Transgender Michigan Co-Founder Reflects on 25 Years of Activism and Inclusion
(Mary Dupuis, Dec. 23, 2022)
Ferndale, MI – Transgender Michigan (TGMI) was founded in 1997 by Rachel Crandall-Crocker and Susan Crocker, and has been dedicated to helping improve the lives of transgender people living in Michigan for the past 25 years.
Reflecting on their personal experiences as transgender-identified individuals, both Crandall-Crocker and Crocker felt a strong desire to find a way to unite the transgender community in Michigan.
Crandall-Crocker said she had always known she was transgender, but had initially tried to deny it in hopes it would pass.
“I got married as a guy,” Crandall-Crocker said. “I was hoping that that would make all the trans stuff go away. It did not, and I ended up getting a divorce and I lost my job, I was a psychotherapist in a hospital. I really lost everything. I didn’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else so I got the idea for an organization called Transgender Michigan.”
However, Crandall-Crocker’s idea was met by skepticism in its formulative stages.
“A lot of people said that we didn’t really need it,” Crandall-Crocker said. “And I said, ‘Oh yes we do.’ There are so many lonely trans people out there and no one knows what the other person is doing.”
Thus Crandall-Crocker set to work with Crocker and TGMI was made a reality. Soon enough it became a site filled with transgender information and events from throughout the state.
Since its inception, the organization has sought to provide numerous services and programs to better service the transgender community and aims to remedy the social injustices they face.
A specific way TGMI has worked against this social injustice is by being the driving force behind the addition of transgender identity to the anti-discrimination policy in the City of East Lansing, Michigan.
One of the programs TGMI has brought to the community is a traveling discussion forum entitled, “LeT’s ChaT AbouT” to allow transgender individuals, allies, partners, friends and family the opportunity to discuss topics of need and interest to the transgender community.
In addition to this, TGMI has dedicated time to supplying the community with educational resources to inform them of topics important and relevant to the transgender community. They have produced six educational brochures; a “Terms and Definitions” brochure; a brochure for allies to the transgender community; a brochure for significant others of transgender people; a brochure for Transgender Day of Remembrance; a brochure chronicling transgender history and a pamphlet outlining the ways HIV/AIDS impacts the transgender community.
“(Educating) is what we do a lot of,” Crandall-Crocker said. “We educate organizations and churches and agencies and police departments all about trans issues.”
TGMI also seeks to be involved in the community by hosting and attending Pride events throughout the state and co-sponsoring a Transgender Town Hall Meeting with the Human Rights Campaign.
Crandall-Crocker said TGMI has also hosted its own events, such as Trans Pride in the Park for over 20 years, a health fair and parties.
However, TGMI’s reach goes beyond education and events.
The organization also works to support transgender individuals in crisis situations. Crandall-Crocker runs the TGMI 24-hour crisis intervention help line, the first transgender help line in the U.S., at 855-345-8464.
In addition to this, Crandall-Crocker organized the International Transgender Day of Visibility recognized every year on March 31 since 2009.
She said one of her driving forces behind creating the day was because the only other day dedicated to transgender people was the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20.
Crandall-Crocker said while Transgender Day of Remembrance is important to remember the dead, she also wanted a day to celebrate the living.
“Sometimes I cannot believe I’m the one who started it,” Crandall-Crocker said. “It’s even in countries where being trans is against the law. However, it’s still there. Some people are willing to put their safety on the line to celebrate this very important day. I wasn’t expecting it to become as big as it did and it’s getting larger and larger every year.”
To start the process she contacted trans leaders across the globe on Facebook. For the first year it wasn’t widely known, however it quickly gained traction and is now known around the world.
“The reason it got so big was because obviously I wasn’t the only one who wanted it, right?” Crandall-Crocker said. “In fact I got the idea a few years before I started it. However, I didn’t want to be the one who started it, I was waiting someone else. And then finally I thought, ‘Well if no one else is going to do it I’m going to do it.’”
She said starting this day of visibility for the transgender community was important to her because she recognizes how harmful feeling isolated and alone can be.
“There are a lot of suicides in our community,” Crandall-Crocker said. “A lot of people feel like they’re all alone and that they’re never going to be happy. And honestly that’s exactly how I felt. Transgender Michigan, and visibility day, is saying, ‘Well wait a minute, we are a family all around Michigan and all around the world.’ That’s why it’s important. And also it gives people a chance to be proud.”
Crandall-Crocker said since coming out and creating TGMI 25 years ago, things have gotten much better for the transgender community. She said as time goes on it’s becoming more widely accepted to come out at a younger age.
While there is still backlash against the community, Crandall-Crocker said it’s encouraging to see transgender people rising above it.
“It isn’t really stopping people from being their true selves and that’s what it’s all about – being who we really are,” Crandall-Crocker said. “When I was growing up I felt an awful lot of shame and I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way. That’s why we started everything we did and we’re really proud of what we’ve done.”
As TGMI celebrates it’s 25th anniversary and all that it’s done, it’s still constantly adapting to assist the transgender community in the current challenges it faces. One of these challenges is homelessness in the transgender community.
TGMI has already taken some strides to help combat this issue. Alongside Affirmations, Green House Gender Dignity Project, and Transgender Detroit, TGMI begame a part of a “Coalition of Organizations to Tackle Homelessness.”
Supported by a grand from the Arcus Foundation, TGMI has provided training and materials to homeless shelters that are opening their doors to the transgender homeless community.
Crandall-Crocker said it’s important to her that the community knows that visibility doesn’t just belong to her, but to every single member of the transgender community to celebrate and be proud of.
“We are like everyone else,” Crandall-Crocker said. “We are just trying to lead an honest life. There are a lot more similarities than differences.”
Learn more about Transgender Michigan at https://www.transgendermichigan.org/