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Feeling alone or misunderstood in one’s adolescent years is, for many, a rite of passage. Especially within the LGBTQ community, that period often leads those enduring it to discover more about themselves and find a group of peers who feel similarly. However, for those who aren’t able to find such a support group, there can be consequences that range from anxiety, feelings of isolation, depression and, in some instances, suicide. Stand With Trans is a nonprofit dedicated to aiding transgender Youth, and its Founder Roz Keith said it was a story of suicide that inspired her to create a helpline for transgender youth.
“Ally Parents started as a way to provide love and support over the phone for trans youth who perhaps were not getting that at home. It started about four years ago when we heard about the passing of Leelah Alcorn, a young transgender woman who did not have the support and was not recognized as a trans girl,” Keith said. “She was misgendered by family and finally just couldn’t take the pain any longer. Unfortunately, that was her way out.”
Now as of February 2019 the service is called Ally Parents, but those familiar with it may remember it being originally titled Ally Moms. Keith said that there was “something so sweet” about the idea of moms of trans kids serving as support centers for youth in need.
“But as we grew and as we got more and more requests, we realized that we needed to expand the offering and open up the group to all parents of transgender individuals,” Keith said. “We have right now 250-plus moms on the list, but we probably have about 100 requests on the list that are being processed. And then, within that, we have started to process requests from the dads and other parents. And if a parent doesn’t identify as mom or dad, we felt that [the name] Ally Parents was a way to not specifically gender the parent.”
Keith said that interest in the program has grown so much since its inception that almost all 50 states have Ally Parents ready to offer support services to youth in need. Keith added that once the current round of applications are processed that they will number close to 400, and the service is on track to have 600 active parents receiving calls by the end of 2019. For those interested in becoming an Ally Parent, the requirements are simple: an applicant must be the parent of a transgender child and pass a background check. Once approved, a training video will go over basic listening skills and, perhaps most importantly, what parents should do if they encounter a caller in crisis.
“Once they get approved, we send them the welcome letter and a link to the training video. Basically, it’s run by two people who are well-versed in working with at-risk youth and youth who have been in vulnerable situations,” Keith said. “A lot of it is about good listening skills and how to assess if there’s a crisis because we’re not crisis counselors and we’re not therapists. So if there’s a safety issue happening, then that’s one behavior that they know they need to refer them to call 911 or the Trans Lifeline or the Trevor Project. We don’t try to resolve those issues, and the video will make the parent aware of what to watch out for.”
Then parents are invited into the private Ally Parents Facebook group where they can share information about transgender resources available to their callers locally, seek advice from other parents on how best to advise their callers and view Facebook Live events that cover Ally Parents-specific issues. Keith, who is also an Ally Parent herself, said that it’s rewarding being a part of someone’s transition process because the correspondences offer a benchmark into a youth’s forward progress.
“Generally, if there’s somebody who reaches out and clicks with one parent, they will reach out from time to time. I know I have people that I might not hear from for a few months and then, all of a sudden, they’ll pop up and send me some random text letting me know something or that they made progress at home,” Keith said. “That’s kind of fun because you can see how their transition is going.”
To find out more about Stand With Trans and the Ally Parents program go online to standwithtrans.org.