She runs a program at an LGBT center, and she said that trans participants seem to come and go in her program as well as in other programs that the center provides. She wondered if this kind of off-again, on-again participation was unique to the trans community, because she was not seeing the same kind of in-and-out stuff with gay and lesbian participants.
I’m not sure what all of the programs are that are offered at this particular organization, but I would say that her observation might be correct. And if it is, I will venture a guess as to some of the reasons why:
> Not all trans people identify with the LGBT community. However, those who don’t may seek out or access a particular program or service at a center or other organization that has a “T” at the end of its letter list. Because these people are not grounded in this community, they may access the program, get what they need, and then move on. They won’t stay to “socialize” or to look for other resources there, because they don’t see it as their community.
This might not be the fault of the center or the program at all. It is simply a case of a person not having an ongoing relationship with a particular community. In this case, there’s nothing to be done or changed. It’s still important to have trans resources available if you are an organization with a “T” in your letter list.
> Not all community resources that have “T” in their letter list are trans friendly or, for that matter, trans knowledgeable at all. The “T” is there for funding purposes, for the appearance of inclusivity, or because everyone else is doing it. But when trans people come in to actually access the services, no one really knows what to do with us. Responses can range from blank stares to outright hostility.
Believe it or not, we’re pretty aware, and we can kinda sense this. So we might show up for something and then not return because we see that “LGBT” really means “LGB.” It might happen right away (with the outright hostility) or over time as we gradually see that our needs are not being addressed by the program.
We might return at a later time to try again, particularly if there are not any other programs in the area that even come close to providing something for us. But if we see that nothing has changed, we vanish once again.
> We also get tired of educating others about trans issues, especially when we are trying to access a program or service through an “LGBT” organization. If you put yourself out there as an “LGBT” program or service, you damn well better know what the “T” means and what services we might need.
In my opinion, all non-trans staff who work at “LGBT” centers and other organizations should have mandatory training on trans issues as part of their new-employee orientation, or such training should be offered a couple of times a year and all staff should be required to attend – and this includes volunteers. An organization’s volunteer training should have a specific section on trans issues.
If you’re not willing to do this, drop the “T” from your name. I’m serious. I think many of us would much prefer that an organization be honest and say “We are an LGB center” than to stick the “T” on there for appearances and then have no T programming or knowledge. You might be accused of exclusion, but you will be anyway if the “T” is just there for the hell of it. Better to be honest up front than to promise what you can’t or won’t deliver.
> In some cases, the organization itself might be extremely trans friendly and knowledgeable, but the other participants in the program or group might not be. For example, a youth group, a seniors social group, a caretaker support group, an AA group, or even a computer class or book discussion group might be held at an LGBT center, and the LGB participants in the group might not be trans friendly. They might be openly hostile, uncomfortable, or make jokes about trans people.
If you are an organization that offers such groups, it’s important to let the participants know that the group is for any member of the LGBT community and that discriminatory remarks about sexual orientation or gender identity and expression are not tolerated. Perhaps participants can sign a form upon joining the group that clearly outlines this. If they have a problem, they can decline to participate.
> Trans people sometimes are transient. Because of the difficulty of getting employment and housing, even in those locations that have an inclusive ENDA and public accommodations laws, we might not always have transportation, money for program fees, or even the “right” clothing to wear to certain events.
We might come to a program when we can get there and be absent for a period of time when we cannot. We might be embarrassed to admit that we can’t afford the fees that are charged. We might not be able to bring snacks to share when it’s our turn.
There are a lot of reasons why some trans people might not be able to fully participate in a program, even if we are obviously welcomed and included. If you run a program and notice spotty participation by a certain person, trans or not, it might be helpful to talk to that person in private and ask if there is anything you can do to help them engage fully with the program.
These are just some of the reasons why trans people might appear to be transient at LGBT centers and organizations. I’m sure that readers can come up with more, or can provide examples of some of those already listed – so take it away, folks!
(I need more Ask Matt Monday questions – I know you’ve got ‘em. Click on the Ask Matt tab above to send your question. And thanks for reading and commenting!)