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Jo Ivester and her transgender son, Jeremy / Contributed

Racial justice and transgender awareness author to speak in Spokane, Pullman & Moscow

Racial justice and transgender awareness author to speak in Spokane, Pullman & Moscow

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By Annemarie Frohnhoefer

“Jo’s book is so wonderful because it views [transition] from very different points-of-view,” says Joy Wagner, an active member of Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church on Spokane’s South Hill. The book she is speaking about is Jo Ivester’s 2020 family memoir, “Once a Girl, Always a Boy which tells the story of how an entire family navigated different aspects of one family member’s gender transition.

The event, which takes place on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church, has been two years in the making.

From Racial Advocacy to Transgender Awareness

“After George Floyd’s murder,” explains Wagner, “Hamblen Park Presbyterian introduced a series of speakers and book club reads that explored issues of race.”

In 2021, for instance, the Sunday Book Club read Ibrahim X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” This sparked the creation of another series in which invited speakers would tell their own stories as a way to connect with the Hamblen Park community. 

Wagner learned that Jo Ivester, a former graduate school classmate, had published a book in 2015 on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The Outskirts of Hopetells the story of how Ivester’s father, a medical doctor, responded to President Johnson’s War on Poverty by moving his white, Jewish family from Boston to an all-Black town in the Mississippi Delta in an effort to improve medical access.  

Ivester centers her discussions on the ways individuals who had experienced the original Civil Rights Movement can continue their actions in the present day.

After reconnecting, Wagner thought Ivester would be a good fit for the speaker series. However, the pandemic got in the way. At long last, Ivester will speak on “The Outskirts of Hope” at Hamblen Park’s Top of the Hill group on Tuesday afternoon.

During the wait, Wagner also discussed Ivester’s second book, “Once a Girl, Always a Boy.” It was published in early 2020 to positive reception and interest. An experienced racial justice advocate, Ivester soon turned toward transgender advocacy in her current home state of Texas. The book, very much on her mind, and its relevance becoming more apparent, Wagner and other Hamblen Park Presbyterian members decided to include a presentation of “Once a Girl, Always a Boy,” during the same week as “Outskirts of Hope.” 

Connection through Storytelling

“As a church, Hamblen Park is very interested in working with partners to make our community better for all,” Wagner explains.

She and others don’t see their church taking on an activist role or even one of advocacy. Rather, they believe that “the process of listening and hearing everyone’s stories” might lead some to choose activism or advocacy, but the overall goal is to provide people with “a church where you feel free to tell your stories in an open and safe space.” 

Ivester fit the bill. Though Ivester has Jewish heritage, she and her family are secular in the sense that they celebrate every holiday. They might light a menorah on Christmas Eve or have matzah ball soup for Easter. The underlying ideology of the family is that “people need to care for one another.” 

An engaging, optimistic person, it’s no surprise that Ivester considers herself a storyteller. She aims to bring awareness to audiences about transgender communities and hopes that audience members walk away with a greater degree of comfort with the transgender community than they had in the past.

A good portion of the event will include a Q&A. During her visit, Ivester wants to be a resource for family members who might not know where else to gain information. She was once in their position and hopes to make the journey easier for others. According to Ivester, every family member is involved “because everyone loves the [family member]…. Jeremy’s coming out was the family’s coming out.”

Books are available for purchase and signing at Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church. Copies are also available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane and Book People in Moscow. In addition, Ivester is available for one-on-one conversations should individuals desire privacy.

If You Go

Tuesday, 11:30 a.m, Top of the Hill Lunch Talk, Hamblen Presbyterian Church, 4102 S. Crestline St., Spokane, “The Outskirts of Hope”

Wednesday, 7 p.m., Hamblen Presbyterian Church Talk, 4102 S. Crestline St., Spokane “Once a Girl, Always a Boy”

Thursday, 7 p.m., Pullman League of Women Voters, UCC, 525 NE Campus Street, Pullman, “Once a Girl, Always a Boy”

Friday, noon, Moscow League of Women Voters, 412 E 3rd Street, Moscow, Idaho, “Once a Girl, Always a Boy”

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