For a young LGBTQ person, coming out can be as terrifying as it is liberating. It can also come with challenges, especially in rural and remote communities, where there are few, if any, supportive resources.
Public awareness of the challenges of coming out in rural areas and living out, however, has increased in the wake of debate about transgender rights, after the tragic violence in Orlando, and as more reports of the murders of trans women of color across the country are published.
Locally, too, rural LGBTQ youth face discrimination and harassment disproportionately when compared to their non-LGBTQ peers. Lotus Rising Project (LRP), under the direction of Executive Director Lori Warfield, is meeting that challenge in Southern Oregon head-on.
“We still hear ‘that’s so gay’ in a derogatory way,” Lori says, of rural Southern Oregon. GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey found that 85% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment over the past year, and 56% were discriminated against through school policies and practices.
Lotus Rising Project, which supports and advocates for LGBTQ youth, grew out of a support group called “Not Straight, Not Sure.” It has since blossomed into a thriving organization, with programs such as a theater troupe and a gay-straight alliance network.
One program, in particular, stands out as a beacon of hope for trans people in Southern, rural Oregon.
Established with the support of a Pride Foundation grant, the Trans Initiative is the newest program of Lotus Rising Project. According to Lori, as many as 65% of youth in “Not Straight, Not Sure” identify as trans. Its goals include increasing awareness of trans people, offering resources (e.g., clothes and chest binders), providing training workshops to local groups and schools to increase cultural competency, and combating bullying and harassment of trans youth. This is all done in an effort to decrease the risk of suicidality and homelessness among trans people.
The initiative’s advisory board, made up of staff, three of whom are trans, work to advance the overall goals of the initiative, including research, advocacy, and leadership building. Their research focuses on identifying qualified and affirming medical providers, as well as culturally competent and respectful services for trans people. The advocacy efforts support folks in need of case management services and referrals. They also facilitate a speakers and trainers bureau, and an annual educational forum to improve leadership capacity among participants.
“Now that we have started the Transgender Initiative, we are able to support more of our community members in a specific way, and we are finally reaching those who identify as the “T” in our LBGT community,” Lori says.
The initiative has experienced a marked increase in participants and the number of non-LGBTQ people supporting the new project. This success can likely be attributed to the fact that it’s youth-led and provides uniquely tailored services since youth of varying age groups need different types of support. By participating in the Trans Initiative they understand they’ll be seen, heard, and have their needs met.
“It’s still an uphill climb,” Lori admits.
Nevertheless, this comprehensive, dedicated approach of the Trans Initiative gives transgender and gender-nonconforming people much-needed hope and community in Southern Oregon, where there wasn’t before.