It pains me that while LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) people continue to make strides toward full equality, the “T” or Trans part of the community is often overlooked. In today’s divisive times, it seems that transgender people are bearing the brunt of renewed discrimination. That’s why the library in my little town of Gulfport has made it a mission to celebrate Trans Awareness Month all throughout November in very big and very public ways.

Some of you may not know that the Gulfport library has an award winning LGBTQ Resource Center that, in addition to housing several thousand literary works, also offers ongoing programs to serve the entire LGBTQ community. My library is the only resource center of its kind in the state of Florida. I am also proud to share that the American Library Association recently named it the best LGBTQ Resource Center in North America. Pretty impressive for a town of just 13,000 people, don’t you think?

The opening reception for Trans Awareness Month was on November 1 with about 100 people in attendance. Attendees got first glimpse of the exciting Trans Awareness Exhibit hanging prominently in the library under the LGBTQ Resource Banner and the Trans Awareness Flag. The exhibit came from the Stonewall Museum and Archives in Ft. Lauderdale and will remain for the entire month.

The library also put together its own display featuring a selection of publications and DVDs from its own collection about trans issues.

A highlight of the evening was a presentation by renowned local trans activist Ashley Brundage. Ashley is the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for PNC Bank and has been a keynote speaker at dozens of colleges and even at MacDill Air Force Base. She is the past president of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber and was a past grand marshal of the St. Pete Pride parade.  Her words about identifying and soliciting mentors, and what she calls “life sponsors,” resonated with the enthusiastic crowd, which was a mix of transgender people as well as other members of the LGBTQ community including straight allies and parents.

In addition to sharing her work experience, Ashley got personal with attendees, sharing family stories about coming out to her young children about her transition process. She also shared that she and her wife have traveled this journey together and remain married today, a feat for many couples tackling transition.

One set of parents opened up about their recent relocation from California to Gulfport (and the broader St Pete area) specifically due to the region’s national reputation of embracing diversity and supporting trans people. As new residents of Gulfport, they were excited to have such an incredible array of LGBTQ resources at their disposal.  Eager to find additional resources and support, I suggested they also reach out to the Metro Wellness Center on Central Avenue, various PFLAG groups around the region, and Project No Labels.

On November 8, the Gulfport Library continued its Trans Awareness Month celebration by screening the film Real Boy.  The screening was also part of the LGBTQ Resource Center’s ongoing monthly film series which showcases free screenings of relevant films to the Gulfport community on the second Thursday of each month at no cost. As a bonus, the Resource Center also provides popcorn, candy, soda and water to moviegoers.  Typically there are about fifty or more people in attendance at each screening.

To me, living in Gulfport has provided numerous educational opportunities on how to be a better trans ally. Outside of the Gulfport Library, trans residents of Gulfport have also enlightened me on how to better understand and support my trans family members.

A few years ago, I met a woman named Jennifer Edwards, a trans woman and Gulfport resident. She and I became close friends through our association with St. Pete Pride. Jennifer and her trans partner Sandra owned a business in Gulfport called Laser Lovers. Their high tech laser hair removal equipment, most often used for members of the trans community, attracted transgender people from all over the country.

Due to our no-holds-barred relationship, Jennifer once said to me that I could ask her anything. So I took her up on that and asked her every trans-focused question I could think up. She replied with open and honest questions about everything including the details of her transition surgery. It was a turning point for me in my understanding of trans people and I am forever grateful for her candor.

This past Sunday, November 4, I had the privilege of attending the “We Will Not be Erased” rally at Williams Park in St. Petersburg. In addition to throngs of attendees, there were powerful speakers including three city council members. I realized in that moment why that set of parents thought of St. Pete as inclusive.

While I was there, I ran into another member of the Gulfport trans community who had been in attendance at the Library’s opening reception. She was extremely thankful for how supportive the Gulfport Public Library has been to the transgender community.

While we listened to the speakers and chatted about how lucky we were to be living where we live, she mentioned how disappointed she was that more trans people weren’t visible in Gulfport. So where are you my Gulfport trans friends? We are here to love and embrace you! You have nothing to fear in Gulfport. Our national reputation as a home of diversity and inclusion welcomes you.  You belong!