As I start off this post, let me plead my ignorance. One year ago, I had no idea that it was Transgender Awareness Month. And, of course, I had no idea that this was happening in the preceding years either. Now, this is not to say that I did not care, but it was a little off my radar. I tended to lump transgender awareness into LGBTQ awareness awareness, which is really gay awareness, and, well, it was a mistake.

But, something interesting happened to me in the last year.

First, as I began to explore the nature of mental illness, it became quite apparent that transgender individuals have a greater issue here than most other people. According to NAMI, transgender individuals struggle with suicidal thoughts and ideation in a much more serious way. Roughly 38-65% of transgender individuals struggle with suicidal ideation. This is an absolutely astonishing number and it comes almost entirely from the fact that the trans community faces discrimination from a number of fronts.

My ignorance, though, was still there. But, there were a couple of experiences in the last year that really opened my eyes. First, I went to the Gay Christian Network annual meeting in Pittsburgh. Here/Hear was one of the exhibitors at the conference and we were able to make a number of contacts and spread a lot of positive information about the resources available for those suffering from mental illness. As well, though, I also got to meet and encounter people that I do not ever get to encounter in my small, rural town in northern Indiana. Some of those people were transgender individuals. I got sit and talk with some of them. It’s really amazing what people will say to you and what people will share when they find out you are there to help people with mental illness. It was an amazing time of hearing people’s stories and their struggles and it opened my eyes in ways that I had not really thought possible.

My second real experience was encountering TREES, Inc.and their founder Meghan Buell. It was a somewhat providential encounter. I was walking with my family through the farmer’s market in South Bend, IN. We had decided to go just on a whim. As we were walking around, I saw some anti-bullying buttons. As someone that does mental health work and anti-bullying stuff, the booth caught my eye. I stopped and started looking at the material from this organization TREES. I began to talk to the person behind the counter, a transgender woman named Meghan Buell. It was one of the most eye-opening and positive conversations I had had in awhile. And, later, I asked Meghan if she would like to speak at Hear Festival about suicide and mental illness in the transgender community. She came, brought a booth with fantastic material, and then gave a great speech that moved a lot of people.

This last weekend, I was able to be part of a benefit for TREES. It felt nice to give back, just a little, after the work that Meghan did to help out Here/Hear. The benefit was at The Well Coffeeshop in South Bend. The organizer brought together some great bands, including one whose lead singer was a transgender female. We were able to raise some money and to provide some great resources to people.

So, for Transgender Awareness Month, I’d like to encourage you to do something that may be uncomfortable, but will open your eyes. Try and spend some time talking with a transgender person and try to understand where they are coming from. Watch a youtube video, look at TREES, check out the Trevor Project, and go to a transgender event near you. This is all an opportunity to not only expand your horizons, but to also spend a little time supporting people who need support. And, who knows, maybe your perspective will broaden.