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Kassandra Harding, a transgender woman in Klamath Falls who ran for a spot on the Klamath Community College Board of Education in May and is part of Klamath Falls’ LGBTQ+ activist community, is having her final gender reassignment surgery next month in Portland. This will come after over two years of transitional surgeries and hormones.

Harding said that she experienced dysphoria surrounding her gender from a young age, but she didn’t feel able to come out until more recently.

“The earliest recollection I have is from when I was four,” she said. “The things that I really wanted to do, I couldn’t do.”

Fighting for political change

Harding spoke about her experience transitioning in Klamath Falls and her goal to help other people in the LGBTQ+ community here. She said that this drive to help other transgender people, in Klamath Falls and elsewhere, led her to run for a position on the KCC Board of Education.

“I wanted to have a voice for the LGBTQ community within community governments, getting involved so we can bring education,” she said. “Now I’ve gotten my feet wet in politics, and I’m wanting to do more.”

Harding didn’t win a seat on the board in May, but she recognized her friend, Helen Petersen, who filled the Zone 6 position in the May election. She said that Petersen, like Harding, is a member of KCC’s LGBTQA+ club, and that it is good for the community to have representation from their group.

“So we do have representation now in the community for the board of directors,” Harding said. “It’s very important.”

Dealing with bureaucracy

Harding said that transgender people have to face unexpected legal challenges as they face the difficulties of transitioning. She described some of the bureaucratic challenges of living as a transgender person.

“I’ve had the rare privilege of being apparently the first transgender person to apply for an amendment to my certificate of record of birth abroad,” said Harding, who was born in England and has dual citizenship, so she needed to amend her birth certificates in two countries.

“It’s interesting to think that I could be part of that pioneering movement in bringing about change.”

Harding compares the process of getting her gender and name changed on her birth certificate and other legal documents to someone changing their name when they get married.

“I’m hoping the process is getting easier. It doesn’t need to be a public shaming,” she said. “You can’t treat one person this way who’s getting married and changing their last name and somebody who’s changing their gender and their name shouldn’t have to have a different process. It should be just as easy.”

Medical necessities

In reflecting on her transition, Harding also hopes to bring attention to the medical hardships that transgender people go through, and encourage medical and insurance companies to consider their impact on the community. One thing she thinks is important is that hair-removal is covered under insurance.

“It is painful, it’s costly, but it’s worth it because it’s going to free up my appearance,” she said. “They will pay, for the most part, to do the gender-confirming surgery, but they won’t do anything to my face.”

Harding said that often these procedures are overlooked, because insurance companies don’t think they’re “medically necessary.”

“For me, it’s medically necessary to be the real me. To not have to worry about getting off work and having a five o’clock shadow. Some of that stuff is very important.”

Bringing change to Klamath Falls

Harding said that she has found support in Klamath Falls as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. She is a Christian, and she spoke about the importance of faith in her life, something she doesn’t think should be lost because of her identity.

“There are churches here that are very accepting of the LGBTQ community,” she said. “God did not make a mistake, contrary to what a lot of Christians believe. Having been a Christian, and still being a Christian, it’s bringing hope to those people that have lost hope.”

Harding said that when people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are disavowed in the name of religion, it can be really harmful. “The one thing they don’t need to hear is that their savior doesn’t love them,” she said.

All of Harding’s efforts, she hopes, will help cultivate a safer, more inclusive community for LGBTQ+ people in Klamath Falls. “I need to help build this community,” she said.

She said that people who want a supportive group can come to meetings at KCC and the Oregon Institute of Technology, both of which have non-exclusive LGBTQ+ groups.

“Both KCC and OIT’s clubs are open to the public, anyone can attend,” she said. “This is the importance of the LGBTQ community is being able to support one another,” she said.

“To show children, that may be experiencing things in their bodies that may be different, that they can know that there are others in this community that they can turn to for guidance, to know that they’re not alone.”

“There are people in this community that do care, because there are enough in this world that don’t care,” she said. “It’s sad when there are people in this community that don’t feel safe walking down the streets, they’re afraid of being attacked because they show who they really are.”