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.”
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.