Second-year MFT students organize donations during a January 2015 clothing drive to benefit Syracuse’s transgendered community.
L-R: Jamie Kanter, Melanie Gonzalez, and Megan O’Brien.

Table after table lined with hundreds of donated shirts, pants, sweaters, skirts, jackets and other clothing items were visible in one Peck Hall classroom because MFT graduate students Amy Goss and Megan O’Brien recognized an unmet need within Syracuse’s transgender community.

“Working with the transgender population, it became startlingly obvious how expensive the transition process is. Many insurance plans don’t cover the costly expense of hormones yet, plus there are fees associated with blood work, binders, doctor visits, name changes and other legal documentation. Add on top of that a new wardrobe? It costs a lot of money,” says O’Brien.

Goss and O’Brien, who are in their second year of graduate study—working with classmates and faculty and staff in Falk College’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy—organized a clothing drive in January to benefit the Syracuse-area transgender community. The organizers explained that for clients with families, or teens who may not have parental support or any financial abilities, shopping for clothing is not only costly, but can be a fearful experience during the transitioning process. “The added challenge of trying on clothes that appear to not match external presenting gender and gendered changing rooms could be a real nightmare,” adds O’Brien.

So during the clothing drive, MFT students allocated private dressing room space where clients could try on the clothing in a comfortable, safe and judgment-free space. The students are actively working to store the clothing in the Couple and Family Therapy Clinic for clients to attain at any time throughout the year, and anticipate a clothing drive to benefit the transgender community will be an annual event.

Both Goss and O’Brien serve on the Transgender Team—or Trans Team—that includes MFT graduate students, guided by assistant professor, Deborah Coolhart, and Falk Endowed Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, Linda Stone Fish, as well as adjunct supervisor, Daran Shipman, who train students in basic clinical skills to work with the transgender population to help them during their transition and beyond.

“My clients have given me so much, and I’ve been able to grow in a way I never expected through working in the community that I want to provide safety and security in a time that can be distressing,” notes O’Brien. “To provide a place where the people understand the clientele, where they know the proper terminology and are nonjudgmental, and where those in the community can attain free clothing to help support their internal gender identity and make their lives more cohesive is really important.”