Kendra Tonan-Lizzarago remembers the exact date of her first support group meeting at Trans Spectrum of Arizona: February 18, 2015. She was nervous.
Overdressed. Wasn’t sure what to expect. And despite having what she describes as pretty strong “Google fu” – i.e. search-engine savvy – even finding a space to support her gender transition had proven discouraging and time-consuming.
But Tonan-Lizzarago had nothing to worry about. She not only found a community, but the beginnings of a new career. After volunteering and rising through board ranks, the 41-year-old became president of the organization earlier this year. Trans Spectrum of Arizona was founded in 2012 and is the largest resource for transgender adults in the Valley. They host weekly support groups and meet-ups for trans and gender-nonconforming people as well as their families. There’s a bilingual resource guide packed with trans-inclusive doctors, legal help, even hair salons. They also spread the word about trans-related legislation.
Laws protecting LGBT folk from employment and housing discrimination are patchwork in Arizona. Only six cities statewide have protections in place across both public and private sectors for sexual orientation and gender identity. One could be covered at their home in Tempe but not their workplace in Mesa.
To Tonan-Lizzarago, this stems from a fundamental misunderstanding and exclusion of the trans community. She sees part of her role – beyond managing the website, planning events and connecting individuals to help – as being a face that can humanize transgender issues for someone. A new project called Transgender Memoirs, where contributors share their stories and history, is an extension of those goals.
“If I can be an ambassador for the trans community, I’m willing to carry that weight,” Tonan-Lizzarago says. She hopes that one day, trans and gender nonconforming people can have easier transitions and safer, fuller lives. “We’re not trying to hurt people,” she says. “We’re just trying to live our lives.”
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