Local trans rights activist discusses DWTS cast member
When author, singer, and activist Chaz Bono makes his debut on the premiere of the 13th season of Dancing With The Stars this Monday, for many Americans it will be the first time they knowingly welcome a transgendered person into their living rooms. Though the announcement of Bono’s inclusion in the show created controversy among some media pundits and viewers, local advocates for trans rights hope that the increase in visibility will improve the lives of those they serve.
“The Chaz (Bono)s of the world help us to have a voice,” said Lillith Ponticelli, founder of the North East Transwomen’s Alliance Inc., the only active organization in the region dedicated to serving transsexual and transgendered individuals. “Some people will say they have a problem with him, but we need more people like him out there.”
Ponticelli is not only an advocate for the rights of trans people on the North Shore, she is also a transsexual woman, and she spends her days educating and connecting trans people to vital services.
“There is a lot of things people don’t realize about the lives transgendered people lead,” Ponticelli said. “There are misconceptions that we are all gay, or all involved in sex work. We are more likely to be discriminated against by employers and even doctors, and more likely to be the targets of sexual violence. There’s a lot of work to do for trans rights, even in open and accepting communities like Salem.”
Ponticelli formed NETA in 2009, two years after transitioning full-time. For the first five decades of her life, she lived as a man, married with children and a career in the Marines and later as an information technology contractor.
“The average age for a transgendered person becoming aware of their identity is around 6, and that was true with me as well,” Ponticelli said. “But I stayed in the closet for years. Then in 2007, my children were grown, and it got to the point where I couldn’t hide anymore.”
Ponticelli began presenting as a woman in the workplace and legally changed her identity. Since then, she has lost many things — her job and home in Beverly, and contact with many members of her family — but gained a vocation.
“I went into this naïve, and didn’t realize how much I would lose,” Ponticelli said. “But as I was doing the research to find services I could use for myself, I realized other people could benefit from my experiences. That’s when I started NETA.”
Though NETA’s services are specifically tailored for transwomen, Ponticelli said that many transmen and intersexed individuals have taken advantage of her services as well.
“We have an open door policy and great relationships with trans-positive therapists and other community service groups in the region,” Ponticelli said.
NETA was recently incorporated, and Ponticelli said she is working on getting 501(c)3 status.
“My ultimate dream is to open a transwomen’s group home that would allow homeless transwomen a safe environment, and I’d like it to be in Salem,” Ponticelli said.
NETA may soon be joined by an affiliated group for transmen that is the subject of a feasibility study by PRISM LGBT Community Health in Beverly.
“We’re in a discussion now where we’re trying to assess the needs of our community and find out if that’s a service we should offer, or if maybe it should be done by someone else,” said Brian King, program director. “If it will fit into our programming and mission, we’ll definitely do it.”
King said there was a real need for services that specifically target transgendered people.
“Just this year, the Massachusetts Tri-County Transgender Needs Assessment was completed by researchers at Salem State University,” King said. “It stated that trangendered people are more likely to suffer from depression, sexual violence and discrimination.”
Ponticelli said that she hoped Bono, as well as other transgendered and transsexual celebrities, would help people become more open-minded in the future.
“We don’t want to be understood as a novelty, but just as a fact,” Ponticelli said. “What would the world be like if all the norms were reversed? People in the majority would have to worry about fitting in. We just want to be.”
Read more: Ponticelli: Bono a voice for the transgendered – Salem, Massachusetts – Salem Gazette http://www.wickedlocal.com/salem/archive/x519378995/Ponticelli-Bono-a-voice-for-the-transgendered#ixzz1Z4JUOA2s