Thursday 18 January 2018

Interview with Kelly Metzgar

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Kelly Metzgar, an inspirational transgender rights activist from Saranac Lake, New York, USA, a co-founder of Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance, a community-based LGBTQ organization providing services to the Adirondack North Country of Upstate New York. Hello Kelly! 
Kelly: Hi Monika, thank you so much for reaching out to me for this wonderful opportunity for a nice international chat!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kelly: I am a transgender woman living in Saranac Lake in the Adirondack North Country of upstate New York.
I am passionate about my advocacy and educational work having been involved in Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary as well as Lesbian, Gay, Bi/Pansexual training workshops for several years speaking in regional colleges and universities, as well as to various religious, business, and civic organizations. I present customized, targeted workshops and training sessions at Transgender and LGBTQ conferences in both my regional area, New York State, and national levels.
I work for Transgender rights here in New York State including working to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act – GENDA hopefully in 2018.
I love the community in which I’ve had the pleasure of living for the past 35 years. We are close to Lake Placid NY, the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. Whiteface Mountain, which I love to ski, is the 1980 Olympic Alpine mountain is only a 30-minute drive from my home.
In the summer I enjoy gardening, kayaking, and canoeing on our many rivers and mountain lakes.
Monika: When did you decide that trans activism would be the main driver of your professional career?
Kelly: In the spring of 2013, I met an amazing woman Juli Grey-Owens at Equality and Justice Day in Albany NY. Juli was part of an organization (I later joined) known as the New York State Transgender Rights Coalition, the purpose of which was to enact the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act in New York State. GENDA as of this writing, some 15 years after it was first introduced in the New York State Legislature, has still not passed into State law. I have continued to work with Juli and many other transgender rights advocates for the past several years on many different projects across the state for the passage of this very vital piece of civil rights non-discrimination legislation.

2017 Adirondack North Country Pride Parade,
Plattsburgh NY.

In the spring of 2014, I attended a Transgender Advocacy training in Syracuse, NY. I stayed with a woman, Terri Cook, who I met briefly several months earlier in Albany NY. Terri & her husband Vince are very proud parents of an amazing transgender son Drew. Talking with Terri over the course of three days I came to learn her family’s story for the struggle they went through as Drew transitioned FTM.
I also learned they wrote an amazing book Allies and Angles, which I purchased a copy of and read upon my return home. There were pages upon pages in this book where I laughed, and more importantly cried, as I read of the struggles Drew and the Cook family went through in his transition. I remembered how I felt as a young person, as a teen, and later a young adult with no one to talk to, no one to share this “terrible secret” with. I thought how wonderful it would have been to have understanding and accepting parents like Terri and Vince when I was growing up.
There were pages that made me very angry as I read how Drew was treated by not only his student peers but also by schools teachers, administrators, and the general public. I vowed that I needed to find a way to make things better for our youth and young people, so they would not have to continue to go through the bullying and harassment that LGBTQ youth faced when I was young, or like Drew encountered as he transitioned.
I read about a wonderful place in Syracuse called the Q Center Youth Center and how they provided a safe place for LGBTQ youth in Syracuse and how the Q Center helped Drew regain his confidence and be accepted by his peers. I read how the Q Center helps other families like the Cook’s and knew I needed to at least try to find a way to bring similar resources to the area I live in (Northeastern New York State).
I made a promise to myself in 2014 that my transition would not solely be “about me” but I needed to find a way to help other LGBTQ or otherwise marginalized groups of people in their struggle for a life of freedom, equality, love, and acceptance in living as their true and authentic self. 

Monika: Could you elaborate more on some of your initiatives?
Kelly: OK, but remember you asked for this... :)
As I looked to begin my transition (MTF) in 2012 I could not find a medical doctor in my area to prescribe the needed hormones to begin my journey. While I absolutely do not encourage this behavior in any way, I was forced to self prescribe HRT knowing full well the potential dangers I face. In the winter of 2014, I decided I needed to double my dosages in order to achieve the desired effects. Still, I could not find any doctor willing to take this on. I wrote an Opinion Editorial which appeared in our local newspaper. I was asked by the Chief Executive Officer of our regional hospital if I would be interested in coming to talk to her about these health care needs. Long story short, Adirondack Health hired a relatively young family practice doctor and asked her if she would take on transgender health care as none of the local doctors were willing to do so. This doctor agreed providing Adirondack Health would find her the training and resources she needed.
Adirondack Health did not stop there, they organized a transgender training program for hospital staff in three of their regional facilities of which I was a member of the four-person training team.
I am happy to say everything is working out now in terms of medical transgender health care in the Adirondack North Country. I spoke with my doctor recently and she informed me she as 40-50 transgender patients – MTF, FTM all age groups.
I am now working to find qualified behavioral health specialists for our community. I have three people I am comfortable recommending to date.
I believe education is very important in understanding any situation, group of people, or moment in history. Certainly what the transgender movement has done in recent years in making ourselves visible is a major cultural shift in society today. To that end, I began speaking in college & university classrooms in the Fall of 2013. I continue my speaking, training, and educational programming today anywhere and everywhere I can. I enjoy speaking about not only the LGBTQI+ community but about all marginalized groups in society today needing social justice awareness.

Kelly at her first day of work in her authentic gender.

