Local Support Group Offers Care For Trans Individuals
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Two local therapists have made it their mission to provide support for transgender individuals in the Manitowoc area.

In February 2015, Georgeann Knier and her husband Phillip formed a transgender support group within Family Dynamic Solutions of Manitowoc to provide a safe place for local trans individuals to share their experiences and learn from each other.

“We want to give trans individuals in the community the ability to talk about their experiences and to help each other out,” Georgeann Knier said. “So many people come in saying, ‘I thought I was the only one,’ and we just want to be a support group and a resource group for them.”

This support comes at a time when transgender individuals in the public eye are beginning to speak out about issues surrounding many trans people.

Donning a white gown, glimmering earrings and a glamorous hairstyle, Caitlyn Jenner took the stage in front of hundreds of world-renowned sports celebrities at the annual ESPYs Wednesday, July 15.

At the ceremony, Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage after enduring a long struggle to publicly come out as a transgender woman.

In her acceptance speech, Jenner did more than express her gratitude for receiving the award. She took her opportunity on stage to shed light on a widely underreported issue across the nation: violence against transgender individuals.

“They’re getting bullied, they’re getting beaten up, they’re getting murdered, they’re committing suicide,” Jenner said.

According to a study by The Williams Institute, 41 percent of trans individuals in the United States have reported attempting suicide at some point in their lives, compared to 4.6 percent of the general U.S. population. The study also provided evidence of higher rates of sexual assault, physical abuse, harassment and homelessness among the trans community.

The support group created by the Kniers aims to combat trends of such violence and to connect trans individuals in their fight for acceptance.

The group consists of eight local transgender individuals between the ages of 14 and 65. The group helps trans individuals in the area deal with feelings of depression, isolation and confusion about their gender identity.

Georgeann and Phillip Knier started the group after the couple, both therapists with Family Dynamic Solutions, heard word of the unexpectedly high number of trans people in the area.

“Surprisingly enough, a lot of therapists were talking and we started realizing that everybody had a trans patient,” Georgeann Knier said. “I did not realize how many trans there were in Manitowoc. That really surprised me, and so we decided to form this group.”

The support group is reserved only for transgender people, fostering an environment that encourages open discussion and expression among the patients. However, spouses, parents and siblings are invited to join the meetings every couple of months for the group’s “family days.”

By uniting local transgender individuals, families and therapists, the group aims to combat the nationally prevalent issue of violence against trans people.

One incident of such violence occurred just last month, when 17-year-old transgender female Mercedes Williamson was found stabbed to death in a field in George County, Mississippi. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Williamson is among at least nine transgender people in the United States who have allegedly been murdered in 2015.

Georgeann Knier said stories of such violence have instilled fear among local trans individuals and their families.

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“We had a mother come for one of our family days saying that she was worried her child was going to be beat up or killed for being transgender here in Manitowoc,” Georgeann Knier said. “That is a very big concern.”

Manitowoc has not seen any deaths by murder or suicide within the trans community. However, Georgeann Knier said the depression rate among trans individuals in the Manitowoc area is staggering.

“There is a lot of depression among transgender individuals in the community,” Georgeann Knier said. “Many people feel like they can’t come out to their families or are afraid of being chastised by their families for coming out, and that causes a lot of these feelings.”

Georgeann Knier said the support group tackles these issues by both group discussion and individual counseling.

“The group therapy is group support,” Georgeann Knier said. “A lot of these people have similar experiences, and this gives them the opportunity to share those experiences and learn from each other.

“Individually, we can talk about things that are specific to each individual person, such as how they are treated by their families, or problems such as depression,” Georgeann Knier said.

While the Kniers are trying to do their part to fight transgender violence and aid its victims on a local level, Georgeann Knier said this is an issue that needs attention on a larger scale.

“I think Caitlyn expressed what is needed, and that’s respect,” Georgeann Knier said. “I understand that people are afraid and don’t understand it, but they need education on the topic. We have to learn in this country that everybody’s different and nobody’s pushing their beliefs. They’re just being who they are.”

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