InFocus: Charlotte 2016 — Transgender support groups offer community, guidance in Charlotte

Transcend Charlotte, 41 Percent and Genderlines connect trans people and their allies with one another

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The transgender community is having its moment in the spotlight, after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the discriminatory HB2 into law, kicking off a legal battle with the U.S. Department of Justice. Transgender rights are now a national conversation.

While that increased visibility is a necessary component to winning protections and rights, it comes with a price. As is always the case when a minority group begins to grow more vocal and fight for their rights, some amount of pushback is inevitable.

Related: Transgender Day of Visibility rally in Charlotte protests HB2

The increased attention has come in both the positive and negative form for many, especially those who are actively speaking out.

It has also emboldened some who harbor transphobic feelings, since so much of the rhetoric coming from lawmakers and talking heads on the other side are intending to do just that, with language that often presents trans people as some kind of vague threat.

The transgender community faces a myriad of issues, from increased levels of poverty and housing instability, to higher rates of violence, harassment and discrimination compared with the general public. As of qnotes’ press time, 17 transgender people have been killed this year alone, 13 of whom are transgender women of color. Additionally, one was a genderfluid person of color, who alternately went by the names Kedarie Johnson and Kandicee Johnson and used the pronoun they.

The suicide attempt rate among transgender people is also staggering, and the above concerns play into this epidemic.

The Williams Institute published a study in 2014 that examined suicide rates among the LGBT community compared with the general public. They found that 41 percent of transgender people reported having attempted suicide at least once in their lives, compared with around 20 percent for lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population.

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41percent_logoIt is from this study that the non-profit organization 41 Percent takes its name.

“We’re trying to make sure that people don’t want to kill themselves, very frankly,” said Ashley Williams, executive director of 41 Percent.

They do this by matching up transgender folks with one another, providing what Williams called a “mutual relationship of support.”

They are encouraged to meet up with one another at least once a week for the first six months, but how the pairings decide to go about building and maintaining that structure is up to them.

“We are trying to support trans people by just providing them with, at the very least, someone else to talk to,” they said.

Related: Transgender individuals share their hopes for the future

The Williams Institute study found that those who felt the most “minority stressors,” such as isolation, rejection from family and friends, housing instability and discrimination, were most at risk for depression and suicide.

“After finally securing nonprofit insurance, we have officially launched our Sparrow Program, which serves the transgender community,” said board chairperson Charlie Comero, who co-founded the group along with Williams.

Comero said they are actively looking for more individuals who wish to be paired up, and that the organization is also looking to start their “Raven Program,” which will match family members and friends of transgender individuals together for a similar type of one-on-one support system.

They are also currently looking for help with administrative support, IT assistance, match coordinators, and more, reported 41 Percent volunteer Hannah Hawkins, who started working with the group in the early part of this year after relocating to Charlotte, N.C.

Those looking for support in more of a group setting can seek out Transcend Charlotte and Genderlines.

Transcend Charlotte holds a support group out of Wedgewood Church, 4800 Wedgewood Dr., on the second and fourth Sunday of every month.

Genderlines holds their support group at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1900 The Plaza, on the first Saturday and third Tuesday of every month.

genderlines_logoGenderlines founder Paige Dula encourages cisgender allies to attend the support group as well.

“We open it up to allies and family members, because we want them to be able to come and learn from us and gain knowledge about our community,” Dula said. “And that’s a great way to do it. You can come into some really candid conversations about issues and things that may be affecting us, and that’s the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Both groups also organize events. Dula says Genderlines, which she formed in 2014 after spotting a need for more support for the community, gets together for activities such as bowling or miniature golf. They also hold a quarterly voice workshop for transgender women to “get together and work on our voices.”

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Transcend Charlotte will hold its Genderfusion event on Aug. 20 at Petra’s, 1919 Commonwealth Ave., which is a party and celebration for transgender folks and their allies.

They also offers additional services such as providing clothing for those transitioning with their TransCloset program, as well as offering referrals to mental health professionals, doctors and mentor programs. They are currently working on starting a therapy program as well, so that transgender individuals can access low-cost therapy.

Related: ‘Yes, You Can Go’ campaign supports transgender community

“Many of us have experienced trauma and need to talk with someone about our struggles with gender, with family, with society, and work through any discrimination and violence we may have endured,” said co-founders Trey Greene and Che Busiek in a joint statement. “We have licensed therapists working with us, and we are developing a model so everyone can have access to those services. We just need support from the community to make those options as affordable as possible. Ideally, people who can’t afford to pay anything or can pay very little would still be able to access a therapist who is trained in working with the trans community.”

transcendcharlotte_logoTranscend Charlotte began in May of 2015 with the first meeting of what was intended to be solely a support group.

“We started getting phone calls in the middle of the night from people struggling and isolated who had never come out before,” said Greene and Busiek. They realized that the need was even greater than they had anticipated.

That need has only grown more intense since the passage of HB2, which is something all of the organizations agree on.

“My good friends at Trans Lifeline, a nationwide suicide hotline for transgender people, have experienced their call volumes doubling on the daily basis since HB2 passed!” Comero said. “41 Percent can offer a longer-term solution for folks that are struggling, and we are working to bridge these two organizations so that the community has both short and long-term solutions for whatever they may be going through.”

Dula said that in the past several months she has seen an “uptick in inquiries into the group,” including referrals from therapists.

“All I can contribute it to, really, is HB2,” she added.

Related: Watch: Charlotte transgender activists featured in British TV segment on HB2

“Our support group has grown exponentially over the last year,” Greene and Busiek stated. “At our first meeting, we had four people. We grew fast and were excited before all the media attention on transgender issues and N.C. when we had grown to around 10-15 per meeting. After HB2, we had so many new people come in, we had people sitting on the floor at one point before we decided to do multiple smaller groups.”

Yet Williams cautions that even when HB2 is eventually history, the underlying issues won’t simply disappear.

“The work of fighting transphobia and white supremacy in the LGBTQ community is never done. I don’t think it will be done after the repeal of HB2. We have to actively work to change things,” Williams said.

To learn more, donate or get involved with these organizations, visit their websites by going to 41percent.org, transcendcharlotte.org, and genderlines.org.

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Posted by Jeff Taylor / Social Media Editor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.@jefftaylorhuman.