BY AJ TRAGER
MICHIGAN – Transgender Michigan (TGMI) was established in 1997, providing the state with a helpline, a resource directory, a calendar of events and other services and has expanded throughout the state to include many chapters to serve the trans community.
Resources for the transgender community have risen significantly in the past decade as society becomes more accepting and aware of trans identities. The Metro Detroit Chapter, run by Co-Founder of TGMI Rachel Crandall, is located in the epicenter of Michigan’s densest population, Detroit. But for folks interested in meetups and gatherings who live in Cadillac or in Mt. Pleasant, access to a closer gathering space is crucial to stay connected.
Two and half years ago, Rachel Snyder, a Traverse City resident and frequent churchgoer, decided to work with Crandall to develop a TGMI Chapter in Traverse City. Snyder saw that trans services were lacking in her community, and there was a blatant need for some.
“I came to this space and thought, ‘I’m not going to have anybody else die in my life,'” Snyder said.
She began picking Crandall’s brain on support groups and how to integrate what TGMI-Detroit was doing into the northern city atmosphere. Snyder met with councilors, therapists and ministers and developed an array of events and gatherings for the area.
The chapter honored its third annual Transgender Day of Remembrance this past November and celebrated their first Pride event in several years in 2014 with roughly 160 people in attendance. Snyder was instrumental in getting people organized to do walks for marriage equality and become more visible in the Traverse City area. The Traverse City chapter of TGMI now holds weekly meetings called “Coming Out Over Coffee,” even though many of the members are no longer coming out.
“I’ve gotten to know, over the years, the difference between negative and derogatory and someone who truly wants to know,” Snyder said, referencing questions she receives. “I have made a lot of allies and friends. And I have upset the Traverse City community at times. But, I’ve helped a lot of people.”
Char Davenport revived the Mid-Michigan chapter of TGMI a year and half ago. She is a part-time professor at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University and has been on the board of TGMI for many years.
Working as an adviser to Perceptions, a non-profit community organization that offers educational, social and networking opportunities for residents of the Tri-Cities (Midland, Bay City and Saginaw), Davenport saw a gap in trans-related care in the area and decided to relaunch the TGMI Mid-Michigan chapter.
“Saginaw is a little-big city; there is a lot going on in Saginaw. I don’t think we’ve done enough to reach out to the trans people of color. Though we are getting there through different organizations that are Saginaw based. TGMI gives me access to resources that I may not otherwise have. The thing I like about the approach that TGMI is taking, is forming these chapters, we don’t come into a community like Bay City and Saginaw and say, ‘This is how you do transgender,'” Davenport said. “What they do is say, ‘We want to be a part of a community. What are the needs in Grayling vs. Kalamazoo?’ I really appreciate that approach; it’s really important. Because this is all about identity and community identity.”
Davenport initially wanted to focus on political action, but people who became involved in TGMI wanted to know which doctors in the area were knowledgeable on trans identities, especially in terms of transitioning. Davenport was able to help them. She says that there are a lot of mid-Michiganders who are coming out in their later years and are beginning to transition even in their seventies. “It’s like magic to me,” she said.
“One of the things that I take seriously here — Snyder and I talk all the time about this — is we are able to make sure that north of Lansing has some kind of representation in the larger community. I know that for many of the folks that come to the meetings, we are their only contact in the trans community. It’s hard to be out in small town, rural America.”
“We need to constantly be aware that it is getting better, but we’re not there yet,” she continues. “Trans people are amazing. I want to be a part of building a community and eventually have a presence, if not on a school board, on a school board committee. To see trans parents become classroom parents. And have a visible presence.”
TGMI of Mid-Michigan holds monthly meetings and works closely with Perceptions in the education of trans identities as well as developing a stronger LGBT community. Last year, Davenport attended 10 different Pride events around the state to promote TGMI and network how TGMI can better service the trans community within the state.
“For the first time, we have the beginnings of a statewide community. In the last year or two I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time to play a role and be a part of the team that was about trans people speaking for trans people,” Davenport said. “There is a transitory element to the trans experience.”