Part II: Growth and Expansion
By C. Michael Woodward
“If you build it, they will come”. That’s what was said about SAGA. Kevin made a casual prediction at the first meeting, attended by the three founders, that within three months the number would triple. There were nine people at the third meeting.
The numbers continue to grow—as of June 2005, we have more than 200 members on our mailing list. Meeting attendance hovers around 20-30 each month, and it’s rarely the same group of folks. There are, in fact, usually two to four new people at every SAGA meeting.
United by Tragedy
In the fall of 2002, the Tucson transgender community experienced the tragic death by suicide of one of its most visible and outspoken leaders. Alexander John Goodrum was the founder and director of TGNet Arizona, another Tucson-based transgender advocacy organization.
This experience served to further unite and strengthen our Board and members’ commitment to the community. In January 2003, SAGA and TGNet Arizona officially merged. All programs and projects of TGNet Arizona are now under the SAGA umbrella, including the nationally recognized Arizona Transgender Workplace Project (ATWORK), a ground-breaking employer outreach and education program conceived by Goodrum.
Fueled by Personal Passion
SAGA’s diverse groups and projects are needed because, while there are many things we have in common in our struggle to feel whole and real in our lives, each segment has its own unique issues as well. You could compare this branching out from SAGA to the need for gay men and lesbians to have their separate meetings in addition to broader “queer community” meetings that would include both. For example, in Tucson there are lesbians who meet to discuss cancer and health, gay parents, the politically active Stonewall Democrats, queer youth, and men who meet strictly for social purposes… just to name a few.
Although our number of active allies is growing quickly, most of the volunteers involved in developing SAGA projects are themselves transgender or gender-variant. Thus, those executing the activities are also those receiving the services. Because our primary programs were developed based on the needs and passions of individual members, we have been very successful at creating unique solutions. Both the ATWORK Project and the Goodrum Project are original, innovative programs that we believe to be the first of their kind anywhere. Content from the ATWORK Project has already been adopted by national organizations such as Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GPAC), and others. We anticipate similar requests from the community when the Goodrum Project is fully implemented.
As of this writing (June 2005), we have successfully raised more than $80,000 in grants since our founding, as well as several thousands of dollars in individual and in-kind donations. Past and current SAGA and/or TGNet Arizona funders include the Funding Exchange; the Heller-Barnard Fund; the Gill Foundation; the Amazon Foundation; the Kenton Civil Rights Fund, the LGBTS Alliance Fund, and the general fund of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona; the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona; local businesses; and individual donors.
SAGA has recently proposed a merge of our organization with Wingspan, our fiscal sponsor. We are currently in negotiations to make that happen, and we look forward to the unlimited opportunities that lie ahead. Details when available.