Ponticelli: Bono a voice for the transgendered

Local trans rights  activist discusses DWTS cast member


Lillith Ponticelli
Local transgender rights activist Lillith Ponticelli,  founder of the North East Transwomen’s Alliance.


Photo by Sarah Thomas
By Sarah Thomas /  salem@wickedlocal.com
Posted Sep  15, 2011 @ 03:41 PM
Last update  Sep 15, 2011 @ 04:04 PM
Salem —

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