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Louisville peer support groups help transgender people find community during a difficult year

 A large group of protestors hold up colorful signs that support trans rights and decry Senate Bill 150, which became law after the 2023 legislative session.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Protesters recently demanded the Jefferson County Board of Education refuse to comply with new state restrictions on transgender kids.

Political attacks on transgender people escalated this year in Kentucky and other states. Trans Kentuckians say peer support groups are a vital source of community, especially now.

Madelyn Spalding personally connected with other trans people through peer support groups.

“I know for myself, when I first walked into a support group and I was in a room full of people who understood my needs … it was validating. I felt seen,” she said. “I – for the first time in my life – didn’t feel alone.”

It has been a difficult year for many trans people in the Louisville community and across the state, especially since the Republican-led Kentucky Legislature passed a sweeping anti-trans law in March.

Senate Bill 150 imposes rules on public schools that negatively affect trans students, including restricting which bathrooms they can use and letting teachers misgender them.

It also bans trans people under 18 years old from accessing gender-affirming hormone therapy in Kentucky – a provision that’s being challenged in court.

A federal judge temporarily blocked SB 150's ban on treatments, but then allowed it to take effect on Friday because a higher court’s ruling indicated Kentucky’s plaintiffs aren’t likely to win a preliminary injunction against the law on appeal.

Spalding said SB 150’s provisions for public schools, in particular, can make a trans student’s school an unwelcoming environment.

“With SB 150 taking effect and misgendering being allowed in schools, if a youth can’t find support at home and can’t find support at school … where can they go for the support?” she said.

Local peer groups offer one option.

“Peer support, especially, and mentoring opportunities between trans people is the most important support that trans people can get right now,” she continued. “We share resources, we share experiences. We cry together, we fight together.”

Spalding is the assistant director of development for Louisville Youth Group, which has served LGBTQ+ youth in the Louisville and Southern Indiana region for over 30 years.

The organization hosts free programs for people ages 5 to 24, including peer support groups for trans and nonbinary youth and for LGBTQ+ individuals who are Black, Indigenous and/or people of color.

She said Louisville Youth Group gives kids a place “where they feel seen and validated,” not just by their peers but also by adults who provide events and resources there.

There also are a variety of peer support groups for transgender and gender-expansive adults in the Louisville area.

They collectively “make up what I consider to be a really holistic picture for trans support in the Louisville area,” Spalding said. The Trans Wellness Coalition is an umbrella organization that’s affiliated with local peer support groups that offer sober spaces for trans people to find community.

One of the groups is the Kentuckiana Transgender Support Group.

“Whether you’re transfem, transmasculine, nonbinary, agender or any other identity, this is for everybody,” Spalding said. “It’s a part social group, but also a place where we can share resources with each other, our experiences, and support each other.”

Other local peer support groups include:

The Louisville Pride Center hosts a social support group for LGBTQ+ people on Friday nights, said executive director Mike Slaton. They also host game nights and other social events that foster community.

Sweet Evening Breeze – an organization that offers services for LGBTQ+ young adults between 18 and 24 years old who are experiencing homelessness – also offers a couple of peer support groups.

One group is for people who are at least 18 years old and are transgender, gender-nonconforming or gender-expansive. The other is for parents and families of trans children.

Trans people experience high rates of homelessness. Sweet Evening Breeze’s program manager, Stuart Walker, said they started both support groups as part of their efforts to prevent homelessness.

“One of the factors in homelessness prevention is social support,” they explained. “Transgender people in general experience a higher risk of homelessness and higher rates of homelessness, but it is especially bad for trans youth because they are dependent on their caretakers.”

Walker said SB 150 and how it’s affecting people in the room has increasingly become part of the support groups’ conversations.

“A sense of community is really something that we’ve been able to provide to our clients, and it seems to have been really helpful so far,” they said.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.