Story by Renee Baker, Edge Publications, Aug. 28, 2008.
Far from the starting line, the Gender, Education, Advocacy & Resources program (GEAR) is now in overdrive. The Resource Center of Dallas program began in March of 2006, with just a handful of transgender individuals sharing the desire to provide support to the greater gender community. In just a couple of short years, they have skyrocketed into brand new gender zones.
Marla Compton is an Evening Center Services Coordinator at RCD, one of the largest LGBT centers in the nation. She is one of the founding members of GEAR and now serves as the GEAR Coordinator. Compton, who is very active in the gender community, says “There was not a cohesive program for the transgender community in Dallas. There have been other groups, but none with the backing of a strong non-profit organization like the Resource Center.”
The GEAR program has two major components – Transgender Health Night and Transgender Services. Transgender Health Night is held monthly at the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic and provides health services to any transgender individual. These services include low-cost hormone replacement therapy lab work and access to medical staff in an accepting environment. Lab work is especially critical for those transitioning from one gender to another, as hormone levels must be closely monitored. Tests often can run from several hundred dollars to well over $1,000 and the clinic has been able to keep costs to just $80.
The Transgender Health Night program is managed by Michael Marr and staffed by Dr. Jaime Vasquez, both of whom have been presented with the Henry Ramirez Ally Award for their leadership and dedication to the transgender community. “Denise”, a transgender woman who prefers not to be identified, said she found the clinic staff and Vasquez so understanding and helpful, that she dropped her other full-time doctor. She said the GEAR program, including the Transgender Health Night program, gave her the impetus needed to begin her journey on becoming Denise.
Compton also credits Jessica Davis for the success of the Transgender Health Night. She said Davis also received an award, the Katherine Walton Award, for her services. “If it were not for her outreach and leadership, there would be no trans health night,” said Compton. Compton also credits the 15 volunteers, transgendered and allied, that make the GEAR program successful.
The Transgender Services of GEAR has several elements including a monthly mixer, which may bring in anywhere from 15 to 80 individuals. Mixers are held at restaurants, clubs and the Center itself. The goal of the mixer is to provide community among transgender individuals, friends, family and allies.
Tori Van Fleet, a Forensic Scientist for the Fort Worth Police Department, is very grateful for the GEAR program and drives to Dallas to attend mixers regularly. Van Fleet says that GEAR “helped me to get out of my house and into the public as Tori…if it had not been for GEAR in those days, I don’t think I would have had the courage to walk through the doors at work.” Van Fleet has now had her gender-related surgeries and says she feels complete, thanks to her friends at GEAR.
GEAR’s Transgender Services also include diversity training for the general public and corporations. Michael “Mo” Snow, who has been attending GEAR since its beginning, feels the educational aspects of GEAR are its most important part. Snow says that education and advocacy go hand-in-hand and GEAR is fostering a better understanding of the transgender community.
Snow says, “It is human nature for people to fear what they don’t understand,” and GEAR bridges that gap of the unknown. As an example, he said GEAR called a town-hall meeting with the Dallas HRC Chapter to discuss the impact of changes to the well-known ENDA bill, which dropped protection for gender variant individuals. He said this meeting alone brought an understanding of the need for equality when it comes to health care, jobs, fair workplace treatment and freedom from harassment.
GEAR’s Transgender Services also include a helpline, which serves up to 20 callers per week, and a support group called GEAR Rap.
Overall, Compton says, “I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish in such a short space of time.” She says, “GEAR is a tool. It is a tool to build a new life. It is available to anyone. There are simply no requirements to reap the benefits of this program.”
The GEAR program is now putting out a call to the gender community, to help assess what its needs are.
If you would like to participate in the assessment, would like to volunteer for GEAR, or would like to learn more about the GEAR program, please see the Resource Center website at www.rcdallas.org.