I have gotten to a point in my co-op where talking about the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico has become almost natural. I spend my weeks there, sometimes my free time, and I meet amazing and inspiring people there that help me understand exactly what I want to do with my life.
As an overview, TGRCNM started as a collection of support groups hosted by local LGBT centers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As interest started gathering, Adrien Lawyer and Zane Stephens decided to open a physical space in which to provide resources and a safe space for the transgender community of New Mexico.
The thing that was so revolutionary about what Lawyer and Stephens were doing was that it was not for the LGBT community, it was not for the HIV positive community, it was not for allies or strangers or partners, this space and its resources were created with the transgender community solely in mind. Not only is the space and resources transgender-specific, but they are also plentiful. TGRCNM offers many different things to its community such as support groups, free food, free HIV testing, free needle exchange, peer counseling, free professional counseling, job and legal help, and the list goes on. The space is run by and for trans people and works to promote transgender rights and happiness in any way it can.
As an intern at TGRCNM, my role is to provide support and help in general. Because my interest in the center is not career-specific, my duties are laid fairly wide open for me whereas my social work student counterparts are limited quite a bit by their degrees.
At the center, I provide peer counseling when needed, I clean the space, notify the directors when things need restocked, I assist in organizing events, I update resource lists, assist guests with questions or specific needs, and generally do whatever is needed of me. I am about to get certified in Harm Reduction (something implemented throughout the state of New Mexico in order to reduce the spread of HIV through needle sharing) and I will be approved to facilitate support groups in the near future as well. The center provides endless support and interest in anything I might be interested in tackling when it comes to the center. I have suggested the idea of a drag workshop geared towards youths out of my own personal interest in drag and the event has garnered interest, and I am assisting in the youth group by aiding in organizing youth-specific events and providing discussion topics for the group to think and talk about.
One of the things I had been anticipating the least about my internship at TGRCNM is the interaction with the homeless population of Albuquerque and New Mexico. Homelessness is a serious issue in Albuquerque and is extremely common among the transgender community here, specifically trans women. The discrimination is rampant and prevents a lot of people from finding jobs or secure housing. In the couple months that I have been here working with this population, my ideas about them have dramatically changed.
I have heard stories of trans women being forced into prostitution just to be able to eat for a night, or turning to drug use or alcohol in an effort to forget how bad their position in life really is. Many of the people that come into the center are HIV positive or at significant risk for it and the fact that we provide free testing, condoms and lube, and needle exchanges is so utterly significant in this community. We are the only place in the state, and surely one of the few places in the whole country, that provides all of these services specifically to transgender people. This population has been so violently oppressed that it is extremely refreshing to see somewhere paying such close attention to this community, and serving it dutifully.
My view of the homeless population has changed dramatically, especially in consideration of the transgender community. So many people that come into the center for a shower or some food are some of the most compassionate and loving people I have ever met. The moment I walked into the center I was accepted and brought into this family as if they had known me all my life. I mourn for the day I have to leave the people I have met here and bonded with so thoroughly. However, even though I will be leaving and I am not able to even articulate how much I will miss this community I will be leaving behind, I am excited at the knowledge I have gained here so far and I know that I will be able to take it and use it to better support my own community back in Ohio. I am excited to use what I have learned to become a better activist for the transgender community. I hope that one day I can even use my newly gained knowledge to open up my own resource center to serve and protect this community that I have come to love and cherish so fiercely.