With 2021 reported as the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender non-conforming people, seeking safe, affirming health care and legal aid can be a real risk. 

The Campaign for Southern Equality has a solution for that. The organization designed a guide to help Southerners find more trans-friendly resources. First published in 2016, Trans in the South: A Directory of Trans-Affirming Health & Legal Service Providers is a digital guidebook built from the experiences of trans Southerners.

Ivy Hill, the community health program director of Campaign for Southern Equality helped launch this guide in 2016 and says its legacy is based on community. 

“Accessing friendly therapists, medical providers, and legal assistance can be difficult as a trans person in the South, especially if you don’t know where to start or who to reach out to,” Hill said in their welcome letter to those that use the guide. 

“That’s why we created this resource guide. The Trans in the South guide was built on the tradition of trans people sharing resources with each other to help each other find the services they need.” 

But anti-transgender violence continues to escalate. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that at least 46 trans and gender-nonconforming people were killed by violence so far this year compared to 44 in all of last year, making 2021 the most violent year since record keeping began.

Just recently, on November 4, Marquiisha Lawrence, a Black transgender woman was killed in Greenville, South Carolina. Her mother told the HRC that Lawrence “may have been killed for accepting who she was and living her truth.” Lawrence’s case remains under investigation by the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.

The Transgender Law Center performed a study with transgender, gender nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming Southerners and found that 47% of participants reported experiencing high levels of violence by strangers.

Navigating safety as a trans or gender-nonconforming person in the South can be challenging, especially without a community or resources. 

Hill reassures all trans Southerners that “there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. And there is a huge community of folks across the South who have your back and you don’t have to do this alone.”

Reckon spoke with Hill about the Trans in the South guide and allyship. 

Where did the idea for the Trans in the South guide stem from?

The Campaign for Southern Equality hosted a conference called LGBT in The South and I was one of the co-facilitators for one of the sessions at the conference, Trans Resources. The person who I was co-facilitating with, we had prepared some slides, a presentation and had an idea about what we were going to do, but what ended up happening in that room was something pretty magical, something that trans folks had been doing for each other for a really long time.

The session turned into resource sharing. Somebody would say they were looking for a provider for whatever services and then somebody else in the room would stand up and say how they knew someone from that area and this is their contact information. People started popcorning around the room. There were several things that were apparent to me at that moment: the need was so great and that there was a real disconnect with people being able to find providers who will treat them with dignity and respect. 

Really, we are the resource that we need as trans folks and that is where the Trans in the South guide was born.

A guide with trans-friendly mental health providers, primary care physicians, HIV care specialists, attorneys, endocrinologists, and more across 13 Southern states.

Where in the South do trans folks lack the most supports?

The more rural the area is the more difficult it is to find providers there and also connect with the trans community. No matter what state we look at, that’s where we see these pockets and where there is a lack of resources.

The Trans in the South guide has a map feature for this reason. It gives a clear and visual picture of these resource deserts and where those exist. What I’ve found is that rural areas make it difficult to access affirming health care, especially as a trans person in the South. 

What makes the creation of this guide personal for you?

I’m trans and I was born and raised in the South, I still live here in Piedmont, South Carolina. So I really feel like I know firsthand how lonely it can be to be a trans person and especially in a place without a lot of resources for our community.

I know what it’s like to have traumatic experiences when you’re sick with a cold and want to go to the doctor and be treated with dignity and respect. Instead, you are having to have a really uncomfortable conversation with people by educating them about your body and your gender. And really all you needed were some antibiotics and to go home. 

So I know what that feels like to be in that position and I want to do what I can to help others in the community connect with each other, to make those experiences happen less and less.

What are your biggest expectations for the Trans in the South guide in the future?

I really love dreaming about where this could go. 

I think there could be at least one provider in every town, across the South, who wants to treat trans people with dignity and respect but they just may not have the tools or not know that they have the tools to do so. But it’s so easy. If you’re prescribing hormones to anyone, it’s the same concept you should also be doing that for trans people. 

I think that those folks exist and I would love to see a scenario where people were able to find those providers without leaving their hometown.

Another thing that I think I would love to see is the guide become something more like Yelp where people could share their experiences and rate that provider. Like a community-driven space where people are able to share feedback with each other, that is valuable. 

How can someone be a helpful and consistent ally for the trans and gender non-conforming community?

One of the biggest ways that cis-gender people can advocate for trans folks and change culture is by normalizing the conversation about pronouns.

When you introduce yourself, use your pronouns, especially because it is the most common way that trans people are misgendered, which is a really painful experience for a lot of folks. And even me, I do this work every day and I’m still misgendered about 85% of the time in my interactions with people on a daily basis. So if cisgender folks are taking the time to introduce themselves with their pronouns and start normalizing that conversation then we start to break down this idea that we can see what pronouns a person uses. This is a conversation that needs to be happening.

Then when I come across that person two years down the road, I am not having to introduce the concept of pronouns for the first time to them as a trans person. So that does a lot to lighten the labor for whoever the next trans person is that they are going to have to interact with. So I think that that is honestly one of the biggest opportunities that cis-gender people have to advocate for trans folks on a daily basis.