By Megan Wadding, September 2016 Issue.
There was a new walking group in this year’s Phoenix Pride parade. They wore pink or blue t-shirts bearing their name: Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization (AZTYPO).
While they’ve existed in one form or another for quite some time, this support group for parents and family members of transgender and gender-nonconforming children is just getting started.
According to Robert Chevaleau, AZTYPO leadership board member, the group was started between five and six years ago by Tammy Janssen to support her son, Max. (Editor’s Note: Max was featured on the cover of Echo’s 2014 Back-To-School issue before leaving for college).
According to Tami Stass, a group facilitator and the initial contact for new members, Janssen started AZTYPO as a support group specifically for parents because there wasn’t anything else quite like it in the Valley.
“[Janssen] was trying to find support for herself, so she decided to make her own group,” Staas explained, adding that AZTYPO split amicably from Trans*Spectrum, the organization that they had been partnered with from the start, late in the summer of 2015.
“They were going in a different direction,” Staas explained. “We wanted to keep the focus on the parents.”
When Janssen relocated to Florida earlier this year, she left the group in the hands of a few members of the Parent Advisory Board, Chevaleau explained.
“Since then,” he added, “AZTYPO has left the umbrella of Trans*Spectrum and started out on our own, as a nonprofit corporation here in Arizona.”
According to Staas, AZTYPO currently has more than 120 members and continues to grow. While monthly meeting attendance varies, with a slight drop in the summer, Staas said she talks to two to three newly interested families every month.
The meetings, which usually last about two hours, are completely parent-run, with the facilitators leading the programming on a rotating basis.
“We have a core group of parents who show up at every meeting, and we have other parents that come and go,” Staas said. “We’ve had some meetings where we were buckling at the seems, and then sometimes we have smaller groups of about 20 parents. Larger groups are maybe 60 to 70 parents.”
According to Staas, the group’s most important asset is the parents themselves.
“We have parents of older kids who have been there and parents of younger kids who are going through it,” Staas said. “We have a lot of, ‘Hey, this worked for me, this didn’t,’ or ‘this is what I encountered, this is a great doctor,’ or ‘this didn’t work out so well.’”
Staas stressed the importance of getting the word out about AZTYPO so that more and more families can benefit from these conversations.
Spreading the word about the group, Staas said, resulted in a visit by Dr. Veenod Chulani, leader of Phoenix Children’s Adolescent Medicine Program, who attended a monthly meeting as a guest speaker and offered a great deal of information and support to the teens and children involved.
“[Dr. Chulani] has come and talked to our group and we’ve given them our information to give to their clients and patients,” Staas said. “I know when my son first started transitioning, there was one endocrinologist. Now we have choices. That was four years ago.”
Along with the core parent group, there is also a group for younger children and a group for teens.
“We have a space [for children tweens and younger] with volunteers from different groups, such as one n ten,” Staas said. “It’s like a play group for the little kids – they tie-dye shirts and make artwork.”
There is also a peer-facilitated group for ages 13 to 18.
“The older kids who have aged out are the ones who facilitate [this group] and figure out what needs talked about so they can get the other kids going,” Staas said. “They talk about their stuff and their resources. It’s their space.”
Staas’ son, Sam, is one of the facilitators.
The format of the monthly meetings typically includes an introduction, where everyone has a few minutes to talk about who they are, who their child is and why they’re there.
“The discussion organically flows from that. Sometimes we’ll bring up events that happened, like Orlando, the bathroom bill in North Carolina or legislation we face in Arizona,” Staas explained. “Oftentimes our talks revolves around school, resources, name changes, doctors, things that we parents are dealing with on a daily basis.”
It’s during this time of year especially, when students are getting ready to go back to school, that Staas said the conversation gravitates toward bathrooms.
“Bathrooms are always a huge issue,” Staas said. “Basically, how we can approach schools with the Title IX legislation and say, ‘these are our rights … and my kid can use the bathroom they choose … by law.’ Because a lot of times schools will say no and that it’s against the law, and they don’t know.”
Being informed parents, she added, is critical to being able to support our kids.
According to Staas, AZTYPO is also working on programming to help support educators on how to make schools more inclusive and how to work with transgender students and their families.
As an educator herself, Staas explained that teachers love their students and, in most cases, just need to know how to support them.
“Where we run into problems is administrators and district heads,” she explained, “because they’re so far removed from the classroom [and] because they’re so caught up in ‘what if’s.’”
A Safe Space
Due to safety and privacy concerns, Staas said the group’s monthly meeting spot is never announced publicly.
“For some of these kids, this is their only safe place where they can be themselves. That’s huge,” Staas said. “We try to really honor that and protect them in that. That’s why we don’t advertise where our meetings are and we do screening calls for everyone who attends. It’s all about keeping our kids safe.”
Although AZTYPO does not have religious affiliation, a church donates a space to them each month so that the group has a safe space to congregate.
“We work out of a free space, so unfortunately we don’t have unlimited facilities,” she said. It also has a unique challenge because we’re just a group of parents getting together. The facilities we use are donated to us.”
The group includes families, specifically parents, who are at various levels of “out-ness” and acceptance.
“Most of our parents … are on board,” Staas explained, “But whether they’re out in the community or out socially varies.”
Still, the group is steadily planning more outings together. This includes a youth art show in the spring and a youth retreat in the fall (email [email protected] for details).
“It’s so hard, with so many people, to get everyone together and to find the space where we can do that and where our kids can be comfortable and be [them]selves,” Staas said. “We want … our kids to not have to live in fear and be able to advertise where our locations are, but we aren’t there yet.”
As a “parent-run, parent-driven” group, Staas said it is up to the group to determine where they’d like to see themselves heading in the future.
“We’d like to eventually see an organization like ours go away because the necessity is [no longer] there,” Staas said.
In the meantime, Staas invites any parents of transgender or gender non-conforming children who are looking for support, resources or community, to give AZTYPO a shot.
“AZTYPO is a super great group of people who just want the best for their kids [and] love their kids unconditionally,” Staas said. “I’m constantly amazed at the stories I hear and the support I see. It gives me great hope for the future.”
Parents interested in finding out more about Arizona Trans* Youth and Parent Organization are invited to email [email protected], visit aztypo.org or search “Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization” on Facebook.
Q&A with an AZTYPO parent
Cherise Basques, and her 7-year-old daughter, has been involved with Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization for the past two years.
Basques, who initially joined the group thinking it would be helpful to talk to other parents in a situation similar to hers, took a few minutes to share what her experience with the group has been like.
Echo: How did you first hear about AZTYPO and how did you get involved?
Basques: I was looking for a therapist and I found one n ten online, I called them for therapist suggestions and they told me about the support group.
Echo: How has AZTYPO, and the support it provides, made a difference in your life and your child’s life?
Basques: It was such a relief to know there were others going through the same thing [we were]. It helped us to not feel crazy or like bad parents or that something was wrong with our child. It gave us the confidence to make sure our child was treated equally in school. We can relate to the families in the group. My child looks forward to the meetings, [which] give her a place to fully be herself.
Echo: What would you like interested parents to know about the group?
Basques: The group is very supportive of families, wherever they happen to be on the journey – if they are just starting to ask questions about gender nonconforming or if they have transitioned. Each family’s situation is unique and everyone needs to be able to do what is right for them. The group offers a place learn from others’ experiences and be a part of a supportive community.