Our People: Ivy Hill

Southerner, Activist, Gender-Bender

Greenville, S.C. native Ivy Hill is the community health program director for Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE) and has been on the frontlines in the fight for LGBTQ equality in the South since joining the CSE team as LGBTQ rights toolkit coordinator in 2015.
In addition to working with CSE, Hill is a co-founder and executive director of Gender Benders, a non-profit transgender, gender non-conforming support and advocacy non-profit organization.

Ze developed a trans-sensitivity training program that was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Obama Administration and has delivered this training to colleges, universities, hospitals, non-profit organizations and businesses across the Carolina’s.

Since 2004, Hill has worked around issues of LGBTQ equity ranging from advocating for hate crime legislation to serving on the SC Equality TransAction Committee, and qnotes had an opportunity to sit down and catch up with Ivy to see what it is like working with CSE and to see what other things ze enjoys doing outside of ze’s work in the community.

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Can you describe your position as CSE health program director as well as any of your other roles?

In my role with CSE, there are a lot of different projects that I oversee and help implement. A few of those have been the Trans in the South guide that lists more than 400 trans-friendly medical providers in 13 Southern states. I also coordinate pop-up clinics across the South where we provide free services like name change assistance, self-defense classes by and for trans folks, information about immigration and more. I also do a lot of work to train medical providers in trans sensitivity to help increase the number of competent providers in the South. Also over the last couple of years, I’ve been involved in a lot of research about trans and queer health in the South and published the “2018 Trans Health Focus Group Report” and the findings from the “2019 Southern LGBTQ Health Survey.” CSE has been a major voice for the LGBTQ community in the South in a number of ways.

What’s it like being a part of something so influential?

I have always been so proud to be part of this team at CSE and at Gender Benders. Every day I wake up and get to work with the people who inspire me most — my teammates are without a doubt, my heroes.

What are some major CSE victories you’ve been apart of?

Since I’ve been at CSE I can think of a lot of victories we’ve been able to celebrate together. In my earliest days with the organization we were fighting for marriage equality, and running direct actions across the South. I think the victory I’m most proud of though is pretty recent. We were able to strike down the “no promo homo” law in S.C. that said the only time you could talk about LGBTQ people in sex-ed class was when you are talking about HIV and other STIs. We struck down that law with a federal court case earlier this year. As someone who grew up in the public school system in S.C. that felt like a really big and personal win.

In addition to your position with CSE, you’re also the executive director of Gender Benders trans and gender non-binary support organization. Can you provide a little background on the organization and explain some of the ways it helps individuals who are trans and gender non-binary?

Gender Benders started in 2011 with three friends getting coffee and talking about what needs we had as trans and GNC (gender non-conforming) people in the Upstate of S.C. We just asked ourselves where we wanted to be, where we were then and what we could feasibly do to help bridge that gap with no money or resources that were already in existence in our area specifically for trans people. Now the organization serves more than 600 trans and GNC people across the South with chapters in Hattiesburg, Miss., Hendersonville, N.C, Clemson, S.C, Columbia, S.C, and our original chapter in Greenville, S.C. From those early conversations, we developed a three-pronged approach to serving trans and GNC Southern: 1) Connecting people to the resources they need to lead full and healthy lives; 2) Engaging in advocacy and education work to help make our community a safer place for our people; and 3) Creating space for people to connect with each other and build peer support networks.

Have you ever experienced challenges associated with body and/or self-image, and if so in what way(s)? Have you ever used any sort of creative self-expression or other means to celebrate or build confidence in your self-image?

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I have certainly struggled with body image my whole life, and it’s still something I struggle with sometimes if I’m honest. I have been a person of size my whole life, and I was socialized as a girl when I was growing up. So, those messages about there being something wrong with my body were pretty deeply ingrained in me from a young age. As I got older, my chest started to change and I had to start wearing a shirt outside. That’s the first time I experienced dysphoria related to my gender, even though I didn’t have the vocabulary to express that at that time. I didn’t know that there were any other options when it came to gender. Today I’m much more comfortable with being a person of size, and I’m working towards top surgery, but definitely have to do creative things to help me feel comfortable in that regard. Sometimes that looks like wearing binders, sometimes that looks like throwing on my favorite hoodie, sometimes that looks like taking three showers a day because it helps me reset when I’m in a funk, and sometimes that looks like getting on the phone with someone else who understands what that feels like and just supporting each other through it.

In addition to creative self-expression, do you know of any other ways that individuals can build confidence in their outer image?

There are a lot of things folks can do to feel more comfortable with their bodies in terms of gender that include tools like binders, packers, breast prosthetics, gaffs, etc. But really what I think the more important message is that when we limit ourselves to the conventional standard of beauty, we actually miss some of the most beautiful things life has to offer.

What are some things you enjoy doing outside of your professional and volunteer efforts?

I’m actually a pretty big nerd. I really love to play with Rubik’s cubes and do puzzles. More recently I’ve picked up art though, and that has been a lot of fun. During the pandemic, I’ve reconstructed a ping pong table with a design inspired by the Australian artist Mulga. That has really helped get me through so far.

As a native of South Carolina, what would you say is your most and least favorite thing about living in the South?

In the South, we have a whole lot more structural barriers than folks have to deal with in other parts of the country, so I hate to see my people struggle for things like basic medical care, or even just safety in moving through public spaces. What I see in the South that I love though is that the community here is so vibrant, strong and resilient. When you have to depend on each other for your survival, you actually become bonded in a deeper way that I do not think folks understand who are from other parts of the country.

What’s your favorite food?

I really love sushi.

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