The Gender Expansion Project aims to promote gender inclusive education and awareness about transgender, transsexual, intersex, and gender diverse people through evidence based care, education, research, advocacy, public and private policy and respect in transgender health and well-being. It is a relatively new organization in Montana, based on long-standing programs and activities that have reflected the values of the LGBTQQI community in the Big Sky State for many years.
The organization found its roots in the passion and desire of transgender activists Bree Sutherland and Lynsey Bourke. It began as an arm of Blue Mountain Clinic, a comprehensive healthcare clinic in Missoula that also focuses on transgender healthcare. Once enough funding was secured, a 501(c)3 status was established, and the Gender Expansion Project (GEP) was born.
The first big endeavor of the GEP was the Gender Expansion Conference, held October 24-October 26 in Missoula. The conference, made possible in part by a Pride Foundation grant, addressed the unique needs of the transgender, transsexual, intersex, and gender diverse community, and featured medical experts, social service providers, mental health specialists, and transgender people from across the gender and transition spectrum. The conference presented the first real opportunity for this diverse group to come together and truly understand the intricacies and cultural sensitivities necessary when working within the community. More than 200 people from Montana, Idaho, Colorado, California, and New York attended, a clear demonstration of demand and interest from across the region.
The importance of this conference is magnified by the fact that even in the face of implementation of the Affordable Care Act, there is still uncertainty about coverage and exclusions for transgender people and gender-related services. Individuals who identify as transgender or transsexual encounter many obstacles and barriers in accessing quality healthcare. As such, the education and outreach provided by this conference is essential if providers in Montana and surrounding states are going to adequately care for a patient who is transitioning.
Individuals who are transgender, transsexual, or intersex come face to face with a gamut of obstacles. Many of those are specific to healthcare. The Gender Expansion Conference was especially important in finding ways to bridge and overcome these barriers. The conference was a unique opportunity to gather professionals together who may be working with and/or interacting with trans-identified community members and educate them. It also presented an opportunity for those individuals who may be transitioning a safe space to network and feel like they could be themselves.
Kim Leighton is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana. Email Kim.