Group: Gender not just either, or

GREENFIELD — Meghan Buell has spent years hosting a weekly transgender support group near her home in South Bend. In its fledgling years, the group was attended mostly by locals, those from towns and cities dotting the St. Joseph River.

But as word of the group spread, the people who turned up told her they’d made hours-long drives from areas between South Bend and Indianapolis, looking for friendship and resources from those who faced the same challenges they did. Those stories inspired Buell to put advocacy groups in communities around Indiana and across the United States.

Buell started Transgender Resource, Education and Enrichment Services, or TREES Inc., an outreach organization that targets its efforts on rural areas and small towns across the United States, where LGBTQ people are underserved. The group will visit Greenfield for the first time next week to give an educational presentation on transgender issues with the hope of sparking wider conversations about inclusion.

The TREES Inc. presentation will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Hancock County Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.

As a transgender woman, Buell said she knows the hardships many transgender Hoosiers face firsthand. Now, Buell has dedicated her career to educating the residents of small, rural communities like her hometown, to better understand what it means to be transgender.

The 90-minute presentation she’s crafted focuses on a variety of topics, from stories about transition to violence against the transgender community.

Although the Hancock County Public Library is not sponsoring the event, assistant director Barb Roark said the library’s leaders were surprised when the group reached out about using their community room, though the shock was more from the distance Buell would be traveling to present in Greenfield, rather than the presentation’s content, though it will be the first presentation of its kind in Hancock County.

Roark said the library is open to any group eager to educate or inform the community. As long as the organization agrees to follow the library’s terms, they are free use its space, she said.

Buell hopes to reach out to communities across the Midwest to help residents establish resource programs, she said. The initial presentation, like the one being offered Tuesday, is meant to serve as a kick-starter for further conversations about acceptance; if invited, TREES Inc. will visit businesses and community organizations for more personal, targeted discussions.

Ultimately, Buell’s goal to make the country a safer place for people who identify as transgender — a demographic that is staggeringly more likely to attempt suicide or face violence at the hands of others, studies show.

The National Center for Transgender Equality interviewed more than 6,400 people who identified themselves either as transgender or gender non-conforming about the discrimination and violence they face. The study, released in 2011, showed people who are transgender often face intolerance, whether from family, coworkers or the criminal justice system.

More than 40 percent of people who identify as transgender have attempted suicide, the study found; and in 2015, at least 21 people who were transgender were killed as a result of a hate crime, it states.

Buell wants to see such violence stop, she said. She hopes TREES Inc.’s educational efforts help to make the world a safer place.

“I don’t want a fight or battle; I just want to change the way people perceive transgender people,” Buell said.

If you go

Transgender Resource, Education and Enrichment Services, or TREES Inc., an outreach organization that targets its efforts on rural areas and small towns across the United States where LGBTQ people are underserved, will host an educational presentation from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Hancock County Public Library, 900 W. McKenzie Road in Greenfield. The event is free and open to the public.

Author photo
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.