Michelle Fox-Phillips, founding member of Transgender Detroit, now Gender-identity Network Alliance. BTL photo: Crystal Proxmire

Transgender Detroit Transitions into GNA

by, Crystal A. Proxmire

The Gender-identity Network Alliance (GNA, pronounced GINA) was announced on Nov. 17 with a party at Affirmations Community Center. Formerly known as Transgender Detroit, the new identity of the transgender-serving organization is one of embracing all forms of gender variance and working on multiple gender-related issues. The new organization hopes to reach beyond the Detroit area in the coming year.

While dining on wine, cheese and other fine foods, guests of the event mingled with a diverse crowd and watched drag performances by Mr. Debonair and Lady Vanity Tajoure. They also got to meet the board of GNA, led by Board President Ami Mansell of Ferndale.

Mansell's journey into womanhood had several unique challenges and she shared her story with the group. "Four years ago when I came out of prison after serving 23 years, I didn't know where I was going to be, and I am here today," she said. "I'm here in this wonderful building surrounded by a bunch of people who I love, who are my family, my friends."

Michelle Fox-Phillips, one of Transgender Detroit's co-founders, explained the history of the organization and its roots.

"I came to Affirmations 14 years ago and I'm still around here. I was the first trans volunteer 14 years ago and they've opened their arms to us. They opened their arms when we started Transgender Rap 14 years ago, where I met my late wife Jamie. It was my late wife Jamie and I that started Transgender Detroit in August 2005. We felt it was a need in the Detroit area: Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties, to have a transgender organization," she said. "You have seen some of our work. We have done the Transgender Day of Remembrance that we just did last night. We also have Transgender Day of Empowerment that we do in the spring and we have workshops to empower the transgender community."

The group also does a speaker's bureau and takes place during other transgender related activities through the year. One of the goals of GNA is to incorporate more social events, like the drag shows and coming out party, into their work. They also hope to reach more than just the MTFs and FTMs (Male-To-Female and Female-to-Male), including others who need support with gender issues. They also hope to bring more visibility in the LGBT community and among allies in the broader community.

Laurel Popp of Trenton is GNA's communication chair. "The most important thing to think about is broadening the services to include all genders," Popp said in an interview after the show.

"Anyone who is having an issue should feel welcome. Not just transmen and women, but people who question their gender, or are gender fluid, or who don't identify as any gender. It should be a group where you feel supported no matter where your identity might be in relation to the social norm," she said.

Popp addded that building a "grassroots foundation and a close knit support system" are also important. "We need to do education and work with other support groups and community groups, find out where the gaps are. From an education standpoint we need to reach teachers, clergy, business people and political people and educate them about gender."

Popp is a counseling intern who is working on her Masters of Science specializing in Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression. "To me it's humanistic in a sense, helping people find their genuine self. Also finding ways to express that outside of therapy."

Treasurer Michelle Wavra of Utica was thrilled with the GNA event. "It's all about pulling people together," she said. "What better way to do it than with wine and cheese? Everybody here is really fabulous."

Wavra is active with a group called Transitions in Utica, where she's been impressed with not only the support fellow transwomen have given her in her journey, but with the energy of the youth who come to get involved. "The young people are very intelligent, very energetic. They don't have the same hang ups my generation had. They're going to be the ones who really change it for us."

GNA welcomed all new board members, listed below:

Ami Mansell - Board Chair

Katie Fitzner - Secretary

Michell Wavra - Treasurer

Spencer Fitzner - Director of Youth Services

Darnell Jones - Director of Health & Wellness

Anna Oesterle - Member

Laurel Popp - Director of Public Relations

Mykell Price - Member

John Slebodnik - Director of Fundraising

Ray Weisserman - Member

For more information on GNA, check them out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/GenderNetworkAlliance/info.
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