SEPTA Transpass Controversy Inspires Movie

We talk to Wren Warner about the short film, SEPTA and the truth about gender identity

Courtesy of QFest

For the past few years, a committed group of activists from RAGE (Riders Against Gender Exclusion) have been fighting the use of gender IDs on SEPTA transpasses.

As the debate raged, we spoke with both Max Ray and Nico Amador, one of RAGE’s founders, about why the group wanted to change the seemingly outdated method of identification. The IDs were putting transgender and gender non-conforming riders at risk for discrimination and worse – violence.

The latest on the transpass debate is good news for RAGE: SEPTA says it will end the use of the gender IDs by next year. And thanks to director Wren Warner, QFest audiences get a glimpse into this timely civil rights dilemma in a new short film Transpass (July 19, 7:15 p.m., July 20, 5 p.m., Ritz East, Theater 1), which explores the impact gender IDs have on transgender commuters throughout the region; it even features previously unseen footage of demonstrations between RAGE and SEPTA that never quite made it to mainstream news.

Courtesy of Wren Warner

We talked to Warner about what inspired the locally produced short film and how SEPTA’s decision to end gender IDs will likely impact transgender travelers for years to come.

What is it about this true story that first attracted you as a filmmaker?

I actually went down to one of the actions that RAGE was doing in Center City and brought my camera to film. It wasn’t until afterwards, when I was watching the footage, that I decided I should actually do something with it rather than just sticking it on a hard drive – thus the beginnings of the film. But as a filmmaker, I think that it’s important to get stories like this told in order to educate people and spread awareness. I think that trans issues are underrepresented in the media, so I believe that this story is that much more important.

Did SEPTA cooperate with the film?

I’m actually not sure if SEPTA knows about the film. At one point, I was going to take it a step further and interview SEPTA employees, but decided to keep it much shorter.

What role does RAGE play in the movie?

Nico Amador and Max Ray, both members of RAGE, were interviewed in the film.

What impact do you think the decision to end gender IDs will have on the LGBT community here in Philly?

Getting rid of the gender stickers will make riding SEPTA a much safer space for folks who are trans and gender non-conforming. It will also stop forcing people who are gender-queer to choose between two genders.

In your opinion, what factors contributed to end of the IDs?

I think that it was the continued pressure from RAGE that really made a big impact. But towards the end, RAGE met with Councilwoman Reynolds-Brown, who was eager to help out. When SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey wrote RAGE about the decision to remove the stickers, the councilwoman was copied in the email. So we think that the political pressure also made a large impact.

What will audiences at QFest learn from the film?

Being trans and or gender non-conforming can be a challenge when confronted in gender binary situations such as this. Anywhere from using one’s ID to using a public restroom or riding public transportation can be challenging and difficult at times – and even dangerous. I think it is important to make these stories told in order to create awareness and also hopefully create – in the end – more allies for the trans community.

Click here to learn more about QFest and to see the full schedule of events.