folks that were truly important to me,” Pelz said. “I have friends who are basically family, and those are the people that are important to me in my day-to-day life.”

Lately, Pelz has devoted her time to advocate for trans rights in the workplace. She played a key role in pushing for trans inclusive healthcare for Kent faculty and staff.

Pelz is also part of the Queers United to Encourage and Support Transition (QUEST) mentorship program, which pairs LGBTQ students with a faculty or staff member.

“For our students, I think they need to see someone who is successful in what they do,” Pelz said. “(Someone) who has a long term relationship that is successful, who is stable in other ways, a productive member of society.”

Pelz helps her mentee by sharing her past experiences and offering guidance.

“I think there’s a lot of benefit of having somebody like that who is a role model,” Pelz said. “Granted, that little 10-year-old in my head says ‘Me, a role model? ‘You’ve got to be joking.’”

Pelz said her involvement with trans inclusive healthcare coupled with the current political climate have pushed her to come out as trans to the Kent community.

“There are a lot of people who really know me and respect me who probably don’t know or don’t even suspect that I’m trans,” Pelz said. “When people see that they know somebody who is trans and does not fit their preconceived notions of what a trans person is like, then that kind of shifts their way of thinking.”

Policy changes such as alterations of Title IX and Title VII and the introduction of bathroom bills have restricted the freedoms of trans people and encouraged more hateful rhetoric, Pelz said.

However, Pelz said she sees people getting involved, speaking out and fighting back against transphobia.

“We get accused of hiding things, and that’s not true,” Pelz said. “Those old habits of staying hidden for safety are hard to change; they’re hard to break.”

Pelz is ready to open up about her identity.

“I think that’s the best way we’re going to beat transphobia: people figuring out that we’re just like everybody else,” Pelz said.

Carrie George is the is the administration and diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected].