Transgender Connections

Lack of acceptance, discrimination, and even abuse are common challenges faced by those in the transgender community. After Natasha Schreib joined the Ithaca Transgender Group (ITG), she quickly met another member, Ellen Marie, and they have been best friends ever since. “We talk to each other daily,” Schreib recalled in a recent interview with The Sophie Fund. “We get together weekly, constantly keep in touch through phone calls, give each other advice, and discuss some of our shared interests.”

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Ithaca is a relatively LGBTQ-friendly place, and perhaps nothing exemplifies this better than the existence of ITG. Established in 1999, the organization offers an essential space for transgender people to share their knowledge and experiences and to learn about local medical and mental health resources. And as Schreib notes, ITG provides “an opportunity to find other people to socialize and connect with.”

The heart of ITG can been seen and felt every other Sunday afternoon when members gather for biweekly confidential peer-support meetings to share gender-related experiences, perspectives, and advice. The sessions are for people who have transitioned as well as those who wish to transition or are questioning their birth gender assignment. Meetings are also open for significant others, families, friends, and allies—or SOFFA, for short—as a way of helping others understand the transgender condition and experience.

ITG also provides useful online information to the transgender community through a website rich in local resources. According to Schreib, to help avoid hassles or discrimination when seeking health services, ITG proactively has sought out and listed local medical providers, private therapists, and social workers who are knowledgeable about the needs of people in the transgender community. Some of the physicians listed highlight the provision of the hormone replacement therapy used in gender transitioning. In a sign of ITG’s strong presence in Ithaca, Schreib said that many organizations initiated listings on the website to assure ITG members of their trans-friendly approach. Other services listed focus on legal rights, alcohol and drug addiction support, suicide prevention, and LGBTQ issues.

Schreib, however, highlights the critical importance of ITG simply as a place where transgender people can feel at home. Research has shown that because transgender populations experience stigma, social isolation, discrimination, and victimization, they are especially prone to depression, anxiety, unhealthy sexual practice, and alcohol abuse. As Schreib notes, in the United States about 42 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide, a rate nine times greater than that seen in cisgender Americans.

Schreib is pleased to note that many members of ITG, including herself, have been able to form close relationships with each other. The ITG website includes a calendar packed with many local as well as regional and national activities. There’s the city’s “premier queer night” at a downtown nightclub every Thursday, or to slow it down a bit, there’s “Queers Go Bowling” at some local lanes. A half dozen or more members regularly skip the calendar and organize evenings where everyone finds a way to laugh and enjoy visits to favorite restaurants.

—By Amber Raiken

Amber Raiken, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a rising senior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing, with a Creative Writing Concentration, and minoring in Education Studies. She is a writer and the social media director for IC Distinct Magazine, a student-run culture and fashion publication.

Barry Jenkins’s Story

Moonlight is a powerful film depicting the struggles of growing up poor and black in urban America. Chiron, the gay main character, is bullied by schoolmates, raised by a crack-addicted mother, and grows up to become a drug dealer. But director Barry Jenkins believes that Moonlight’s story of the search for personal identity is one of the reasons that audiences everywhere strongly relate to the film.

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Moonlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards, is based on an unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Jenkins came across the play while looking for a story to film, and discovered that he and McCraney had both been raised in the same Miami housing project, Liberty City, by mothers addicted to crack. Besides winning for best film, their collaboration collected the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film scored some other important firsts, too: first LGBTQ film to win the Best Picture award; and first Muslim to win an acting Oscar (Mahershala Ali as Best Supporting Actor). Ithaca connection: Jharrel Jerome, an Ithaca College sophomore, plays Kevin, Chiron’s teenaged best friend.

Jenkins recently spoke with CNN about the film and its connection to life in Liberty City:

“I’ve been consistently amazed at how often, no matter where I go, no matter how far away from Miami we screen the film, people are finding a way to see themselves in the main character. It’s all about this journey, to sort of figure out who we are, to decide for ourselves what our identity truly is…

“This character is a character who is trying to find his voice. The reason for that is he feels he is unworthy of love. When his mom, this character Paula, comes through the other side of this addiction, she is there to open this door for him to ultimately walk through, to find a way to love himself, and be secure in who he is…

“I basically am this kid. I’m from this background. I am from this world. For a long time, the people from this world couldn’t grow up to harness the tools of filmmaking to tell their stories. I feel very fortune to be able to create visual stories that can speak to this common experience…

“I have always considered myself an ally of LGBTQ causes. I wanted to find a way to take my craft, this visual story telling, and put [it] into active empathy.”

Watch the CNN interview here:

http://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2017/02/15/intv-amanpour-barry-jenkins-moonlight-film.cnn

Removing the Stigma for LGBTQ Teens

An important new study says that suicide attempts by American high school students decreased by 7 percent in states that passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage. The rate decreased by 14 percent among students identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

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“State same-sex marriage policies were associated with a reduction in the proportion of high school students reporting suicide attempts, providing empirical evidence for an association between same-sex marriage policies and mental health outcomes,” said the study, published by JAMA Pediatrics, a journal of the American Medical Association, on February 20. “We estimated that, each year, same-sex marriage policies would be associated with more than 134 000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide. These results reflect an important reduction in adolescent emotional distress and risk of mortality from suicide.”

The study concluded:

“We provide evidence that implementation of same-sex marriage policies reduced adolescent suicide attempts. As countries around the world consider enabling or restricting same-sex marriage, we provide evidence that implementing same-sex marriage policies was associated with improved population health. Policymakers should consider the mental health consequences of same-sex marriage policies.”

Study leader Julia Raifman of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health speculated that the same-sex marriage laws diminished a social stigma by making LGBTQ people feel equal and supported by the wider social community.

Victor Schwartz, a chief medical officer of the JED Foundation, told the PBS NewsHour that the feelings of being accepted and connected to society have “a protective effect in relation to suicide risk, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behaviors. It’s a real risk factor, a feeling that you’re at odds with your family or community. It’s very painful, and can be very frightening. You feel like you’re going to be left out on your own.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24 years. The prevalence of suicide attempts is four times greater among LGBTQ youth.

The Johns Hopkins study looked at 32 of the 35 states that legalized same-sex marriage between 2004 and 2015, comparing suicide rates in those states to suicide rates in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage. In 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage for all Americans.

Download a PDF of the study here.

LGBTQ Teenagers in Trouble

A crisis requiring urgent attention from school administrators, teachers, parents, and the community at large: lesbian, gay, and bisexual teenagers are experiencing severe levels of depression, bullying, and violence, according to an important new study released August 12 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 30 percent of LGB students reported attempting suicide in the past year, five times the rate of heterosexual students.

“The intensity of homophobic attitudes and acceptance of gay-related victimization, as well as the ongoing silence around adolescent sexuality, marginalizes a whole group of young people,” Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, told the New York Times. That marginalization, Miller added, “increases their vulnerability to exploitative and violent relationships.”

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The DC Center for the LGBT Community summarized the findings of the study, entitled “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — United States and Selected Sites, 2015”:

LGB students are significantly more likely to report:

—Being forced to have sex (18% LGB vs. 5% heterosexual)

—Sexual dating violence (23% LGB vs. 9% heterosexual)

—Physical dating violence (18% LGB vs. 8% heterosexual)

—Being bullied at school or online (at school: 34% LGB vs. 19% heterosexual; online: 28% LGB vs. 14% heterosexual)

LGB students at substantial risk for serious outcomes:

—More than 40% of LGB students seriously considered suicide and 29% reported attempting suicide in the past year.

—Sixty percent of LGB students reported having been so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing some usual activities.

—LGB students were up to 5 times more likely than other students to report using several illegal drugs.

—More than 1 in 10 LGB students have missed school during the past 30 days because of safety concerns.

The CDC study marks the first time that a nationwide survey of American high school students on health-related behaviors included sexual identities  data to be broken down by sexual categories.

The report concluded that schools have “a unique and important role to play” in helping reduce stigma and discrimination by creating and sustaining positive school environments through the following policies and practices:

—Encourage respect for all students and do not allow bullying, harassment, or violence against any student.

—Identify “safe spaces” (e.g., counselors’ offices, designated classrooms, or student organizations) where sexual minority students can get support from administrators, teachers, or other school staff.

—Encourage student-led and student-organized school clubs (e.g., gay/straight alliances) that promote school connectedness and a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all students.

—Ensure that health classes and educational materials include information that is relevant to sexual minority students and use inclusive words or terms.

—Implement professional development opportunities and encourage all school staff to attend on how to create safe and supportive school environments for all students, regardless of sexual minority status.

—Make it easier for students to have access to community-based health care providers who have experience providing health services, including HIV/STD testing and counseling and social and psychological services, to sexual minority youth.

—Promote parent engagement through outreach efforts and educational programs that provide parents with the information and skills they need to help support sexual minority youth.