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Transgender survey revealed in Benton Harbor

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -

A statewide campaign to educate people about the transgender community made a stop in Berrien County on Wednesday.

“We need to start talking about the many real challenges faced daily by trans Michiganders,” said Mary Jo Schnell, executive director of Benton Harbor’s Out Center.

The details of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were laid out at the Out Center Wednesday morning.

“It reveals the reality of the cruelty and the mistreatment of transgender people across the nation and here in Michigan,” said Schnell.

Nearly 900 transgender Michiganders were among the almost 28,000 who participated in the nationwide survey.

In Michigan, one-third of responders said they were living in poverty at the time of the survey.

Other statistics include 19-percent saying they were unemployed, one-third saying they had experienced homelessness, and 79-percent reporting they had experienced some form of mistreatment in school.

“As communities, we really lose out on the creative and intellectual power of a lot of our population when we discard their right to be equals,” said Natalie Mooney.

Mooney is a Berrien County mom whose son, Simon, is transgender.

“The process of coming out for our young people is just as confusing for them as it is for the parents and the community who love them,” she said.

Mooney was joined Wednesday morning by local religious leaders who are also calling for acceptance of everyone in Michiana.

“I believe that Jesus calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, of hope, of faith, and of love,” said Reverend David Stout. “And if transgendered people are afraid of the Christian community, it means that the roots of our faith are not in Jesus, they’re someplace else.”

“This survey points out multiple ways that transgender persons are denied the basic rights of employment, good health care, and homes,” said Pastor Dani Veenstra. “It’s up to me, as a follower of Jesus and all of the faith community, to stand up, to speak out, and to work, in every way that we possibly can, to make sure that the basic human rights are offered to all who are marginalized.”

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey is the largest to ever be done.

“Equality Michigan” is working with local organizations like the Out Center to share the details of it, in hopes of informing communities and prompting change.

“We want LGBT people to feel as at home here as they would in the big cities where there are amazing, thriving communities who support them,” said Schnell.

To read the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, click here.

For the report specific to the state of Michigan, click here.

If you or a loved is coming out, or if you want to learn more about the LGBTQ community, the Out Center in Benton Harbor has a ton of events and resources available.

There is an LGBT Adult Support Group that meets every Monday night from 7 to 9 p.m.; admission is free.

There is a Transgender Support Group that meets the first Thursday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m.; admission is free.

There is a Teen Pride Group that meets the third Saturday of each month.

There are also drop-in hours at the Out Center every Tuesday through Friday from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 12 to 5 p.m.

New to the Out Center is ‘The Pastor is in,’ where Pastor Veenstra is available from 3:30 to 6 p.m. to examine the intersection of LGBT issues and people’s faith.

There’s also the LGBTQ Education Program the center hosts throughout the year.

Lastly, with June being Pride Month for the LGBTQ community, the Out Center will celebrate ‘Lake Effect Pride’ at the Pebblewood Country Club in Bridgman on Friday, June 16 from 7 to 11 p.m.

Visit the Out Center’s website for more information.

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