On May 1, the first Transgender Support Group began at San Quentin Prison with two mental health clinicians and me as an adviser on Wednesdays in the hospital, so the transgenders can support each other as a group.
The group meets from 1:30-3 p.m. on the second floor of the hospital with J. Lopez and J. Spohn, who both have a master’s degrees in social work. Lopez has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology.
“The transgender group is needed because this population of people is marginalized, and the group offers a place for medical and mental health issues to be addressed as a group,” Lopez said. “The transgenders are more than worthy of their own group.”
The group begins each week with everyone doing a check in to see how all are doing. The number of trans- genders varies between 10 and 16, who attend the group depending on other activities they may have that day, such as work, school or other events that may come up on the day of the group.
The curriculum for the group centers around such topics as acceptance, self-esteem, transgender advocacy. No subject is off limits for the group.
Spohn said, “The group has taken off really well, as everyone has amplified each
other to grow stronger.” He also said, “Other groups take a lot longer to achieve this sense of belonging.”
The support group has also in such a short time developed allies on the out- side from Kay Temple Kirk, who works at the Gender Health Center in Sacramento. She has sent resource packets to the group and has given her support to the group for any future mate- rials the group may need.
Also, the Prison Law Office has sent materials in for the transgender group for transgender advocacy while incarcerated.
The support group allows anyone who wishes to speak about their transition.
While speaking to the group, Tanya Rose, a trans- gender at San Quentin, said this about her transition: “Sometimes you have to be an advocate for yourself and pay attention to what your body is telling you. I was ready for hormones and that my mom is my biggest cheerleader, and loves me.”
Kayla Chavez, another transgender, said, “I don’t seem so alone because the stories of other girls, transcends into feeling a sense of belonging.
“I began my transition a year ago, and that I see we are all cut from the same cloth in the beginning.”
Holly Gustafson, who attends the support group, was asked what it means to be a transgender. Holly said, “Someone that’s beautiful inside and out.”
Lopez was asked what it took to get the transgender support group up and running, and how has the response been from the mental health staff and administration.
“It was quite simple,” she said. “Myself and Mr. Spohn came up with a proposal and presented it to management. The response has been positive from supervisors, management and fellow clinicians.”
Lopez also said that, so far, medical staff has sat in on the group as well as Associate Warden T. Allen. “The group has scheduled other guests from the outside as well,” she added.
Spohn said, “I hope the group will be a permanent fixture at San Quentin, because the transgenders will always be a part of the prison.”
He also said, “I do think the transgenders are worthy of a support group and they know the value of be- ing together as a group. And they can all learn from each other.”
Lopez said, “If anyone identifies as transgender and wants to be added to the sup- port group, they can send a form 22 to J.Lopezor J. Spohn to mental health.”
She added, “It’s in the hopes of support and community advocacy and to understand how transgenders are important to shape the changes of the community.”