March 11, 2013

Event promotes discussion of transgender issues


---- — PLATTSBURGH — The 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry” tells the story of a young adult who was born female but identifies as and wishes to live as a male.

It’s “a true story of an individual who faced transgender issues,” Amanda Bulris, executive director of the Champlain Valley Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI), told a group gathered at Plattsburgh Public Library for a forum on transgender teens.

The event was part of the Brown Bag Series, an annual string of public discussions sponsored by Behavioral Health Services North (BHSN) and NAMI: Champlain Valley.

“All of our topics are really things that stigma has shut down, put into the darkness, and what we try to do is each month bring a little light to the subject,” Bonnie Black, director of Employee Assistance Services at BHSN, told event attendees.


The original plan was for a panel of individuals familiar with transgender issues to lead a discussion at the forum and answer questions on the topic.

However, Bulris said, the organizations couldn’t find anyone who was both available at the time and willing to share experiences with the public.

“One of the reasons that we had difficulty finding a panel to talk about the topic was the stigma surrounding it and people not willing to make a public appearance and say, “You know, I am a family member who has someone who is transgender,’” Bulris said.

So instead, she and Black showed part of the film, which was donated for the showing by Under One Roof Video Store, and followed it with a brief discussion that invited audience input.  

The movie’s transgender character was perceived by his family as being a homosexual female rather than as the heterosexual male he believed he should be.

“That was his family, who knew that he had genetically been born a female, and so they identified him as being (homosexual) versus being transgender,” Bulris said.


Black told the Press-Republican that the event was the best attended Brown Bag forum of the year, drawing a crowd of at least 30.  

“So this topic is definitely something that people in the community, whether the college community or Plattsburgh community itself, is interested in,” she said. 

SUNY Plattsburgh student Ingrid Almaguer told the group during the event that she and other students in the college’s cultural-context-of-counseling class decided to attend because they felt it might be beneficial to their studies. 

“It’s something that is very relevant to our field, and this is a population that is one that we’ll most likely encounter,” Almaguer said of transgender teens. 

Bulris said that at the end of each Brown Bag talk attendees are surveyed about other topics they’d like to see in following year’s series. 

“The topic (of transgender teens) was chosen simply because there seems to be an identified need in the area,” she said.

The talks typically run from late fall to early spring, taking place on the first Thursday of each month.


Black also shared with attendees online resources, among them the Trevor Project at, which includes a national crisis hotline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.

Kelly Hornby, a social worker at Clinton County’s Mental Health Clinic, is now offering a transgender support group for both transgender individuals and their families.  

“It’s closed, at this point in time, but they’re looking at ideas in terms of how they might offer it and open it to the community,” Bulris said. 

To learn more about the group, contact her at 561-2685.

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The next installment of the Brown Bag Series will take place in the second-floor meeting room of Plattsburgh Public Library from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, April 4. The topic will be autism.