Some storm the streets, demanding equal rights for individuals who are marginalized — trans folks, people of color, queer people, refugees. They shout down the detractors and organize protests in the name of equal rights. This is important, and essential to ensuring advocacy for those who don’t always feel they have a voice in society.
There are others who set aside hardline politics at the door, and rather than protest, choose to make a cozy, inviting home for those who feel they don’t have anywhere to turn. The Gender Identity Center is one of those places.
They don’t bring politics into the equation, because they don’t want anyone to feel alienated or unwelcome. What they do is provide a space where trans and nonbinary people can simply be themselves. Without this, all of the protesting and fighting is in vain.
“I regret that we have to exist at all,” lamented Karen Scarpella, PhD, who serves as both executive director and clinical director of the GIC. “We teach folks who are uninformed, misinformed, want to support the community better, go to employers, go to non profits and medical places. To help teach people, that’s advocacy for us. We support what One Colorado does and let them take the lead with activism. While other people are changing the world, we are holding people while we wait for the world to change.”
The GIC exists for many purposes, depending on the needs of the community members who walk through the door.
Much like the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter series, a magical room that changes its function depending on the needs of the people who enter it, the GIC can serve as a therapist’s office, a place to eat lunch and chat with friends, a beauty salon, a school, a refuge, a free clothing boutique, and soon, a doctor’s office.
The inviting front reception room is adjacent to a kitchen, and leading off of it are many, many rooms for intake, therapist’s visits, and more. The therapy rooms are all decorated in different, fun styles to make them more inviting for the nervous first-time visitor. There is a mountain cabin-themed room, a beach-themed room, a safari room, and a relaxing room with soft lighting that is conducive to meditation and deep thought.
While the center does offer practical services such as counseling, recommendations for hormone treatment, support groups, and basic human services, all completely free of charge to the patrons, as well as counseling at a minimal cost, its overall function is to be a place where people can congregate and feel a sense of unity with one another.
“We offer affirmation and confirmation of human worth and dignity,” Scarpella explained. “I think that all the groups and the counseling and services are wonderful, but I think the moment when somebody unsure of themselves and lacking in confidence comes in and sits across from the table with someone and talks about the weather or the Broncos — that’s normal. I think normalizing the spectrum of human variances is what is needed.”
And truly, those who do turn to the center to utilize its services are greeted by a sense of community.
Jane Haas, a trans woman who identifies as bisexual, struggled her whole life with gender and sexual identity. She covered her identity as bi, presenting as gay and finally coming out as bisexual at 36. However, she was still living her life as a man. Haas didn’t come out as trans until she was 57. After nearly six decades without very many resources, she turned to the Center not quite knowing what to expect.
“I went down there and had my intake session and started counseling after I came out and started living full time in my gender identity, but I was still struggling about whether or not I should do hormone replacement therapy, because on a subconscious level I really wanted to but was so afraid of all the risks involved physically,” Haas told OUT FRONT.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to take any kind of medication that’s not necessary, but it became pretty clear during therapy that I really wanted to see what HRT could do for me and I found the kind of support I needed there from my therapist.”
Haas also discovered a lot more than therapy and a recommendation for HRT when she became a part of the family at the GIC. She discovered an entire community.
“One thing my therapist told me that really rang true for me, she said ‘in my experience, the people who have the most success transitioning are the ones who have a lot of support,’ and so I turned to the GIC for that support and I started attending support group meetings regularly, which I still do,” Haas explained. “I also volunteer there; it’s a way to get involved with the community and offer support, receive support. She was right about that one hundred percent. I don’t know what I would have done without the support I’ve gotten from my therapist, the people I’ve met. The whole organization is like a family.”
The GIC offers support groups for trans men and women, non-binary people, and folks who are transitioning or thinking about transitioning. They also offer support to all ages and provide a lot of basic workshops, such as makeup tips for trans women. Therapy is readily accessible at the GIC, and soon, they will expand to include a small clinical room where other medical needs can be met pro-bono. But most of all, they provide a place for those who have felt for so long that they don’t fit in to call home.