2018 Person of the Year: Trey Greene, MSW, LCSW

Transgender Mentor, Clinician, Educator

Transcend Charlotte Co-founder and Executive Director Trey Greene, despite his prominent position in the city’s LGBTQ community, is not one to draw attention to himself. Rather, the clinical social worker, educator, dedicated gamer, television binge-watcher, cat dad, hamster dad and all-around introvert prefers to focus on those he serves: individuals grappling with issues of gender identity, social marginalization, and, frequently, the lasting trauma of abuse and sexual assault.

Born and raised in the conservative hamlet of Wilkesboro, N.C. — population approximately 3,500, to the Charlotte metropolitan area’s 2.5 million — Greene “struggled greatly throughout [his] youth with feeling isolated and misunderstood.” Amidst the deeply rooted culture of condemnation he encountered in his hometown, Greene’s mental health deteriorated to such an extent that he describes himself as having been “selectively mute” for the better part of a decade.

Although a profound burden was lifted when he began presenting as male following a move to sunny California (“I spent a year in Los Angeles looking to find myself,” he explains, “as one does.”) Greene continued to feel distanced from his peers and potential allies in the queer community, even when he attempted to reach out to LGBTQ organizations. “There were either only services for LGB people or for trans females,” he commented in a 2016 qnotes interview, “or I felt too socially awkward or anxious to connect, or it was too intimidating to go at all.”

It was in part the keen awareness of those barriers that motivated Greene, then a Time Out Youth Center intern and University of North Carolina at Charlotte graduate student, to team up with new acquaintance Che Busiek to establish Transcend Charlotte. Since its inception in 2015 as a modest bi-weekly support group, Transcend, with Greene at the helm and Busiek retaining a seat on the board of advisors, has grown into one of the region’s most prominent organizations of its kind.

Key to Transcend’s rapid expansion was the almost immediate surge in public response. Greene reports that, from the beginning, the group’s objective was simple and all-inclusive: “to create spaces for people to feel safe and find connection as their authentic selves.” As a result, its work has always been guided by the needs and circumstances of its clients, rather than any narrowly defined agenda of its own. This practice has allowed Transcend to develop organically: while he attests that “as the organization has grown, how we go about creating change evolves,” Greene also “wouldn’t say the foundational goal has shifted.”

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A commitment to diversity

In line with its resolve to identify and respond to the community’s needs, at Transcend Charlotte “our goal has always been to maintain a board that is majority trans and majority people of color, which we have for the majority of time we’ve been in operation.”

A glance at the staff biographies on Transcend’s website lends credence to that assessment. Indeed, Greene and his colleagues strive to discover how best to support their clients, not merely by requesting feedback, but by availing themselves of the talent they recognize in these same individuals. Former clients sit on the organization’s board of directors, a group whose members bring to bear a level of insight that can come only from experience.

Greene emphasizes the tremendous significance of intersectional identities, citing the violence to which transgender people of color are subjected at an especially alarming rate, along with what he views as the additional challenges faced by transfeminine individuals who, in transitioning, become subject to the prejudices and disadvantages faced by all women. On both counts, he expresses his commitment to the principle “that those who experience the most discrimination [should] always have the most power within Transcend Charlotte.”

Trey Greene (left) and Cole Monroe accepted a second-place prize check on behalf of Transcend Charlotte from SEED20 in April 2018.

Clinician and educator

Greene places immense value on the natural empathy he realizes has only been amplified by his own difficult journey.

Understandably, then, when he considers the abundance of proverbial hats he wears, Greene reflects that “clinical work is probably closest to [his] heart.”

Providing one-on-one counseling to adolescents through Time Out Youth while treating adults in private practice, Greene estimates that a typical week sees him meeting with a little over two dozen clients. In his own practice he offers a sliding payment scale to accommodate those whose financial circumstances might otherwise prevent them from seeking treatment.

As much meaning as he derives from his work as a counselor and advocate, Greene doesn’t accept that serving the transgender community is inevitably limited to treating damage already done.

A substantial portion of his time is devoted instead to furthering understanding of transgender-, gender- and trauma-related issues. He frequently conducts seminars and workshops aimed at both service agencies and individuals, with many of these programs available directly through Transcend Charlotte. Among their offerings are the courses Trans 101; Empowering Transgender Survivors of Trauma; Reconstructing the Power and Control Wheel for Transgender Survivors; and Gender and Consent.

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Meanwhile, Greene has expanded his contributions to a national scale, delivering presentations at major colloquia including Philadelphia Trans Wellness and the National Sexual Assault Conference. In every instance, he shares strategies for providing the gender-inclusive, transgender-affirming, trauma-informed support it took him decades to find. Why? “Those were the key factors that I feel prevented me from finding my way earlier in life.”

Building bridges

In the quest to change the way service providers and ultimately society as a whole relate to members of the non-cisgender population, Greene considers it both necessary and rewarding to search for common ground even, and especially, where none is evident.

That’s exemplified by his recent partnership with Lutheran Services for Children (LSC), a foster care organization affiliated with the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. While Greene confirms that “many people in the LGBT community have trauma with religious institutions like the one [he] grew up in,” he remains optimistic, citing Wedgewood Church’s support for a nascent Transcend and stating “there’s just as much potential for us to be allies.”

LCS, which has long employed specialized training to aid select foster parents in caring for children with substantial emotional or behavioral difficulties, in 2017 began adapting these models to child and adolescent survivors of human trafficking. Greene’s contribution has been to the group’s newest undertaking, a dedicated foster care program for at-risk LGBTQ youth in the Charlotte area.

Trey and Scarlett Greene on their wedding day. (Photo Credit: Stephanie Moore)

Looking to the future

So what does 2019 hold for Trey Greene?

As he celebrates the beginning of his second year of marriage to longtime partner Scarlett, a fellow therapist and Transcend Charlotte colleague, Greene looks to his consistent collaborator Time Out Youth for inspiration. He envisions that he and his team could “one day have Transcend able to provide support for transgender adults on [a] level with what Time Out Youth has been able to do for LGBTQ youth.”

At the same time, he wants to continue to expand low-cost therapy services to offer support to as many clients as possible regardless of their economic circumstances.

Most importantly, he says, “I try to remember what we talked about when we first started Transcend, that if we help even one person, then it mattered.”

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