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CYFC's Community Discussions on Transgender Issues in Greater Minnesota Exceed Expectations

Since January 2017, University of Minnesota Extension faculty and staff have discussed issues facing transgender youth with 220 community members in greater Minnesota.

The Lessons From the Field: Meeting the Needs of Transgender Youth series of events featured Dr. Jenifer K. McGuire, scholar in residence with Extension's Children, Youth & Family Consortium (CYFC), Nathan Hesse, SNAP-Ed educator, and Cari Michaels, Extension educator in CYFC. Events were held in five greater Minnesota communities: Bemidji, Morris, Saint Cloud, Grand Rapids, and Rochester. Each of these regional, free-to-participate community training opportunities attracted between 24 and 75 people with an interest in the topic of transgender youth that was professional, personal, or both. These numbers at times made for very cozy discussions, as our community hosts have not always expected such large turnouts.

a room of mostly women seated at long tables faces a man in a pink shirt
A packed room listens to SNAP-Ed Educator Nathan Hesse.

Distance and Background No Barrier

We the organizers have been amazed by the distance that some people traveled to learn about and discuss the topic of transgender youth. For example, there was a teacher who brought a group of students from over an hour and a half away to attend the Bemidji session, others who drove more than two hours from Marshall to attend the Saint Cloud session, and a participant in Grand Rapids who talked about living over two hours away. Over and over, we heard stories of people driving long distances for the day, bringing colleagues, and planning to take the information back with them. It is clear that far from being solely an urban concern, effectively meeting the needs of trans youth — as well as those under the larger LGBTQ umbrella — is on many people’s minds and in their lived experiences, and that there is a lot of interest in how to create safe and supportive environments for youth of all gender identities.

Both those coming to these sessions from near and far have brought varied backgrounds, interests, and energy to each site. Some people came as school district personnel, such as counselors, social workers, and teachers. Others came from mental and physical health fields, child welfare, or higher education. At some sites, we had participants who identified as trans or family members of someone who is trans who contributed personal stories and experiences to discussions.

Attendees with diverse backgrounds and experiences around transgender issues sought insight and support from others in the group. A family therapist in one small community shared the difficult process of placing a young person in foster care, while working with the family to learn to accept and affirm the youth’s gender. School personnel described negotiations between supporting youth and educating the community. A local religious leader was exploring relationships between congregations and transgender church personnel. A number of people described driving several hours once a month to access medical care for transition in the Twin Cities.

a room with long tables with people seated at them and three windows
Participants sharing stories in Morris.

Shared and Unique Concerns

Some questions and challenges that people brought up in these greater Minnesota settings were similar to those brought up in sessions closer to the Twin Cities, such as figuring out how to respectfully request gender pronouns and preferred names, navigating and explaining paperwork that requires gender and name assigned at birth, and how to work with families that aren’t currently accepting their youth’s self-defined gender identity. Other topics seemed to arise more frequently in greater Minnesota. In particular, attendees wanted to find out whether resources and structures referred to were present locally and to network with each other regionally around meeting the needs of trans youth. For instance, within the first hour of the Morris event, participants began to organize a local listserv and discuss ways to be allies and supports for one another.

 As we explored mental health, food security, and body image, and the embedded nature of those concepts in family relationships, participants began to identify ways that they could become active allies in the support of transgender persons in their own communities.

a woman present at the front of a room next to a PowerPoint slide
Dr. McGuire described the interplay between mental health, food security,
and body image, within the family context.

Moving Forward

Evaluation results indicate that many participants felt great value in attending the events and would like to use new information when they return home. Here are a few comments participants shared:
  • “I would love to use some of this information in new staff orientation trainings.”
  • “I will share this information with my fellow classmates in my school counseling Master's program and provide them with the resources I obtained today.”
  • “[I will share information with] co-workers, administrators. The restroom issue is a big concern in Western MN in the school communities. I hope to be an advocate for a safe place.”
Others expressed interest in more training related to the topic of transgender youth and suggested others who could benefit from such training. Comments such as the following speak of the awareness of relevance of this and related topics throughout the state.
  • “I would like more information on LGBTQ needs related to medical/healthcare. Thank you!”
  • “This was a very informative training. There is a need for this training for all school personnel and our legislators. I appreciated the research presented — great job!”
In closing, we’d like to thank all of the communities who hosted this year’s Lessons From the Field: Meeting the Needs of Transgender Youth series: Andover, Bemidji, Minneapolis, Morris, Saint Cloud, Grand Rapids, and Rochester. Our utmost respect and gratitude goes out to the 476 participants who brought their open minds and hearts into sessions exploring research and practice related to meeting the diverse needs of trans youth in our Minnesota communities.

This year’s series has come to an end, but the learning is not over! Check out the Transgender Toolkit on our website for a variety of resources related to work with trans youth that can help you learn more about this topic.

Mina Blyly-Strauss, research assistant with the Children, Youth & Family Consortium, and Jenifer K. McGuire, Extension specialist and associate professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Family Social Science, contributed to this blog post.
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