ATHENS, Ohio — A small, informal group of Athens County residents and city officials have gathered together to provide support, education, advocacy and awareness regarding transgender people.
It all began with lentil soup and community conversation, Rock Riffle Wellness co-owners Rachel Siegel and Mosha Trout said.
Earlier this year, the pair hosted a meeting at their home for community members and local officials to discuss issues related to transphobic signage at Artifacts Gallery, as well as ideas to support transgender and gender non-conforming community members.
That meeting was the seed of a new, informal community organization,Take Action Athens. Athens City Council Member Micah McCarey and City of Athens DEIA/Training Coordinator Lacey Rogers are members, along with community leaders such as Siegel and Trout, Dani Esperanza of the Athens County Foundation and Dr. Kristyn Neckles.
Siegel is also a member of the Athens Community Relations Committee, a body for which council member McCarey, at-large, is the council liaison.
Siegel said the group is hoping that the resources it provides “can be driven by the needs of the community … It really depends,” she said. “Can we get you resources for that? Can we facilitate a discussion? [How] can we help?”
Topics for training and discussion may vary from supporting trans colleagues in changing their gender on forms and paperwork; bathrooms signage; and simply adding books to one’s office repertoire, Seigel explained.
One of the first trainings Take Action Athens will promote soon will be “trans inclusion trainings” during Pride Month in June, McCarey, who is also director of the Ohio University LGBT Center, said.
The trainings, hosted by the Ohio University LGBT Center, are to be administered in partnership with Take Action Athens, McCarey said. They will take place virtually on weekdays during the lunch hour to offer a “lunch-and-learn opportunity.”
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The classes will “ideally prioritize specific questions [local business] owners, employees have about strategies to demonstrate LGBT inclusion,” McCarey said. Topics will vary from “introductory-level content about terminology, demonstrating the respectful use of pronouns,” he added.
Siegel and Trout started their counseling business three years ago to offer queer inclusive mental health services. They noted that their clientele have expressed increasing anxiety and concern in light of national and local conversations and legislation regarding transgender people’s rights and life in public spaces.
“Particularly in light of recent attitudes, incidents and legislation, I think it is important to be intentional about channeling energy to create welcoming, accepting and inclusive spaces,” Rogers said in an email. “The members of this group bring with them professional experience and personal connection to this community and I am hopeful this will allow us to continue to push the Athens community forward in being a place where people can feel supported, understood and able to be themselves.”
Take Action Athens aims to advocate for gender-nonconforming and trans community members beyond demonstrations and protests, Trout explained.
“I respect the protests — I’m down for protests — but my thing is like, how do you put this energy after you show up?” Trout said. “What do you do next?”
Siegel said, “Our hope moving forward is that we can [invite] community members, businesses, groups, to reach out and just have conversations about how they can improve their own practices and their own spaces to be more inclusive.”
“Even those people that really love and care for us and they have great intentions are also making mistakes,” Trout said.
But both Seigel and Trout noted that mistakes will happen and that’s OK — as long as it’s part of the learning process.
“We need people to participate to make this happen. We need Athens people to show up. We need people who genuinely are like, ‘I want to learn more, I want to know how we can do better,’” Seigel said.
Take Action Athens can be found on Facebook.
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