It was a 2019 article in the Saipan Tribune that got Tyra Lyn Sablan started in her LGBTQ+ advocacy journey.
The article, which was published on June 13, 2019, highlighted what Sablan thought was a dismaying reality: that the CNMI ranks low in a national review of LGBTQ+ laws and policies among American territories.
Sablan, a 41-year-old transgender woman, saw that as an opportunity to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and concerns and she is now reaching out to other like-minded groups, politicians, and activists to improve what the Movement Advancement Project and Lambda Legal call the “Overall Policy Tally” of the CNMI—the combined laws and policies that impact the LGBTQ+ community and promote more equality for the LGBTQ+ in the CNMI.
In an earlier email to Saipan Tribune, Sablan said: “Being that I just moved back home to Saipan after being gone for almost 20 years, [the Saipan Tribune article] inspired me to start a grassroots movement to advance awareness through education and legislation for the protection of LGBT people in the CNMI.”
Toward that end, Sablan created the non-profit group T-Project, which she said will work with Frankie Eliptico, president of Pride Marianas, and Dr. Jennifer F. Maratita, founder and lead of grassroots organization Pride Marianas Youth, to make sure there’s a safe place where any person—whether LGBTQ+ or not, of whatever age, race, color, or gender—can go to for the correct source of information on LGBTQ+ topics. T-Project also aims to provide services in helping with name change, getting identification, providing sources of information on transition-related topics such as health and even a place where parents of transgender youth can go to for sources of credible and reliable information within the vast network of LGBT advocates and providers.
Sablan also recently met with Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) to propose several bills that offer protections for LGBTQ+ people. She said that the most important thing for the youth is to know that their government recognizes them as human beings. Tyra Lyn Sablan hopes that these proposed bills will be motivate the next CNMI Legislature to take up legal reforms such as equal employment opportunity for LGBTQ+ people, putting in place a hate crime law, transgender health access, and the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in sex discrimination laws. Tyra Lyn Sablan emphasized that although bills like these have already been introduced at the federal level, her mission is to bring these laws locally.
As an example, a 14-year-old in the CNMI who is transitioning or wants to transition could not go into counseling without parental consent. Tyra Lyn Sablan wants to change this and push for a law in the CNMI where such a youth can go into counseling without needing that consent and can be confident that nothing from that counseling will go back to their parents.
“I want to use the nonprofit organization to help advance the movement of LGBT rights here in the CNMI,” said Sablan.
Right now, she said that T-Project is in the “very early stages” and is looking for volunteers. She aims to have the nonprofit organization incorporated in the next couple of weeks.
LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning. The + sign stands for all the communities included in the LGBT spectrum.
In the Saipan Tribune article last year, it quoted the MAP report as saying that, of the five territories examined (Guam, American Samoa, CNMI, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands), Puerto Rico has the highest overall LGBTQ+ policy tally (21.75 out of a potential 40.5) as well as the highest sexual orientation policy tally (11.5/20) and gender identity policy tally (10.25/20.5). Based on its LGBT-related laws and policies, Puerto Rico has a similar overall LGBT policy tally as Delaware and Maine.
The Northern Mariana Islands is ranked with Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa as having a “low” LGBT policy tally. American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands fall between North Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina (0.5/40.5), while the U.S. Virgin Islands (5.5/40.5) falls between Arizona and Kentucky. Guam (7/40.5) falls between Kentucky and Indiana,” said Saipan Tribune.