By ELODIE REED
When people in New Hampshire realize they may be transgender, it’s not immediately clear where they should turn first.
There’s a smattering of organizations, coalitions, and medical clinics here and there. Social media groups create gathering spaces for the internet savvy, and once a month, PFLAG-NH holds three support groups in Concord, Rochester and Keene for the LGBT community.
Christen Bustani, a PFLAG-NH co-chair and Transgender New Hampshire (TG-NH) steering committee member, admitted, “It’s not as active as I’d like it to be.”
Bustani said that while there’s been a dramatic change in the visibility and acceptance of transgender people over the past four or five years, (and consequently, a decline in secretive support groups meeting in hidden locations), resources are still hard to find in a place like New Hampshire. Fewer than 5,000 people, about one-third of 1 percent, identify as transgender according to a Williams Institute report.
“The things that makes it difficult in the state of New Hampshire for coordinating is distance,” Bustani said. Without a major city or metropolitan area to draw people, PFLAG-NH, for example, tries to reach out by holding its regional meetings.
No organized meetings are regularly scheduled in the Lakes Region or northern parts of the state, though PFLAG-NH representatives are available there.
And even if people were willing to travel, Bustani said they don’t always have the money to do so.
“People don’t have the ability to jump in a car,” she said. “We suffer from that.”
To try to reach as many people as possible, TG-NH has an online resource page with doctors and clinics, organizations, support groups, therapists, churches and other resources listed in most parts of the state.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s transgender clinic, for example, has become a center for individuals to consult about hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery, and general physical and mental health challenges related to gender identity.
TG-NH’s website also has a dedicated page to SOFFAs (Significant Other, Friend, Family Member or Ally of a transgender person) with explanations and advice on how to handle the transition of a loved one.
When it comes to legal questions for the transgender community, GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Defenders and Advocates) provides a hotline called “GLAD Answers.” The group advocates for anti-discrimination and equal rights legislation, and it assists people working through gender identity-related challenges posed in the workplace, school or in public.
GLAD spokeswoman Carisa Cunningham said at the moment, GLAD has arranged for advocates to help a Lakes Region transgender teenager who wants to run on her high school’s cross-country team as well as another transgender woman who was fired from her job based on her gender identity.
Cunningham said the organization is also trying to educate more attorneys in transgender family law.
“We definitely are aware of the lack of lawyers we can refer people to,” she said.
GLAD, PFLAG-NH, and transgender leaders like Dr. Jennifer Madden in Amherst have joined to create the New Hampshire Coalition for Transgender Equality, an education campaign stretching into all sectors of the state. The coalition is intended to be a source of public support for the transgender community, though its Facebook page, for instance, hasn’t been active in over a year.
More Granite Staters are making individual efforts to provide support to the transgender community. Concord salon owner Kae Mason, for instance, offers transgender-friendly services at her business, and she also shares her own male-to-female transition experience with clients who are questioning their own or a family member’s gender identity.
Linda Rodgers, a 65-year-old Epsom resident, also has transitioned and now is looking for ways to be an activist for the transgender community.
“Because it is so marginalized it is not particularly strong,” she said. “I think the actual resources in the community are actually sort of weak.”
During her transition journey, Rodgers said she gained support from the medical community, people close to her, and from her membership at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord.
Now, she’s returning the favor by joining the Greater Concord Interfaith Council, and she’s looking for more organizations to join and champion equality for all people.
“These are people taking up the transgender cause,” she said.
As the transgender community becomes more visible in New Hampshire and elsewhere, TG-NH’s Bustani said it’s something to celebrate, but total acceptance and equality is the goal.
“People feel like they can go out and simply be themselves, which is huge,” Bustani said. “I think there are more resources more available than there were, and I think people are finding they don’t need them so much.”
Instead of banding together as the so-called “transgender community,” Bustani – who made her own transition and now blogs about it – said people are more interested in having equal rights, feeling safe in embracing their true identity, and just living life.
“There’s a need to just want to connect with people based on who you are as a whole,” she said. “You just want to live your life.”