The increasing recognition and acceptance of transpeople has never been more evident in southeast Michigan than in this month, which is full of trans-friendly activities and groundbreaking news of statewide trans advocacy organization Transgender Michigan opening up their first office in Ferndale.
The celebrations kicked off with a potluck dinner hosted by Affirmations community center’s Gender Non-Conformists Group on Aug. 5. Next is the annual Transgender Pride in the Park, held at Geary Park in Ferndale on Aug. 14 from noon to 6 p.m.
And from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 28, Affirmations will play host to Michigan’s first-ever Transgender Health Fair. There will be free and low-cost health screenings available, along with information from organizations that provide services to transgender individuals.
“We are so happy this month,” says Transgender Michigan founder Rachel Crandall. “Everything is coming together all at once and there is so much support here for transgender people.”
Crandall started Transgender Michigan with her partner Susan Crocker as a way to unite transpeople from all over the state in an “online clearinghouse for transgender information and events in Michigan,” according to their website.
And, starting this month, they’ll have an office – the first site for transgender resources in the state – which will provide literature and assistance for the trans community.
The office will be staffed four days a week with a worker provided by AmeriCorps through the Michigan AIDS Coalition, which is renting out the office to Transgender Michigan in the Community Pride Building on Livernois.
The worker will be paid through grant money, but will receive another rarer type of compensation: being able to transition in a positive work environment, where being transgender is not only tolerated, but is also a respected asset. “Just being able to see Alex (the AmeriCorps employee) transition in this kind of work environment is a good reward,” Crandall says. “He’ll be able to share his experience with other people and help them first-hand.”
Transgender Michigan provides a network of support to hundreds of transpeople throughout the state, with doctor referrals, mentoring, events, lobbying and education. Now, they’ll be able to do that from a permanent home.
“Transgender Michigan has done a lot for me,” says Michelle Fox-Phillips, who was on the first Board of Directors for the group and is also the founder of Transgender Detroit. “During my transition I have had numerous jobs. Once they realized I was trans, they would find some excuse to fire me. As late as 2002, (my late partner) Jamie and I would have to go in stealth mode to find a place to live. It was an awful experience.”
Like Fox-Phillips, Charlie Ford Jr. faced workplace discrimination because he was transitioning from female to male. “I had been severely harassed in the bathroom I was forced to use at my internship,” he recalls. “I talked to my supervisor about it, and she basically said that I brought all of this on myself because I’m trans and keep telling people to call me Charlie or Charles and dressing the way I did – as a guy.
“I called Transgender Michigan and Rachel calmed me down and let me know my options. I was able to complete my internship.”
The grand opening ceremony for the Transgender Michigan office will be at the end of August, with the date still to be announced. But Crandall and her team are already overcome with excitement. “Very few states have transgender organizations and very few of those have offices,” Crandall says. “This is an incredible event.”
Fox-Phillips agrees. “The trans community, in the last few years, is finally getting the respect that has been overdue,” she says. “There is still a lot of work that needs to be done.”
And hopefully, with a new home and staff person, Transgender Michigan will have many more success stories to tell in the future.
For more information, visit http://www.transgendermichigan.org.