Band Together: Creating Community For Trans People With Genderbands
Activism, Outreach and Education
Genderbands began with Founder Ian Giles selling decorative wristbands to their community to pay for their top surgery. Now, the nonprofit, which helps transgender individuals pay for transition-related costs, services three countries, hosts the annual Utah Trans Pride Festival and has awarded $91,500 in grants since March 2021. As Giles says, “That’s a lot of growth in just six years!”
Next to political and social barriers, Giles says that financial complications are the biggest hurdle for people looking to medically transition—top surgery often starts around $7,000, but Giles has seen it grow to $12,000. To help with these costs, Genderbands offers grants for both top surgery and Hormone Replacement Therapy and provides free binders to the local trans community. “I’ve also spent a lot of time talking with people, walking them through the process of arranging surgery or name changes,” Giles says. “It can be overwhelming, so I want to make it as smooth as possible for them. I want them to know they aren’t alone in this.”
“Next to political and social barriers, Giles says financial complications are the biggest hurdle for people looking to medically transition.”
With high unemployment rates in the trans community—especially for trans people of color—medical transitions can be completely inaccessible. Most of the people who apply for grants are between 18 and 25; most who apply for free binders are minors. Many applicants are unable to work or face unsupportive families. “When I first started Genderbands for my own surgery, I was in college and a single parent. I didn’t have any money to spare. I know what it’s like,” Giles says. “I just want to give everyone a chance [and] give them that break they deserve. I’ve had grant recipients tell me that they had given up, [that] they only applied for our grants because their friend made them. And now, because of Genderbands, they are free.”
This year, Genderbands is expanding its grants to include wardrobe purchases as well, but financial aid is just the beginning for the organization. Genderbands offers weekly support gatherings for transgender youth and adults, along with bimonthly support gatherings for parents and trans people over 40, providing a casual space to discuss shared issues and experiences. “Everyone has a chance to talk about what’s on their mind and have people listen who get it,” Giles says. “We have people in our lives who are empathetic to our struggles, but they can’t truly understand [us] unless they are trans too. So by coming to our support gatherings, people can feel heard and understood.”
“And now, because of Genderbands, they are free.”
Without acceptance and support for trans individuals, everyday life can feel alienating, especially in a highly polarized state such as Utah—community can be a lifesaving mental health resource. “I think it’s very important to be visible in a conservative area. Because of where we are, many people are forced to stay in the closet,” Giles says. “Loneliness is so hard. I’m visible so they don’t have to be alone.”
While COVID threw a wrench into most of Genderbands’ 2020 and 2021 Pride events, that isn’t slowing them down. Giles is taking what Genderbands has learned from last year’s virtual festival and fine tuning it for the third annual Utah Trans Pride Festival, which will be hosted August 14 on YouTube and Twitch. True to the theme of “CELEBRATE,” Giles hopes the attendees don’t just feel seen. “Sometimes we focus too much on the hardships of being transgender,” they say. “I want folks watching Utah Trans Pride to forget about those hardships, have a good time and be inspired for the future. I want them to see all the support they’ve got.”
“Loneliness is so hard. I’m visible so they don’t have to be alone.”
Speaking of support, the grants Genderbands offer are entirely dependent on community donations. Right now, most grants can only pay for part of surgeries, but Giles aims to cover full costs—and expand to all kinds of gender-affirming surgeries. To donate, go to genderbands.org/donate or check out their pride merchandise at genderbands.org/store.
Since not every trans person wants to medically transition, Giles aims to eventually cover non-medical aspects of transition, such as name and gender marker changes. “We also hope to have a team of insurance experts who can help folks fight their insurance for coverage,” Giles says. “Many times, even if the insurance covers surgery, they will still deny it. You have to fight for it. It can be a long, frustrating, and confusing process. We want to help with that.”
There are two big obstacles facing Genderbands: money and hands. Volunteers and staff are always needed, and more information can be found at genderbands.org/volunteer. Some positions can be done outside Utah, and Genderbands is especially interested in those who can offer regular time commitments. Genderbands also accepts gently used binders. “I understand everyone is busy and you may not have extra funds to donate—that’s okay! There’s something very simple you can do to support Genderbands and it’s totally free: Share our stuff!,” Giles says. Connect with Genderbands on Instagram and Twitter @genderbands. For Utah-specific media, check out @genderbandsutah on Instagram.