Transgender people face issues and challenges that many of us will never have to experience. Some of those hurdles include: lack of access to healthcare for routine medically necessary care; few culturally sensitive and competent service providers; discrimination in housing; harassment by law enforcement and other authority figures; and the increased threat of violence in the home, at school, or on the streets.
These realities gave Sevan Bussell an idea last March. Recognizing the need for the transgender and ally community to come together to advance equality, ze* came up with the concept of Spokane Transgender Advocates and Local Leaders (TALL).
A few months later, City Council voted to update the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include gender identity as part of its definition within the Spokane Municipal Code (read more here). At the meeting, there was a lack of turnout in the transgender and gender non-conforming community—making it evident to Sevan, who identifies as non-binary, that ze had to make this group a reality.
“Transgender leaders do exist and should exist for moments like this,” Sevan stated. With a clear vision and regular meetings that propel it into motion, Spokane TALL is now an active force that is creating change for the transgender and ally community in Eastern Washington.
Sevan, a Youth Program Director at Odyssey Youth Center, has worked with youth in varying capacities for over five years and is one of the originators of Spokane Trans People, a local support and social group located in Spokane.
Sevan’s own process of self-discovery was followed by a passion to advocate for those in the gender community—primarily because there was so little support, information, and visibility for the community.
Not wanting to duplicate work other groups were doing, Sevan set out to learn if anything was being done to support and provide transgender leadership, advocacy, and education to the LGBT and allied community. Moving forward, Sevan created an online survey to get feedback about starting the Spokane TALL group. Primary feedback identified the need for leadership skills, advocating for transgender rights, and ally involvement.
In early July, Spokane TALL held its first meeting which brought in eight members who identify as non-binary, transgender, gender non-conforming, and allies; leaders and emerging leaders in the community; and individuals who represent organizations including Odyssey Youth Center, PFLAG, OutSpokane, INBA, Inland NW LGBTQ Center, Spokane Trans People, and Pride Foundation.
In the first two meetings, with much excitement, enthusiasm, and passion, this group has identified their goals and mission—to help gender non-conforming and transgender people access basic rights by advocating for safe spaces and providing health and safety information and education.
By focusing on these priorities, Spokane TALL expects to reach policymakers, therapists, doctors, counselors, and other mainstream community members with the hope of increasing acceptance, support, and understanding of an important group of individuals that make up our community.
I asked Sevan to give me a sense of what the transgender and gender non-conforming community has been like in the past, and what changes ze has experienced.
“Personally, I have seen a positive shift. Cyndi Bussell, my spouse, was the first to come ‘out,’ which gave me the strength to do so myself and to transition. During this time of change, I was unable to find outside support, and there very were few therapists who I felt safe going to. This was an extremely challenging chapter in my life given the lack of education and support in the health and wellness community, as well as in the LGB community,” answered Sevan.
“I now see a strong transgender presence and a sense of community that I hope will continue to grow and blossom. There has been an increase in visibility at pride celebrations—I see many more people coming out, including those who identify as non-binary, as a result of not feeling alone. There have been many Transgender Day of Remembrance events that have been held in local colleges, which, in the past two years, has expanded into the mainstream community, thanks to Spokane Trans People.”
Through the startup of Spokane TALL, I can only imagine the transformation we will see in the transgender and gender non-conforming community, and the community at large, by providing this much needed support.
My hope is to see this group grow and expand to provide a safe and welcoming space for those in our community who don’t currently feel safe. I am always amazed that there is such a lack of education, advocacy, and support for the transgender and gender non-conforming community, even within the LGBTQ community.
To learn more and get involved with Spokane TALL:
- Join and like Spokane TALL on Facebook
- Follow Spokane TALL on Twitter
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Meetings are open to the public and held at 10:00a on the second Sunday of every month at Odyssey Youth Center, 1121 S Perry St, Spokane, WA
*ze is a gender neutral pronoun
Gunner Scott is Pride Foundation’s Director of Programs. Email Gunner.