ST. LOUIS - For the people who are involved with the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, it’s more than just a resource. It’s a life-saver.
The Metro Trans Umbrella Group, or MTUG, is a nonprofit that serves transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals throughout the Greater St. Louis area. The organization has a variety of services and support groups, as well as opportunities for people to connect with one another.
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“It saves lives, just having the space to exist with others who are like you,” Ramona Riley, MTUG’s volunteer coordinator, said. “It’s a common story that I hear, that people get up to the point where they’re going to start transitioning, and it is literally a choice between transitioning and dying…That is how crucial these things and these spaces are to trans people.”
MTUG offers a range of free services, including a food pantry and STI testing. They provide assistance with legal name changes, and they also distribute gender-affirming clothing as a part of “Alix’s Closet.”
But their support groups are their most popular offering, with participants from all across the region. There are multiple groups available, with each group based on a different identity so people can choose the one that best matches their experience.
For the people who attend these groups, it’s a reassurance that they’re not alone.
“It’s so easy to feel isolated, especially when you’re not even from the city, when you’re from outside the city. But I kept walking into a room of 50 other trans people,” Jackie Thorn, an Alton woman who utilizes MTUG’s services, said. “It’s almost like a religious experience to a degree, at least the first time it happened, because it’s all these people who inherently have a baseline connection and understanding of you that no one else can.”
Thorn is a member of the support group for people on the feminine end of the gender spectrum. She added that while she has many supportive friends outside of the group, there are major benefits to meeting people who can relate to her as a trans woman.
“Even as close as I am with my other friends, there are just certain baseline things that will always be sort of mistranslated or not understood,” Thorn explained. “All of my friends are very supportive. All of them understand me, but they don’t always understand the feelings that I have. So that’s why it’s important to have these people that do just have that straight-up, clear, direct understanding. It’s very valuable.”
Riley estimates that approximately 300 people regularly engage with MTUG. But she noted that a lot of their work goes beyond their services. The organization often hosts events for people in the trans community to connect socially. They recently sponsored a prom night, and they regularly organize picnics, crafting nights, speakers and more.
“We just try to provide social spaces for people to exist with one another,” Riley explained. “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, when they come into one of our spaces, into one of our support groups, that that’s the first time they’ve ever been in a room with so many trans people or nonbinary people or just people who are like them. It really is life-changing.”
In addition to their regular services and events, Riley noted that MTUG is an important resource right now as anti-trans legislation spreads across the U.S. Limits to gender-affirming healthcare and education about LGBTQ+ history or experiences are major themes in recent bills. Riley explained that these laws have demonstrated why groups like MTUG are so necessary.
“Organizations like this do not exist. They’re not very common. It is incredible that MTUG exists right now,” Riley said.
Thorn echoed this, and she encouraged people who feel isolated or scared to seek out groups like MTUG. She added that she drives at least 40 minutes to attend her support group, but it’s worth it.
“Just find out where the people like you congregate, and just try to get there when you can,” Thorn said. “I’ll make that 40 minutes every other week because it would be detrimental in my life to not do it. It would make things in life so much harder and less enjoyable if I didn’t spend those 40 minutes going there just to see the people that I need to see.”
“There’s so many more of us here than you would ever realize,” Thorn said. “You’re not alone, wherever you’re at.”
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