A seven-year-old child was acting out, and having extreme behavior challenges at school. The parents were worried, but didn’t know what to do. When a family crisis occurred, information gathered through the crisis revealed that the child might be struggling with gender identity.
It was after this that the family came to the Gender Identity Center of Colorado (GIC). “We did counseling to make sure that the child was not responding to the family crisis,” says Dr. Karen Scarpella, executive director and program director of GIC. “and it was determined that he was a trans boy.” From there, counselors at GIC suggested that he begin dressing as a boy one day per week at home. Through the center, he met another seven-year-old who had similar feelings. “He thought he was the only one who thought this way, so it was affirming for him,” Scarpella says.
A volunteer from GIC visited the child’s school, and set up a transition plan. “He started to be happy, he was functioning better, and the school noticed a huge change in his behavior,” Scarpella says.
First organized in 1978, GIC’s mission is to provide support for people of all gender identities and expressions, as well as to their spouses, significant others, parents, and siblings. In the early years of the organization, they offered just a couple support groups per week based out of people’s living rooms and basements. In recent years, they”ve operated out of a converted one-bedroom apartment, but just moved to a larger space in March. In the future, they hope to create a family, children, and teen center, as well as a counseling room geared more toward children. “We have the supplies, but right now our therapists carry them around in totes,” Scarpella says. They also have recently started offering one-on-one mentoring for children.
Currently, GIC leads a free kids” group for ages three to 13 at the center every other Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Parents can congregate in a common area while their children participate in the group. The group starts with 15 minutes of social time, followed by circle time in which children introduce themselves with their chosen name and the pronoun they prefer to use. They cover topics like “I’m mad and what does that mean?” followed by a snack and a craft. Siblings of transgender kids and children of transgender parents are welcome, too.
“We are not a conversion centersometimes one parent is supportive, but another is frightened,” says Scarpella. “We explore what they are feeling in an affirming way.”
HOW FAMILIES CAN HELP
GIC is operated completely by volunteers, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., seven days per week. Adults are needed to answer the phone, greet people at the front desk, and help with accounting and technology. Families can volunteer together by serving food or handing out information at events throughout the year. During Denver PrideFest in Civic Center Park, June 17-18, families can help at GIC’s booth by passing out flyers and business cards. Contact GIC for more details.
Gender Identity Center of Colorado