For families who want to be supportive of their transgender children, it can be hard to find a community who understands and can offer support for their situation. Richmond organization He She Ze and We wants to fill that role.
The transition to living openly transgender can be difficult for anyone, even full-grown adults. But transgender identity transcends age, and children can express feelings of gender dysphoria at extremely young ages. This can be a difficult period for both the child and their family. Thankfully, a local organization, He She Ze and We (HSZW), is working towards supporting families with young transgender children in the central and southern Virginia regions. After eight years of providing support, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened new opportunities for HSZW as they struggle to achieve status as a non-profit organization.
The organization was co-founded in 2012 by two parents in conjunction with a collective of families, which included local educator and LGBTQ advocate Shannon McKay. The group originally began coming together online when co-founder Donna Hill posted about the topic on websites like richmondmom.com. Typically, support groups were only available for adults, as a place to discuss and learn about the medical, social, legal, and other issues facing transgender people.
Together, McKay, Hill, and five other families began holding in-person support groups as a way to give a safe, non-judgemental space to families of transgender children of all ages.
“There wasn’t anything around that really supported young [trans] children,” said McKay. “We were this group of parents with very young children trying to figure out how to navigate things. There wasn’t anybody here who was able to help, so we just kind of helped ourselves.”
The families involved with He She Ze and We shared stories, experiences, and advice on how to approach issues of gender with their gender-questioning or gender-non-conforming children.
“Hearing stories helps other families who are questioning the gender of their child, said McKay. “It helps them say, ‘That’s kind of like our situation. I’m not alone. I’ve got this community I’ve been building.’”
As the organization has grown through online and physical communication, the group’s activities have expanded to include all members of the families involved, typically in the form of cook-outs or other social outings. These are HSZW’s way of providing a “normal” environment for families with trans children to get together and socialize. However, those outings have all been postponed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In spite of this ongoing situation, though, HSZW has found a way to persevere, and even grow, in the midst of adversity. The organization’s switch to primarily functioning through video chats and phone calls has improved certain aspects of communication, and has greatly increased their ability to reach families in other parts of the state.
“What I find now is if we can do a facetime or zoom call, it feels way more personal [than a regular phone call],” said McKay. “To see their face, and they can see my face; it makes them feel more comfortable.”
As their numbers have grown in recent months, He, She, Ze and We finally gained the manpower to apply for status as an official nonprofit organization. This will allow them a variety of benefits, including the ability for donors to make their donations tax deductible. The group will also be able to receive donations from large corporations.
In the meantime, He She Ze and We is continuing their outreach, with eyes specifically on Virginia’s rural and POC communities, where education and support for trans issues is more rare than in more diverse, urban areas. They also plan on reintroducing face-to-face meetings as a method of providing support to families.
Top Photo via He She Ze and We/Facebook