by Ash Bruxvoort
Meghan Buell is not afraid to be vulnerable to change the conversation. She founded Transgender Resource, Education, and Enrichment Services (TREES, Inc.) in 2015 to conduct transgender awareness presentations in rural communities, conduct transgender training and deliver transgender resources to these communities in hopes of educating the residents, community leaders, businesses and other organizations who may potentially interact with the transgender community.
“What we’ve found is that people in those areas want to do the right thing and but they’re afraid to do the wrong thing so they don’t do anything at all,” said Buell. TREES, Inc. works to start those conversations and Buell opens herself up to the questions people often feel uncomfortable asking.
“I open myself up personally and professionally to help them see that trans people are not so different from everyone else. Our journeys are a little more unique,” she said.
It’s a small and grassroots effort, mostly Buell traveling in her car. The organization is based in South Bend, Indiana, and TREES, Inc. has done programming in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio. As their budget grows they hope to expand their reach. In year one, Meghan traveled over 13,000 miles and in 2017 she’s on track to reach 17,000 miles.
Buell says TREES, Inc. is working towards a straightforward but challenging end goal: That a trans identifying person or person who doesn’t fit the binary stereotype doesn’t face getting killed. Trans people are everywhere and they have families in rural communities. They’re afraid to visit their families in those places.
“These towns don’t need to have Pride parades, they just need to be safe,” she says. “You can give them data, you can give them information, but when they’re able to have a real conversation with a real person, that’s when they can start to understand.”
TREES, Inc. typically conducts public town hall conversations in small towns, often in local libraries. This is often in partnership with community events, pride events, or community organizations.
Building On Personal Experiences
Meghan has firsthand experience with transitioning in a rural community. She grew up in a town of 1,500 people and spent over twenty years working in manufacturing management in the railroad industry. After she transitioned her employer didn’t think her long-standing record was enough to show she was worthy of keeping on staff.
At a turning point in her life, she began volunteering at an LGBT center. She enjoyed the work and decided to get a certificate in nonprofit management and fundraising. Eventually, she became executive director of the center. Now she is board president of TREES, Inc. She also serves on the Women and Minority Business Board in South Bend and local healthcare board. She also works as a substitute teacher. “I really like working with primary school students because they see things so simply,” she said. “They see me and hear my voice and they’re confused. But they’re not afraid to ask, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?'”
She said that while working with human rights councils and corporations to help amend their policies is great, the vision for TREES, Inc. goes beyond words on paper. “We’re looking for culture change.”