PLATTSBURGH — One of Amber Desjardins' biggest challenges in her transition to a woman has been her family.
"They have been supportive, but they have not been fully on board," the 31 year old said. "It’s hard, because family means everything. I want to be close to my family, but I also want to be respected by them for who I am."
A support group organized by the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance, a group founded by area activists Kelly Metzgar and Sage Wolf as a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community, guided Desjardins through her times of need.
"Talking in that support group setting and getting advice on how to handle the relationships with my family correctly and appropriately has really helped me," she said. "They’re is always somebody that has had experience in that area and help guide other people through those situations."
The support group meets weekly, currently via Zoom due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, Desjardins said the group helped a trans woman who was struggling with makeup application.
“So we talked about makeup," she said. "We talked about the different things that we could do to apply makeup and learn how to do makeup. Really, it’s a great place to ask questions and share big achievements."
The Gender Alliance also puts on annual events, like its Pride Parade in the fall, and has connections to statewide organizations, like Gender Equality New York (GENY).
"They just recently had a virtual meeting with the New York State Division of Human Rights to talk about what our rights are," Desjardins said. "So the alliance has connections, not only to local resources, but to state resources."
Desjardins said the group, starting with less than a handful of members, had seen growth in its six years.
"We’ve seen our events grow, we’ve seen our support group for adults grow and we’ve even branched off and had a youth group that we still have growing too."
Joey Mahoney, 37, said Planned Parenthood was always his "go-to resource."
"Especially as a younger gay," he said, referencing growing up during the AIDS epidemic. "I didn’t know where to go. I had no health insurance. Let’s face it, back in my day, when they were teaching us sex ed, they didn’t really give us the whole 'gay lowdown.'"
Katie Ramus, chief experience officer at Planned Parenthood of the North Country's Plattsburgh location on Brinkerhoff Street, said it was in the organization's mission to offer services to the LGBTQ community.
"Our mission at Planned Parenthood is to build a world in which every single person — regardless of their race, their income, their gender identity, their sexual orientation — can access expert, compassionate reproductive healthcare and education without any shame or judgement," she said.
Some resources offered include sexual reproductive healthcare, gender affirming hormone therapy (GAHT), which Planned Parenthood has offered since 2017, as well as PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, and PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis.
"We also have a whole branch of our affiliate that does education," Ramus, a 15-year-long employee of Planned Parenthood, said. "That includes LGBTQ education and we’ve actually been working with the community to do cultural competency training. We offer that to other providers to ensure that they’re using inclusive language and they are a safe welcoming space for everything.”
While Ramus could not quantify the exact number of LGBTQ folks seen annually, she said approximately 300 people annually identify themselves as such.
Other community organizations offer resources to the LGBTQ community, as well, and Desjardins said it was important to take advantage of them.
“Get connected with your community," she said. "I think the best thing for anybody struggling is to get connected to people like you and feel that sense of community and being connected to other people, and being open and sharing that with them if you’re comfortable and when you’re comfortable is oh so important."
"I know out in the community there are a lot of people in our LGBTQ community just in the North Country. . . a lot of them aren’t connected to a support group. . . and I see a lot of my peers struggling. I tell them we have a support group, we have a resource in the community and I highly suggest that people use it.”
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