Nonprofit seeks to change anti-trans narrative

  • by J.L. Odom
  • Wednesday March 27, 2024
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Alaina Kupec started a new nonprofit, GRACE, to help change the narrative on transgender issues. Photo: Kathy Brennan
Alaina Kupec started a new nonprofit, GRACE, to help change the narrative on transgender issues. Photo: Kathy Brennan

A new trans-led national nonprofit has started that aims to change the narrative on the transgender community.

GRACE, short for Gender Research Advisory Council and Education, has a lofty aim, particularly in light of the abundance of anti-LGBTQ laws that have been proposed and passed in states across the country.

"Our model is to work hand in hand with the local organizations at the state level and to empower and enable them with our research and the facts behind the issues," said GRACE President and founder Alaina Kupec.

Kupec and GRACE board members hosted an event last month in San Francisco to connect with Bay Area organizations and provide insight into GRACE's focus on equality, dignity, and respect for transgender people and corresponding interest in supporting fellow trans advocacy groups.

"For us, it's about making sure we're getting the word out there about who we are, how we can help and what we can do that's unique and really try to make a difference by enabling other organizations in ways that help them accomplish their goals," Kupec told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview.

The featured speaker at the San Francisco event was Jamison Green, Ph.D., a trans man and GRACE board member. He's also the former president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).

"One of the unique things about GRACE as an organization is that it has a specific mission that does not conflict with other nonprofits in the LGBTQ or transgender-specific space. We aim to assist other groups in addressing misinformation about transgender people. We have no intention of taking away from any other organization in these spaces," Green stated in an email to the B.A.R.

Green noted that he and fellow GRACE board members have established careers and roles outside of the organization; they are taking on the additional work due to its significance.

"We are all accomplished professionals with busy lives responding to a need we feel is not being sufficiently addressed. Ideally, if we are successful, GRACE will no longer have to exist, and we can go back to our regular lives," he said.

Kupec similarly told the B.A.R. that the intention of GRACE is not to replace any other organization. "We're here to share how we can use our deep research and the resources that we have and the way we're approaching the work to augment what organizations are doing," she said.

Kupec, who shared that she identifies "first as a lesbian, then as a woman, and then as somebody who's transgender, in that order," was on the board of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund for eight years, with seven of those serving as the chair or co-chair. She also worked at Pfizer for three years, meeting with members of Congress and state lawmakers working on policy issues. Currently, she is the senior director of global value and access for the research-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc.

Her professional background, interactions with policymakers, and personal experience as a transgender individual inspired the formation of GRACE in the fall of 2023.

"There was nothing that existed in the trans-led space that was specifically focusing on the policy narrative that big groups were using to define us. It felt like this was the opportunity to take on really trying to change the public narrative of who we are as a community," she explained.

For Kupec and GRACE, changing the narrative involves better equipping trans advocacy organizations with tools that will contribute to establishing a dialogue with the political middle and moderate conservative right — i.e., the source of some anti-trans rhetoric and legislation.

"Each side is very passionate about this topic, and it's leading to a stalemate. The people who have been hurt the most are the trans people who live in states that are deeply affected. And so our goal is to work on the movable middle, in the middle right, which is where these policies come from," she said.

GRACE will advance this change and tackle challenges through a movement-adjacent lens that is communications- and public affairs-driven, with the goal to maintain credibility with and the respect of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

"We're a nonpartisan nonprofit. We just want to provide information and resources and not get caught up in the political rhetoric," she noted.

According to Kupec, GRACE differs from social movement organizations with large infrastructures and numerous staff members. These organizations, post-marriage equality, have had to "alter their mission and focus to sustain themselves," she noted.

"Our focus is solely on humanizing the transgender community and addressing anti-transgender policies. When our work is done, it is easy to wind down the organization," she explained.

Kupec shared that GRACE's budget for the current fiscal year is $500,000, with the organization intentionally adapting a consultancy model to reduce overhead expenses.

She said, "Our goal when starting GRACE [was] to not create an organization that becomes focused on self-sustainment, but rather can focus first on the needs of the community and resourcing up and down appropriately based on the need."

Since its founding, GRACE has worked with a number of LGBTQ+ and grassroots organizations on the ground to proactively thwart discriminatory policies. They worked in Ohio, for instance, alongside transgender parents, ally groups, Equality Ohio and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, to defeat the anti-transgender health care House Bill 68. The effort resulted in Republican Governor Mike DeWine's vetoing of the bill in late December 2023. (Ohio's state Senate later voted to override the veto in January.)

Effective partnerships

In an email to the B.A.R., GRACE Executive Director Jennifer Williams noted the effective partnership with these groups.

Said Williams, "We participated in many calls hosted by Equality Ohio and the Ohio ACLU and provided communications and public affairs assistance to groups located there. GRACE continues to assist in the fight for transgender liberty, freedom and equality in the Buckeye State.

"Both organizations did an excellent job in creating and maintaining the coalition of groups from all over the state and we are quite proud that we were able to help," she added.

Representatives from Equality Ohio and the ACLU of Ohio did not return requests for comment.

Both Williams and Kupec emphasized that GRACE does not take over local leadership efforts but rather contributes its perspectives and experiences and assists in myriad ways.

It provides groups with educational research on relevant topics, support with search engine optimization and social media, and ways to ensure their voices are effectively heard during debates.

Said Kupec, "We've shared how they can use information to bolster their case with lawmakers instead of just shouting at the other side, which is oftentimes because of the raw passion and the deep impacts on our communities. In the policy world, that commotion can sometimes hurt you if you can't build a dialogue."

GRACE will also be launching some communication efforts this spring to humanize the trans community and demystify what it means to be transgender.

"I think that the reason these [anti-trans] arguments land so easily with many people out there, especially the middle, is because there is no counternarrative," Kupec said. "There's so few of us that without the ability for people to see people like myself and others who are transgender in a true light, then these hate messages are falling on fertile ground. And so we're really focused on trying to change that narrative."

In the coming months, GRACE initiatives and outreach include a fundraiser and advocacy work in Washington, D.C. in April, writing op-eds on transgender liberty and equality for media outlets and supporting advocacy groups in Ohio and other states.

To learn more about GRACE, go to

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