Ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance, CT's trans community and allies talk progress and path forward

Transgender Day of Remembrance takes place on Nov. 20 and honors those in the transgender community who have died due to the effects of anti-transgender bigotry and violence. The day was founded in 1999 by advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith to pay respects to Rita Hester, a Black transwoman who was brutally murdered, according to GLAAD.

Ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance, Hearst Connecticut Media Group spoke to several individuals and organizations that have been working to turn Connecticut into a place where members of the transgender community are supported, given access to the services and safety they need and celebrated for who they are.

Triangle Community Center provides safety and healthcare to those in the LGBTQ+ community

Hour photo / Erik Trautmann Dr. Mark Leondires speaks at a panel discussion with reproductive experts, attorney Liz Faulker and psychologist Lisa Tuttle at the Triangle Community Center during the kick off for it’s Family Building Series Saturday.

Hour photo / Erik Trautmann Dr. Mark Leondires speaks at a panel discussion with reproductive experts, attorney Liz Faulker and psychologist Lisa Tuttle at the Triangle Community Center during the kick off for it’s Family Building Series Saturday.

Executive Director of Triangle Community Center (TCC) Edson Rivas, who is a gay man, is at the helm of one of the organizations working to provide support to the LGBTQ+ community in Connecticut. With its main pillars of community, health and learning, the organization helps host events like Pride in the Park in Norwalk and provides therapy, scholarships, financial, food and housing support. It also helps educate individuals outside of the community to be allies.

Among the services offered by TCC, Rivas said the organization has provided much more therapy since the COVID-19 pandemic began. During the pandemic, TCC expanded its services to utilize telehealth, allowing them to reach individuals in areas of the state they couldn't before, Westchester, N.Y. and even Florida. 

"The feedback we have gotten has been very positive. But a lot of people are also Zoomed out, so we are slowly transitioning our groups back to in-person, with what we like to call hybrid models," Rivas. "Our two large rooms at our space currently have a webcam and a whole system so individuals can chat back and forth. 

Rovas said since many trans individuals don't have health insurance, they tend to go to an emergency room to get treatment, which isn't always equipped to handle transgender health properly. Rivas said his hope is to ensure the clinicians trained at TCC are "affirming and competent providers" to those in the LGBTQ+ community.

"There is definitely a high learning curve that needs to help in the healthcare industry," Rivas said. "They might be calling them by pronouns they don't like or don't want to be called by. Their legal name might be different than the name they want to be called. Sometimes those things can seem small or trivial or don't make sense to other people. But when you are that person and people confuse you in that respect, it takes a toll on your mental health." 

TCC also provides support groups, youth dinners as well as clinical health services through the Circle Care Center. The Circle Care Center is a primary care practice that specializes in LGBTQ+ individuals' healthcare and has an onsite pharmacy, according to TCC's website.

To guide the center's programs and identify the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, Rivas said they helped perform a survey last year with the LGBTQ+ Network, part of the state of Connecticut. The survey reached about 3,200 individuals with the goal of assessing all aspects of the community's experience, from access to financial advice and medical care, to programs and desert areas for services. The survey also highlighted the shortcomings in the state when it comes to services and treatment of LGBTQ+ residents.

"[The survey revealed that] there is still a lot of hate crime going on in Connecticut and that was a surprise. I think of Connecticut as a more accepting state, because we tend to be blue," Rivas said. "The other standout is that our communities are reaching out to healthcare providers at a high rate, but they are also having very negative interactions with them."

Rivas says that his goal is to make sure no one within the LGBTQ+ community is forgotten about or left behind. 

"I think that the gay, lesbian and bi communities have become more comfortable in living a more 'normal' life without people bothering them. The other parts of our communities, which are the queer, the non-binary, the trans, those communities still have a lot of these issues that were more prevalent a while ago for gay and lesbians. My goal is to make sure that we're not forgetting those communities in our sort of umbrella term of LGBTQ+. Those communities still exist and they still need support." 

The director said that there is a lot that could still be done to aid the trans community. Many of them experience homelessness and are afraid to utilize support systems because "the system isn't made for someone who doesn't neatly fit into a box" in terms of gender. At times, trans individuals can experience violence for just doing something as simple as utilizing a shower in a facility that supports those experiencing homelessness. To combat this, TCC is renovating its facility to include a safe shower space for trans individuals. 

"Just showering at one of these facilities can cause a lot of anxiety. Sometimes it can create a little bit of a dangerous situation for them," Rivas said.

 

The New Haven Pride Center helps fill in the gaps of service

(Peter Casolino — New Haven Register) Joshua O'Connell, Co-President of the New Haven Pride Center speaks during the grand opening of the new location for the center at 84 Orange Street. The center, which was founded in 1996 offers a space for the lesbian and gay community to hold events and programs. pcasolino@NewHavenRegister

Joshua O'Connell, Co-President of the New Haven Pride Center speaks during the grand opening of the new location for the center at 84 Orange Street. The center, which was founded in 1996 offers a space for the lesbian and gay community to hold events and programs.

Journal Register Co.

A "community organizer at heart," Jahnice Cajigas, a producer for the New Haven Pride Center and community organizing director at the Citywide Youth Coalition, has a cause to draw others into, and it's one close to her heart — being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Cajigas, a transgender woman, helped create the Connecticut Black and Brown Queer Camp with the help of deputy director Juancarlos Soto and director of youth services, Ala Ochumare. The summer camp aims to be a safe space specifically for Black and brown queer youth. Cajigas said children from states like New York, Massachusetts and California come to attend the camp. 

"Our work at the summer camp really focuses on centering the lived experiences of Black and brown trans women specifically, as a way to not only talk about the violence against Black and brown trans bodies, but to also uplift the joy and the amazing stories of community when it comes to Black and brown trans folks," Cajigas said.

The center hosts the "Trans Day of Visibility" event each March as a way for individuals to meet others, highlight the successes and important people in the community and normalize their existence. 

With the closing of organizations like True Colors during the pandemic, Cajigas said there was a gap in the state for youth people to gather and celebrate their identities proudly and openly. Thus, the New Haven Pride Center launched a free youth conference in 2022, which featured over 10 workshops, keynote speakers (including activists like Erycka Ortiz, Zoey Luna, Jennicet Gutiérrez and Milan Garçon) and drag and music performances.

"For us it was timely. We really stepped into this gap and did it. LGBTQ+ youth across the country are under attack, especially in states like Florida and Texas," Cajigas said. "We really wanted to make sure that even with everything we're seeing going around on the news, as it relates queer youth, especially trans youth, that we could provide a space where their identities are celebrated, honored and respected."

Cajigas said she considers the conference a success, with around 400 people registering for its May 20 session and 150 for its May 21 session. 

"Every couple minutes, I would have a young person stop me and say, 'Thank you so much for putting this together, we're having an amazing time,'" Cajigas said. 

The conference was just one example of something Cajigas said could be done more often: having spaces for trans individuals that are created by trans individuals.

"Oftentimes, these spaces are very well intended and the people behind these projects are really great people. [However], oftentimes there is a lot missed with their creation because they didn't have a trans person there."  

Another thing Cajigas said is a missed opportunity for the trans community — "just having fun."

"We are more than just the lack of healthcare and access to good jobs. We also want to go out and party," Cajigas said. 

In the future, Cajigas hopes to see members of the trans community run for public office. 

"In order for us to really become a state that honors the lives of trans folks, that protects trans and trans youth, it's going to require a lot of us who are trans to step into those decision-making roles," Cajigas said. 

She also wants to see safe spaces for trans individuals become the norm. She wants to make sure those who aren't as socially connected online are still able to find spaces by going back to traditional ways of community organizing, such as knocking on doors.

"If our only presence is online, we really lost a large population of trans folks and queer folks, who could also benefit from our programming," the organizer said. 

Other organizations supporting transgender individuals throughout the state

Outside of Triangle Community Center and The New Haven Pride Center there are several other organizations aiming to make Connecticut a better place for those in the transgender community.  

Apex Community Care, based in Danbury, offers peer support groups for those who are transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming, which can be done over ZOOM, its website states.

Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective is hosting vigils for Trans Awareness Week and Trans Day of Remembrance. The organization also offers services to LGBTQ+ individuals including dental work and disease testing, according to its website.

Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition works to provide housing and services for trans women, according to its website. 

Anchor Health Initiative, located in Stamford and Hamden, offers healthcare by queer individuals for queer individuals, according to its website. 

Middlesex Health, with providers located in and around Middletown, aims to provide inclusive healthcare services and also has transgender support groups, according to its website. 

Connecticut Gay & Lesbian Chamber is aimed at helping support LGBTQ+ with business opportunities, its website states. 

Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness aims to help those in the LGBTQ+ community have access to housing that fits their gender identity, its website states.