Transgender teens find support in nonprofit SĀFTY

Samantha Koerner, a civil rights attorney of 25 years in police misconduct, questioned her career choice after her daughter Cassie Koerner came out as transgender in March 2018. Questioning whether to go into the legal field for the LGBTQ community, her husband proposed that she start a nonprofit organization instead. 

She took action and founded a nonprofit to help increase mental health support for transgender youth. After reaching out to the Cleveland Magnet Parent Association program, Samantha Koerner partnered with Jill Harris and Gayle Denny in filing for officiating SĀFTY as a nonprofit, calling it SĀFTY for Supportive Allies For Trans Youth. 

SĀFTY aims to eventually provide any service — medical, legal, emotional — for trans youth. As a new organization, their initial focus is to put together a network of therapists and connect students with transportation and free therapy.  

With a board of members consisting of Aydin Olson-Kennedy, the leader of the L.A. Gender Center and Dr. Maurice Garcia, the director of Cedars-Sinai Transgender Surgery and Health Program, SĀFTY’s goal is to progress to aid in changing birth certificates, helping with changing the usage of a certain pronoun, and helping seek information about surgery and hormone therapy.

Using their connections to the Gender Youth Center and Cedars-Sinai, they hope to expand the network of trans youths seeking help. Additionally, they are tapping into support/chat groups on the digital distribution platform, Discord. For now, they’re currently helping out the small community of trans youth-centered at Cleveland Charter High School. 

Samantha Koerner recalled the process she went through in supporting her daughter.

“She needed a lot of support from her family,” Samantha Koerner said. “(We) try to help these kids where they weren’t getting help from their own families.”

Cassie Koerner, the ambassador for SĀFTY shared her thoughts about the stigma transgender youth face.

“A lot of people attribute the [stigma around legitimacy] of gender dysphoria and transgender youth to the high suicide rates, but they fail to connect the level of suicide rates with the un-acceptance in society,” Cassie Koerner said.

Under UCLA’s School of Law, the Williams Institute conducted a study about suicide rates among transgender adults, and found that about 41% of the group had attempted suicide.

Many transgender adults who experienced rejection from family, victimization and/or violence had increased levels of suicide attempts, according to the Williams Institute study. About 57% of the respondents reported family rejection, about 50% to 54% experienced harassment/bullying, and 60% to 67% experienced harassment of a sexual and/or violent manner from law enforcement. 

“I had to deal with a lot of it on my own… That’s the hardest part: other people won’t accept that (my gender), and that puts a strain on your mental health,” Solla Deitrick, a client of SĀFTY said.

An American Journal of Preventative Medicine study found that 78% of gender minority students suffered either depression, anxiety, self-injury, and suicidality. Thus, the research concluded a need for a reduction of mental health inequities and a need to identify protective factors.

SĀFTY plans also to help educate parents in the legal and emotional process, as well as students who are questioning or beginning the process of transitioning. Currently, while funds are at a roadblock, in about three to six months, they plan on launching their website, where different trans youth stories and informational resources will be available to parents and youth alike. 

“I’m really grateful for them, for helping people out. I think that education is super important if you’re going through questioning your identity. I don’t know if it’s easier, but it’s way better to have,” Deitrick said.

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