On left, Mel Hartsell. Right, Constance Brooks.
On left, Mel Hartsell. Right, Constance Brooks.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Organizers of a new social and support group for transgender people held their first meeting of Trans* in the City on in mid-July.

The Trans* in the City group was founded by Constance Brooks and Mel Hartsell. Brooks said it will fulfill a previously unmet need.

“There are a couple of different trans spaces in the city, but there is not a space specifically geared to younger people who aren’t in college,” said Brooks. “We’re specifically geared to that younger generation, but we are welcoming to anyone who agrees with our mission and purpose to create a safe space for trans people within the city.”

Hartsell said the group was an outgrowth of community members’ desires.

“Many folks in the trans* community in Charlotte have expressed a desire for a community with a progressive understanding of what it means to be trans*, such as a group that is open to non-binary identified individuals,” Hartsell said. “Also, many trans* people struggle with isolation, so it is important to have a group that prioritizes socialization in and out of the group, building community and relationships.”

The term “trans*” is used by some as a more inclusive adjective than “transgender.”

Brooks said the group will also fill social and civic needs for transgender people.

“There are not a lot of safe spaces for trans people to go to and it’s safer to go as a group,” Brooks said. “We’ll also be getting involved in trans* activism.”

For Brooks, the group represents an opportunity for transgender people to form their own community.

“The LGB community doesn’t often include the ‘T,’” Brooks said. “It is generally left out.”

Brooks also believes transgender people face an entirely different set of obstacles and challenges.

“The trans* community needs to be its own community because there’s so much within trans,” Brooks said. “Gender identity and sexual orientation are two very specifically separate things. It’s very important to have trans* space as well as LGB space. Having them together is grouping two different groups dealing with two separate issues.”

Members of the group must be 18 years old or older and must identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth. Organizers also say members must be inclusive of “binary and non-binary trans* identities.” They request those interested in joining first make contact with a leader of the group in an effort to keep the space safe and inclusive. Contact information for the group’s leaders can be found on their website at transinthecity.wordpress.com/about/become-a-member/.

The membership requirements seem restrictive, but Brooks and Hartsell said they are there for a purpose.

“As a social worker, I have a lot of experience with group formation and facilitation,” Hartsell said. “Open and closed groups, both, have their purposes. We had several conversations discussing whether we should have an open or closed group, but we ultimately decided that it should be closed. While we look forward to partnering with allies in various programming opportunities, we understood that trans* people were in need of safe spaces where we could speak about the different experiences we have.”

The group will meet every Wednesday at the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, 2508 N. Davidson St., 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Ultimately, the two organizers hope the group grows and becomes an influential space for transgender community members’ support, activism and voice.

“I hope that our group becomes a go-to place for trans* folks in Charlotte, a place they know is safe and fun and that will work to meet their needs as they arise,” Hartsell said. “Some days will be more direct: providing peer support and referrals, and some days we will be working towards policy changes for trans* people and other marginalized groups.”

Hartsell added, “We look forward to meeting and getting to know the strong and diverse people in this community and moving forward to make Charlotte a safer place to be for everyone.” : :

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.