Logan Pierce (he/him) is a Chicago native committed to working with LGBTQ+ youth in a one-of-a-kind mentoring program. Housed within Lurie Children's Gender & Sex Development Program, the TransMentor Program pairs transgender, gender non-binary, gender expansive and gender questioning youth ages 12-20 with trans and gender expansive adults. Here, Logan answers our questions about the TransMentor Program, shares his perspective on the critical nature of his team’s work and offers ways to get involved.
What is your role in the TransMentor Program?
As the program coordinator of the TransMentor Program, or TMP, I bring youth and adults together who are gender expansive, trans and/or non-binary for one-on-one matching, similar to an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. I first heard about TMP in 2018, and started out as a mentor.
Why are mentor relationships important in the LGBTQ+ community?
In 2019, the Trevor Project found that having just one supportive adult in an LGBTQ+ youth’s life may decrease the chance of a suicidal attempt by 40 percent. Mentor relationships have the potential to be life-saving bonds in the LGBTQ+ community.
We want to be the adults who show LGBTQ+ youth that it gets better, and we also want to communicate to our youth that we are here to support them through the difficult times they experience in the present.
As we see more representation of trans and non-binary people in mainstream media, these portrayals are often limited to stories of harm to trans individuals or communities, or stories of celebrities who come out with the resources to undergo major transformations. It’s important to us that TMP pairs up youth with trans adults who live safe, secure, every-day lives, and have families and jobs that support them. The relationship between mentor and mentee serves as a mirror that reflects to our mentees what their futures can hold without perpetuating narratives of trauma.
How have you seen this program positively impact the lives of participants?
When I was a mentor with TMP, I met my mentee when he was a junior in high school and feeling pretty lost. At that point in his life, I was someone he could talk to about college, imagine what prom could look like, and talk through some sources of his anxiety. Not only did TMP give him an adult to lean on as he thought about his gender identity, but it also gave me the chance to be the person I was never able to have when I was his age. I remembered what it was like to be young and feel stuck with so many questions without anyone to talk to. As a teenager, I couldn’t even imagine what my life would be like at 21, or 25, because I had no examples. It’s very fulfilling to be able to give that support to someone else.
What makes TMP unique in Chicago and beyond?
Our program is believed to be the first mentoring program in the nation to be specifically catered to trans and non-binary people. While there are other mentoring programs that may include the LGBTQ+ community, our specific scope means that we are committed to giving our time, care and compassion to a community that really needs it.
In addition to one-on-one mentoring, what are some ways that TMP offers support to participants?
A large part of our mission is helping our participants navigate all kinds of life changes and difficult situations. In the pandemic, we’ve created a bimonthly newsletter for TMP participants. This helps us facilitate connections among the cohort and share job opportunities. We know from experience if a place is affirming and safe, so we ask that our participants let us know if they have had a good job experience somewhere. There are still many states across America where you can deny job access and housing access to trans individuals. We have laws in Illinois to protect us from this discrimination, but some processes can still be difficult if you are transgender.
What are some ways that mentors and mentees connect with each other? How has the pandemic affected activities?
Lots of our mentor-mentee duos connect via video chat like Zoom or Discord, play games online, and have movie-watching parties virtually. We ask that our mentors connect with mentees virtually at least once a week. Pre-pandemic, we asked mentors and mentees to meet in person once a month; that has since shifted to virtual activities. What we’re doing now is a hybrid of the two: If you’re able to meet in person, that’s wonderful.
What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of your work?
It’s meaningful as a trans person to be able to create this “for us, by us” type of space. Recently, I got to see a mentor-mentee duo meet for the first time. Seeing the looks on their faces when they get to see each other and embrace for the first time after building this bond via text or Zoom, it was so rewarding. One of our teens that showed up to our event was just grinning ear-to-ear the whole time. Even some of our adult mentors tell us they have never met other trans adults before joining TMP. Giving them that opportunity to bond in addition to that providing access to local resources, job leads, tickets to museums—it makes me feel like Santa Claus.
If someone wants to get involved with the program, what should they know?
To be a mentee with TMP, you do not need to be a patient at Lurie Children’s. You need to be between the ages of 12 and 20, and have the ability to communicate with your mentor through text, Discord, or Zoom. There is no cost to being in the program. To be a mentor, you must be 25 years or older and identify as non-binary, trans or gender expansive. Currently, we are particularly looking for mentors who are trans women of color. We work with folks in-person in the Chicagoland area, and work virtually in other areas. We are always looking for more members. We have a rolling onboarding every six months. If we are full for the foreseeable future, it won’t be long before we’re onboarding again.
You can learn more about how to get involved here.
If someone wants to support the TransMentor Program, what can they do?
All of our work is funded by philanthropy and we consider it a labor of love. We have so many big dreams for the future of TMP. With proper funding, we would love to build this into a national organization to be able to reach kids who need us, especially in states where they have discriminating laws in place. Our budget and grant funding has been greatly affected by the pandemic, so we are seeking financial support of all kinds to support our operations.
Virtual activities will continue, and we try to support improving virtual connections as much as possible. It is meaningful when we can send gift cards to our mentor to download a virtual game their mentee likes, or send Starbucks gift cards to the mentors and mentee so they can have a virtual coffee together. One way to support the program is by donating funds that enable us to buy gift cards to facilitate these activities.
Your support is vital in helping us continue to make a difference in the lives of patients and families. The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine relies on philanthropic funding to enhance its programs, services and research for adolescents and young adults. To learn more, please e-mail the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Foundation at email@example.com or call 312.227.7500, or make a gift.