Center on Halsted, a massive LGBT community resource facility on the city’s North Side, announced late last week it has hired a new community liaison to lead expansion of the organization’s programming and outreach specific to the transgender community and its allies.
Jess Scott, a former restaurant owner who currently teaches middle school writing at Chicago Public Schools, said she has agreed to fill the volunteer position and will begin work in an official capacity at the Center this week. Scott identifies as a transgender woman and has no particular preference for gender pronouns, but often uses “she” and “her” for clarity.
The parent of three, activist and former community organizer said she is excited to begin advocating on behalf of the transgender community at the Center, particularly because of the amount of resources she can take advantage of for programming and outreach such as the facility’s performance spaces and full-size gym.
“The Center is just an amazing place,” Scott told Chicago Phoenix. “Just to have all of the resources available at the Center for building, maintaining and enjoying the trans community will be great.”
Scott’s first priority as transgender liaison is to build the concept of family for the transgender community at the Center by hosting events and other programming that invites the family, friends and allies of transgender people, she said.
“Center on Halsted has all these resources, we have the ability to do many activities that everyone can enjoy,” she said. “So why not bring family and friends together and just have a good time, but have it more focused on having the family and friends of transgender people?”
Specifically, one way of bringing the community together as a family of sorts is over dinner, which she said will be one of her first projects.
“I have an idea about doing a monthly ‘spaghetti dinner,'” she said. “And you know, that can be any kind of food — but any way of having people come together and share food and share time together in a way that is not focused on being trans and more focused on having a good time and talking, laughing and playing.”
Scott’s own family has a massive influence on her aspirations at the Center. She has been married to a cisgender woman for 12 years, and together they raise three children, the oldest of whom identifies as transgender. All of them are supportive of her identity as a transgender woman and are excited for her new job.
“Family is the key ingredient to sanity,” Scott said in a recent COH newsletter. “Many trans* people feel isolated when they feel different. But we’re not all that different — we just have our own identities.”
In addition to piloting a monthly dinner, Scott said she has lists of event and program ideas, but was reluctant to share them until she has a chance to run them by Lynnea Karlic, director of community and cultural programs at COH, when she starts this week. Several friends and community members have already called and emailed her to make suggestions. “People are very excited,” she said. “It just feels right.”
“My goal is to keep looking for the holes in what’s out there for transgender programming and to use the Center’s resources to provide a space to reduce the isolation trans people sometimes feel,” she said.
As a relatively new member of the local transgender community, Scott visited several organizations and meetings throughout the city, but couldn’t find the support and sense of family she was looking for — that’s what led her to visit the Center on Halsted.
“I went to one of their — it wasn’t specifically trans, it was volleyball — but I went to just go hang out, and I saw all that they had there to offer, but they needed more programs,” Scott said. “And so I contacted them and said ‘You know, it looks like you could use some more programming.’ They said, ‘Yeah, you’re exactly right we can do more. What do you have in mind?'”
Scott later met with Karlic and was offered the role of liaison.
“I sort of just fell into it,” Scott said. “It was very serendipitous.”
Last November, June LaTrobe, who for years held the volunteer position, resigned in protest of a decision by the Center accept money from the Human Rights Campaign, given its lackluster track record on transgender community issues and inclusiveness. The position was vacant for over four months.
“I am very pleased and happy that someone will be working in that role,” LaTrobe said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the new programs turn out.”
COH Director of Public Relations Tom Elliot said the organization believes it is important to have “an ear to the transgender community,” which will ultimately result in more informed decisions when creating programming and outreach at the Center.
“We have to make people aware of the programs and services and support,” Elliot said. “Jess is a perfect match for us. Building programs around family — that is something that we recognized in the community. We want to create enriching and supportive programs for transgender people.”