Transgender and Proud: Metro Wellness’ trans community looks to celebrate and educate

By : Jeremy Williams
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St. Petersburg – Metro Health, Wellness & Community Centers in St. Petersburg will again play host to Trans Pride, now in its third year, Nov. 5. The event originated not as a Pride celebration but as a way to honor a hero in the community.

“At that time in 2014, Dr. [Kathleen] Farrell was retiring from her psychology practice and we knew she wouldn’t let us give her a retirement party, but if we had a group event, we could celebrate the community and honor her there as well,” says Tristan Byrnes, a Tampa Bay area mental health counselor.

Byrnes, along with then-Metro Community Director Chris Rudisill, began Trans Pride as a way to honor one of the community’s earliest supporters.Dr. Farrellwas Tampa Bay’s first openly lesbian psychologist and one of the first in the area to offer counseling for transgender people. They also saw this as a way to increase visibility and recognition in the trans community.

“When we started this event, it was around the time that the bathroom bills were starting, when trans murders were on the rise, or at least the reporting of trans murders were on the rise,” Byrnes says. “So we put all of that together and thought the community could use a boost since it was such a horrible year up to that point.”

Byrnes had hoped for at least 20 people to show up to what he thought would be the only Trans Pride reception; attendance was more than 60.

“We didn’t know at the time that it would become an annual thing, but after the event, everyone was asking us to do it again. I think the community enjoyed the lift,” Byrnes says.

For each of the three years, Byrnes and Metro have tried to offer up something different than any of the previous events they held.

“We try to bring in what we think the community needs,” Byrnes says.”We are adding in workshops that will include information the community needs. We are expanding it from the original idea of it just being a reception.”

Trans Pride will kick off at 9a.m. with a welcome ceremony and the day’s first panel discussion on “What is Gender.”The rest of the workshops will be divided into four sessions, with lunch being provided at Metro.

“This idea of workshops at Trans Pride came from our individual meetings or trans groups where we have certain questions that come up a lot,” Byrnes says.

Byrnes says that many questions, especially ones dealing with employment and name changes, cannot only confuse someone new to their transition but can also hold them back in many areas of their new life.

“Theywon’t want to apply for a job until their legal name change is done, but they don’t have the money to do that without getting a job, so it turns into this repetitive cycle. So we have put together these sessions based on what we think might be most helpful to them,” Byrnes says.

Some highlights of the event, and topics Byrnes says tend to be the most troubling to members of the trans community, include workshops on unemployment, one on the legal aspects of transitioning, as well as some discussions on mental health and how the process of transitioning can affect that.

“For the mental health portion we will have a panel discussion with some experts,” Byrnes says. “There will be a Metro-specific session that discusses what Metro can offer and help with, that way if someone walked in off the streets, they would know exactly what Metro can and cannot offer.”

Byrnes is not only organizing the event but will also participate as one of the workshop specialists.

“I’m doing [a workshop] on the standards of care that doctors and therapists use for the community to determine when someone can get surgery and why that’s important,” he says. “It’s a one-stop shop of education and information for free for some of those questions that come up a lot in groups, and we are happy to answer them in the group setting, but this is helpful in getting specialists in front of them.”

The workshops run until 3p.m. with the main reception starting at 6p.m., however Metro’s Community Center will remain open all day.

“Ifpeople want a place to hang out and mingle all day, they are more than welcome to. If they want to attend some of the workshops, then leave to get ready for the reception and come back, they are also welcome to do that,” Byrnes says.

The reception will provide food and drinks, have a live DJ and will feature a line-up of localtrans entertainment.

Many of the events going on throughout the month of November for Transgender Awareness Month focus on the political aspects of LGBT legislation or are solemn affairs that focus on tragedies in the trans community such as Trans Day of remembrance Nov. 20, so Byrnes wants Trans Pride to focus on the positives in the community.

“It’s more of a fun, laidback event that lets us highlight and support transgender talent in the area,” Byrnes says. “A way for the community to come together and celebrate that we are united.”

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