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TransAkron project shares stories of Akron's transgender community

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Portrait of Giovonni Santiago
Giovonni Santiago. Photo by Shane Wynn.

At its annual meeting on April 19, 2018, the Gay Community Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation unveiled a new photojournalism series aimed at fighting stereotypes and increasing inclusion for the transgender community in Greater Akron and beyond.

Created by award-winning photographer Shane Wynn and writer H.L. Comeriato, the TransAkron series shines a light on trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people in the Akron area. The project captures the lived realities of these individuals and tells the stories of their journeys while adding a data-driven narrative about the transgender community nationwide. The photos can be viewed online at transakron.com. The stories are available in a photo book at Akron Community Foundation and will be released on GCEF's Facebook page weekly, leading up to Pride Month in June.

"The idea of TransAkron originated in early 2017 when Shane Wynn -- a local artist and advocate -- and I had a conversation about her photography and how we could use images to humanize people and advocate for GCEF's important work in the community," said Phil Montgomery, advisory board chair of the Gay Community Endowment Fund. "The TransAkron project is part narrative and part resource, and at GCEF, we are proud to be on the front lines of advocacy and storytelling."

The TransAkron series features the stories of eight individuals, including Giovonni Santiago, a veteran who opened the country's first transgender-specific clinic in the Veterans Affairs system, and Rylee Jackson, who, after experiencing a dozen foster homes and four different high schools, found joy through her love of dance.

Portrait of Rylee Jackson
Rylee Jackson. Photo by Shane Wynn.

TransAkron was made possible thanks to funding and support from the Gay Community Endowment Fund and several community partners, including ArtsNow -- an innovative nonprofit that connects arts and culture through collaboration -- and the EXL Center at The University of Akron. The series' writer, H.L. Comeriato, is a graduate of The University of Akron who was identified by faculty member Dr. Heather Braun.

Established in 2001, the Gay Community Endowment Fund accepts grant applications for programs and services that positively impact the LGBTQ+ community and Greater Akron as a whole. It also raises awareness about equality issues and rallies the LGBTQ+ community around a common philanthropic purpose. Since its founding, GCEF has invested nearly $475,000 into local causes that change the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the Greater Akron community. Recent grants have advocated for countywide nondiscrimination protections, supported a mentoring program for LGBTQ+ college students, and raised awareness about domestic violence in the LGBTQ+ community, among other critical initiatives.

"People are often unaware that their friends, neighbors, civil servants, police officers, doctors, etc. identify as trans," said Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow. "Breaking down that sense of 'other' helps us come together as a community. We are Akron -- all of us."

To learn more about the Gay Community Endowment Fund and the programs it supports, visit gaycommunityfund.org.

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