With the sobering, elevated statistics for both suicide and homicide among the transgender community, support systems are desperately in need to provide the emotional, financial, and social care …
With the sobering, elevated statistics for both suicide and homicide among the transgender community, support systems are desperately in need to provide the emotional, financial, and social care integral to surviving a world that is hostile to the transgender individuals that dare navigate everyday systems.
The Transgender Resource Center of Long Island, established by Mila Madison and Ursula Nigro, who met over 20 years ago as teenagers attending a performing arts high school in Syosset, is aiming to provide those vital support systems for the transgender, and more broadly, the LGBT community on Long Island.
“We are about creating a sense of family, building a family, especially where there is not one for an individual,” said Madison, who recalls TRCLI members getting married in her backyard.
While not yet a physical center—Madison and Nigro are working diligently on opening an actual residence for TRCLI—the organization finds its place in the libraries and LGBT-friendly businesses to set up and provide support groups for transgender individuals or cisgender people looking to learn more about transgender issues.
Peter Baumann, a librarian at the Sayville Library, who has worked with the TRCLI on presentations, said that the program, on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, had 30 to 40 regulars of TRCLI turn up.
“The Sayville Library is for everyone and we want to make sure that our programming represents everyone,” said Baumann.
“We’re here for everybody,” added Nigro. “One of the questions we always get is, ‘Do I need a referral [i.e. from a doctor] to get services from your group?’ And it is just a glimpse at what difficulties transgender people face in their everyday lives.”
TRCLI offers a welcoming atmosphere where transgender folk can meet up to feel included when discussing dicey legal questions about how to change your name and/or your gender on state-issued identification, to the most pressing issue for many transgender people, housing.
“Ultimately, we would want to build a housing unit for transgender people in our center,” said Madison. “Housing discrimination is one of the most virulent problems that transgender people face, and it starts with realtors not willing to even show transgender people accommodations, knowing that landlords are not receptive to them.”
For transgender youth, homelessness is a deep issue as many are cast out of their homes by their families.
Erica Forman said she has been with the group since almost the beginning. Having met Madison and Nigro at the Northwell Health Community Board for a Transgender Center at Northwell, Forman delights at the TRCLI gatherings as “more informal and more transcentric,” whereas traditional LGBT groups have often not known how to adequately approach transgender individuals, as it is not a state of sexuality.
“A really strong component of TRCLI is serving kids. Many transgender youth have no support when they’re young. No place to come out to. No ways to talk to parents. They hide silently,” lamented Forman.
Madison and Nigro would both like a permanent home for TRCLI in Sayville, a town they describe as a “special place” where they have held many receptions, including ones at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church for neurodiverse individuals and LGBT people.
Both active members in the Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce, Madison and Nigro have been leading the Pride presence in Sayville.
Traditionally, for the past three years, a Pride parade is held in downtown Sayville, culminating into a family picnic on the Common Ground.
“We are always thanked by the community for having a family-friendly event at Pride, which can sometimes feel exclusive of kid-centric activities,” said Nigro.
The first year of their Pride parade, the TRCLI had 25 to 30 participants and last year that number rose to 80. Due to COVID-19, a Pride parade could not be held this year, but instead TRCLI had a Pride Ride, where registrants decorated their cars in Pride spirit. Over 100 cars registered for the event.
The TRCLI always organizes for members to attend the Cinderella ball of all Pride events, the New York City Pride Parade, and has brought dozens of members over the past four years to one of the biggest Pride celebrations in the world.
Madison and Nigro acknowledge the transphobic nature unfortunately still found in society, but also stress that a lot of transphobia is rooted in naivete about the subject, especially for older people.
“The youth are so much better about trans-awareness and trans-acceptance since they have more visible transgender leaders like Jazz Jennings or Laverne Cox who are not the boogeyman of trans representation in the past,” said Madison.
TRCLI is also progressive in challenging gender norms within the LGBT community, as they have hosted an all-gender drag show and are constantly learning how to phrase gender in language to be inclusive of nonbinary people.
“Coming from New York, I always used to say, ‘You guys,’” said Madison. “But now I understand how that affects and isolates nonbinary people, even if it seemed innocuous.”
“Unfortunately, it’s still not safe for many transgender people to just walk out their door,” added Nigro. “Even something as simple as a beautifully, clearly female-presenting transwoman getting purposely and spitefully misgendered at a bagel store is threatening and alarming of more violence.”
As TRCLI prides itself on being inclusive of all, they welcome volunteers of all backgrounds, especially artists who can donate in terms of photography or graphic design, as they aim to raise visibility of transgender folks as regular people who are simply asking to be treated with respect and dignity.
“Especially during the pandemic where we’ve had to move all our meeting groups to Zoom, it is important to have these resources just to keep people’s heads above water. To keep people engaged,” Madison continued.
To donate or to volunteer to the TRCLI, please visit their website at https://trcli.org/index.php/give-donate.