Sayer Johnson: Building Power

Photo by Theo Welling.

Sayer Johnson is a busy dude, to put it mildly. The executive director and co-founder of the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, or MTUG, always has another project in the works to serve his community — to make life easier, safer or better for his trans siblings.

MTUG, founded in 2013, offers meet-ups, trainings and panels that build visibility and community.

“We’ve created systems where there were none in place for trans-expansive adults in the metro area,” says Johnson. (Trans-expansive, our new favorite term, covers the multitude of folks who may not fit under the simple transgender label: nonbinary, genderfluid, agender and more.)

MTUG, says Johnson, serves anywhere between 100 and 150 adults each month.

“Our primary service is social and emotional support,” he says. “That is done through peer educational support groups. That is the heartbeat of the organization.”

One specific piece of support MTUG provides relates to documentation, which is crucial for the trans-expansive, yet can be a discouraging pile of paperwork and bureaucracy. The group runs three or four clinics a year, helping people obtain the legal documents that meet their presentation.

“We’re realizing a lot of our folks don’t have their basic needs met, so we’re working to fill those gaps,” says Johnson.

Last fall, Vickie and Tom Maxwell, parents to a trans kid, became aware of MTUG after hearing about its first annual telethon, a groovy, old-school 24-hour fundraising variety show. They ended up giving the group a house, which has made a way better headquarters than an office or cubicles.

The house, Johnson says, “has allowed us to provide wrap-around-ish services to our most vulnerable adults.” There are lockers, showers, clothing and laundry facilities and more, as well as administrative space.

The headquarters house is not to be confused with the Trans Queer Flat, another project of Johnson’s, where trans-expansive folks can live and pay rent in a safe and welcoming atmosphere.

Johnson says it’s a calling for him to serve. When he came out, he says, he had support all around him.

“I realized a lot of my siblings did not,” he says. “I call this my privilege, to help my siblings.”

And help he does. The events page for MTUG is crammed with support groups — for mental health, for a variety of gender expressions, for significant others of trans humans. MTUG works on community grants, facilitates volunteer work at the Trans Memorial Garden, and even throws plain old just-for-fun parties like the Big Fat Trans-Queer Prom and the Big Fat Trans-Queer Fall Festival.

“It’s harder to ignore us,” Johnson says. “We’ve built enough power that if we start to fuss about things, people start to pay attention. We now get invited to the table. Trans-expansive people are taking up space.”

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