Of course, my emphasis is on the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary and Intersexed communities. Not enough is said about our Intersexed community. In addition to presenting my own customized training, to regional colleges/universities, business, civic and religious organizations I also show the National Geographic Society’s Gender Revolution video to various groups hosted by Katie Couric. 
In the spring of 2015, I was looking to put together a youth support group in our region. I found a group of young people who were meeting, but their group was very loosely organized and about to fall apart. Together with a counseling friend of mine, we began a youth peer support group in Plattsburgh NY about an hour’s drive northeast of my home. Generally, the group meets on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. We have met regularly since then. Group sizes vary depending on the time of year, weather, actives going on in our region, etc. We have had as few as 5 and as many as 20+ at a single session. We are looking for funding as well as ways to increase group attendance.
As I stated earlier, I am very good friends with Juli Grey-Owens from Long Island NY. Juli put together a statewide Transgender Town Hall Project to learn from community members around New York State the needs, concerns, struggles, hopes, of the Transgender Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary community and our allies. To that end, I worked to bring three such town hall meetings to the Plattsburgh NY community in a one-year time span. The Transgender Town Hall Project was a big success as we gathered the issues the transgender community faces. We will use those findings as we work for Transgender rights and access to needed resources moving forward.
In August of 2016, I formed a not-for-profit organization the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance. The mission is to bring needed resources to LGBTQI+ youth and young adults here in the Adirondack North Country region of northeastern New York State. It is now through ANCGA that we hold our peer support group meetings, take group members to regional LGBTQI+ outings and events. We also sponsored the first-ever LGBTQ Pride Parade in our region of the state on October 1st, 2016. We followed that up again in 2017 with an even bigger event. Both Pride events were held in Plattsburgh NY. ANCGA also sponsored the first Transgender Day of Remembrance events held in Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake in 2016 and 2017. Interview on Transgender activities in the Adirondack North Country.
In January 2017 I was the Keynote Speaker at the North Country March for Unity & Respect held in Plattsburgh NY. My remarks centered on the acceptance of diversity in promoting unity among all people. Click here for a video of that speech my comments begin at the 12:30 minute mark and continues until minute 21:30.
In June 2017 I was once again the Keynote speaker at the We Exist rally in Plattsburgh NY to commemorate the 45 anniversary of the passing of federal Title IX civil and educational rights protections in the US.

Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. As Laverne Cox announced, “Trans is beautiful.” Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with an interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Kelly: First I think we need to expand the conversation, not just about Transgender women, but we also need to remember and include our Transgender men who are often forgotten and left out of most Transgender conversations. With that in mind, it is time the Transgender community makes ourselves known in all segments of society throughout the world in everyday life, in every profession. The Transgender community is full of talented, smart, active individuals who wish to make this world a better more understanding, accepting, and inclusive place to live our authentic lives.
We are just beginning to come out and show the world stage who we are. As with any societal or cultural movement, it takes time. But this is a movement that once we began, will not end. This societal change IS HAPPENING! Finally!!!
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Kelly: This is truly the decade the Transgender community is making itself known. The Gay & Lesbian communities have done much work over the past 20+ years to bring attention to sexual orientation issues. Now is our time to bring attention to gender identity and expression issues. In many respects, I believe the Gay and Lesbian communities have left us out to our own devices. They have all the rights and protections they sought.
In New York State, sexual orientation is a part of the state’s Human Rights protected classes. Yet, in my mind, many in the Gay & Lesbian community do little for Transgender or Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary civil rights. As we know Gay, Lesbian, Bi/Pansexuals deal with orientation. The Transgender Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary community is about gender identity and expression.
On top of gender identity, we also need to express and be accepted for our own sexual orientation. Many people still get these two very different aspects of our lives confused. Many CIS gender heterosexual people try to combine these two aspects of our lives into one classification. Society tries to lump anyone who is not Cis Gender or Hetrosexual into the LGBTQI+ umbrella when really we are all separate communities of people with many different and sometimes competing needs.

Book of Nicole Maines via Amazon.

The Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary communities, along with our allies who love, accept and support us, need to work for ourselves to steer our own path, to guide our own future, and not be dependent on others. We need to speak up, act up, make our voices and presence known everywhere in society in a positive way. Showing who we are - brothers, sisters, husband, wives, children, parents, siblings, neighbors, coworkers, coaches, teachers/educators wishing only to live in an open and accepting society as our true and authentic selves.
I hope we will make a very positive impact on the local/regional communities in which we live our everyday lives. We need parents of Transgender children to speak up and advocate for their children. We need our allies to march hand in hand with us and fight for basic human civil rights.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Kelly: With few exceptions, especially in films and on television, many Transgender characters were played by CIS gender actors or actresses and not by people in the Transgender community. It is time Transgender actors or actresses assume Transgender character roles! This sends the constant message that Transgender people are not to be actually seen, but it’s alright to depict us, often in very non-flattery ways, by CIS gender people to make the topic more digestible. I am happy that slowly there are some Transgender people finally able to break through, such as Candis Cane and Laverne Cox. Still, there are many more roles in film and television that Transgender people need fill.
I love many of the stories I read on Facebook and other social media sites in terms of Transgender news-worthy events. We need those positive stories of personal success and the struggles we endure in everyday life. We are a resilient determined community of people. Our stories need to be told and listened to. The result of many of these stories is often a personal and societal triumph for our often much-maligned community.


All the photos: courtesy of Kelly Metzgar.
© 2018 - Monika Kowalska

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