Belchertown group helping transgender people pay for important documents

  • Lurene Grenier, who is the founder of Trans Relief, with her cat, Aeneas, at her home in Belchertown, Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lurene Grenier, who is the founder of Trans Relief, works at her home in Belchertown, Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lurene Grenier, left, who is the founder of Trans Relief, with her husband, Connor, and cat, Odin, at her home in Belchertown, Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lurene Grenier, left, who is the founder of Trans Relief, with her husband, Connor, and cat, Odin, at her home in Belchertown, Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lurene Grenier, who is the founder of Trans Relief, with her cat, Aeneas, and her dog, Lenneth, at her home in Belchertown, Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lurene Grenier, who is the founder of Trans Relief, with her cat, Aeneas, and dog, Lenneth, at her home in Belchertown, Friday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 11/18/2016 11:05:16 PM

BELCHERTOWN — What started as a small idea to help transgender people pay for important documents such as name changes and passports is burgeoning at a surprising clip for Belchertown resident Lurene Grenier.

Since she initiated the campaign in the wake of the Nov. 8 election, the 34-year-old said she has raised $21,000 and is using the money to improve the livelihood of transgender people all around the country.

The goal of her project, called Trans Relief, is to provide monetary assistance to U.S.-based trans people looking for help with administrative fees associated with obtaining U.S. passports, name changes and updating identification documents.

So far, she has helped 90 people, and the number is climbing.

“It’s really hard to transition for a lot of reasons … it’s very rare for you to have a support structure as a trans person, and so everything is difficult,” Grenier said. “The legal part is difficult, the medical part is difficult, the social part is difficult, and if we can alleviate one of those hurdles there, we can make things so much easier.”

Grenier is a transgender woman who has lived in Belchertown for the past three years. She grew up in western Massachusetts, and transitioned at age 14 in 1996.

She began the Trans Relief campaign when Donald Trump was elected president out of fear that the country’s passport policy may change once he takes office.

Currently, a transgender person can obtain a passport reflecting his or her current gender by submitting a certification from a physician confirming that he or she has had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.

Grenier fears that Vice President-elect Mike Pence will bring back the old policy that requires proof of gender identification surgery in order for a passport to be changed.

While it is up to states to create policies about name changes, birth certificate alterations, and changing one’s gender on a license, the federal government has the power to regulate passports. Grenier believes it is urgent that transgender individuals adjust this legal documentation before rules change.

“The passport is important because it is a federal ID that has your gender marker on it, that is essentially the end all be all of identification worldwide … the people we’re trying to get to are the people who are low income, in hostile states, who need passports changed,” she said.

Grenier pointed out that it is much easier to change documentation in some states than others.

In Massachusetts, a legal name change costs only $180. However, she said Pennsylvania charges people by the number of counties they have lived in.

According to Grenier, Trans Relief is important because it provides direct and instantaneous aid for those who can’t afford these fees.

“There are a lot of places where you can donate money to an organization … but people are still poor, and targeted, and dying right now, and we want to be able to put money in their hands immediately,” she said.

It is also an important cause for safety reasons.

Transgender people need to be able to present their ID without outing themselves, Grenier said. It’s too much of a risk to use an ID in public that does not match the gender they associate with.

“It’s legitimacy in the eyes of people who are going to target you,” she said.

Grenier runs the campaign with three other individuals: Lindsey Caber, her husband Terrie Caber and Michael McFadgen.

One week since they began, the team realized it was time to step back. Grenier’s PayPal account had been maxed out, and the campaign was growing so large that they needed to get their monetary and legal situation sorted out.

And so Trans Relief is currently static as they work to come under the financial umbrella of Trans United, its new nonprofit partner. Once Trans Relief has created a foundation of its own — most likely this weekend — the group will reopen.

In the meantime, Trans Relief is dealing with its fair share of criticism.

Grenier says they’ve been accused of being a scam, mocked for their liberalism, told they were riling people up for no reason, and even asked why the transgender demand for passports should be prioritized over everyone else’s.

This spawned the humorous hashtag on Twitter #AllPassportsMatter, which Grenier spoke about with a chuckle.

But aside from the negativity, there has been an incredible amount of support.

“I’m seriously in tears right now,” said one recipient. “Thank you … you have no idea how much easier this makes things,” said another.

Grenier does, however, understand how much easier it makes things. She explained that she too was just a 14-year-old trying to figure things out at one point.

During a time when Grenier is beginning to question whether the LGBT progress will prevail, this campaign is helping her get through.

“For the past four years I have felt like the world has changed in such a way that personally I didn’t have to worry about these issues … it felt like I wasn’t going to worry about the things I worried about as a kid, and now it feels like I was wrong,” she said.

For more information, visit http://transrelief.com/ or follow them on Twitter @TransRelief.


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