GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Trans Foundation plans to grow its programming via new office space and a full-time, paid executive director position for the first time in the nonprofit’s seven-year history after being entirely volunteer-run.
The foundation hired a part-time support staff member and moved into a physical office space at the end of 2022 that the nonprofit shares with the Grand Rapids Pride Center in the city’s Eastown neighborhood. The nonprofit’s executive director, Ximón Kittok, also was hired in an official, full-time capacity in January.
The Grand Rapids Trans Foundation is trans-led and serves as a resource to transgender and nonbinary people in Kent County. The organization facilitates two main programs: a name-change service called “Update!” as well as an academic scholarship program. The nonprofit raises money to fund and award scholarships to trans and nonbinary students to pursue their education goals.
This year the Grand Rapids Trans Foundation will mainly focus on growing these two programs, but it also will roll out a new community building opportunity for trans people in West Michigan, Kittok told MiBiz.
“We are very excited by the opportunity to grow in this way,” Kittok said. “We were really lucky that another LGBTQ organization here in town, the Pride Center, offered us their back office space. That has been a really fruitful partnership between our two organizations.”
There is overlap in the communities that the Pride Center and the Trans Foundation serve, but there is no duplication in services, Kittok said. Kittok was one of the founders of the organization in December 2015, and has led the nonprofit in a volunteer capacity until this year.
“The reason we started (the Grand Rapids Trans Foundation) and didn’t just have a scholarship underneath another foundation is because we really believed Grand Rapids could do better by its trans community,” Kittok said. “The trans community specifically gets buried and pushed under the rug in a lot of queer spaces, and we wanted to make sure the trans community was supported.”
The Grand Rapids Pride Center’s programming is crucial and has historically centered around support groups and social groups, Kittok said. The Trans Foundation focuses more on providing direct financial assistance to the trans community by walking trans people through the arduous and expensive name-change process and providing financial assistance for education and other career training.
“A lot of the trans community is impoverished in a financial way and that’s why we focus on direct financial support,” Kittok said. “We also decided to focus on education scholarships because we think that is a good way to get people into a more financially stable space.”
The number of people living in poverty in the U.S. has decreased since the start of the pandemic, but LGBTQ people continue to experience poverty more frequently than non-LGBTQ people, according to an LGBTQ poverty study compiled by the UCLA Williams Institute.
The amount of money and scholarships that the Grand Rapids Trans Foundation has been able to award to students has grown over the years, Kittok said. Last year the nonprofit awarded scholarships to seven students totaling $13,500. Over the past seven years, the organization has awarded a total of $64,000 in scholarships to trans students. This year, the organization plans to award $15,000, Kittok said.
“We do have a lot of cisgender allies that volunteer for us, but we are trans-led and the academic scholarship selection committee that decides who gets the scholarships is 100 percent made up of trans and nonbinary folks — it’s really important for us to make those decisions,” Kittok said.
The foundation also recently put more funding into its name-change program and shifted the service from a workshop model to a one-on-one process, Kittok said. Many transgender and nonbinary people choose to change their given name to better align with their gender. The process of officially changing your name can be time consuming and cost nearly $400 in Kent County. The process involves fingerprinting, a court filing fee, paper publication fee and birth certificate name change fee.
“Our workshops were still good, but it has been really delightful to chat with each person individually and provide people with really strong support where they really feel like there is someone who is there and will walk them through the entire process,” Kittok said.
Especially in today’s political climate, it is important to highlight resources specifically for trans people in the community, Kittok added.
“This year we’re seeing record levels of scapegoating towards the trans community and a lot of really negative and harmful legislation and demonization of trans experiences,” Kittok said. “I think it’s really important to have a trans-led organization pushing narratives that are affirming and supportive in the midwest.”
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