By Jake Stern Powell
Poet e.e. cummings once wrote that “to be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
Today, the frontlines of these battles are taking place in the transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming communities. In April of this year, the Human Rights Commission noted that state legislatures introduced more than 130 bills that targeted trans rights.
Even this past week, more than 20 Republican attorneys general sued President Joe Biden’s administration to block a school meal program that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity.
In a world where making others suffer is too commonplace, it’s essential to take a step back and look at the cruelty here: The leading law enforcement officials in over 20 states are fighting for the right to discriminate against transgender children.
Fortunately, nonprofit organizations are pushing back and advocating for the rights of our trans family and community members.
Take the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico , for instance. What began humbly in 2008, with a mere website and snack distribution in Morningside Park, has now grown into an organizational force.
Their work is based on three pillars: advocacy, education, and direct services. Perhaps the best example of their advocacy within the New Mexico legislature was their work on the Vital Statistics Modernization Act of 2019.
Before the legislature enacted the law, the state required members of the transgender community to undergo surgery before they could update their birth certificates to reflect their true gender. After the law passed, individuals were allowed to self-attest to their gender, including the non-binary X gender designation.
This, in turn, led the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Department to update its policies to better match the law. Now, to update your gender on a driver’s license, you only need a notarized form of self-attestation.
Regarding TGRCNM’s pillar of education, they regularly work with companies, universities, and other organizations to ensure they are not just following the law regarding the treatment of trans folks but also creating a welcoming space regardless of someone’s gender identity.
Their work doesn’t exist solely within New Mexico’s geographic bounds. For example, in 2021 they trained every single employee for the California Department of Corrections and provided training further up the coast in Oregon and Washington, too.
TGRCNM’s last pillar, direct action, comes in the form of a drop-in resource center. There, the organization provides hot meals, access to laundry machines and showers, and affirmation. That last point is critical for a community that’s far too often forced to hide who they really are.
“You are exactly who you say you are the moment you walk through our door,” says TGRCNM’s executive director of services and administration, T. Michael Trimm. “Affirmation is an action word. Affirmation is a step beyond acceptance and tolerance. Affirmation is allowing an individual to be exactly who they are, exactly the way that they say, and exactly how they present no matter what.”
The drop-in center has few, if any, barriers. This speaks to an unfortunate intersectionality often overlooked by those outside the transgender community: one in three transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point.
“In many instances, [the drop-in center] is the closest thing to a safe and affirming home that our folks have,” notes Trimm.
As there are few requirements to use the drop-in center’s resources, an exact count of how many people they serve is hard to come by. However, Trimm estimates that between 20 and 25 people use their facilities each of the days they are open, which are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Of course, as a nonprofit, TGRCNM needs help to continue operations and serve the community. Trimm recommends donations, both financial and tangible:
- Adult size clothing, gently used or new
- Bottled water
- Shelf-stable non-perishables like canned goods, cookies, snacks, and protein bars
- Toiletry items, like body wash, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, and razors
Beyond giving money or needed items, the transgender community also needs the help of cisgender people. And while little things—like proactively including your pronouns in your email signature or Zoom meetings—create a more welcoming environment, it’s still not enough.
“Trans people need cisgender accomplices,” says Trimm. “And I say ‘accomplices’ because that implies that you are actively in cahoots with someone or with a group. The time for passive allyship has long passed.”