Transgender therapist and social worker creates resource hub for Northern Kentucky/Ohio communities

by Liza Rash

Evie Heflin wears many hats: social worker, therapist, advocate, educator, Super Woman. Heflin’s heart and drive for Queer advocacy is undeniable. She is currently a social worker at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Transgender Clinic and the Pride Mountain Bike Coordinator for the Ohio Mountain Bike League, but these roles only scratch the surface of her work.

From serving as a board member of the Transgender Advocacy Council (TAC) of Cincinnati/NKY to launching a behavioral health and wellness program for trans adults at the Central Clinic, her tenacity for aiding and uplifting the trans and nonbinary communities knows no bounds. 

In the wake of the “heavily publicized,” as Heflin put it, death of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenage girl from Kings Mills, OH who died by suicide in 2014, and Heflin’s recognition of the growing need for affordable, gender-affirming mental healthcare within the area, she felt compelled to start a behavior health and wellness group for trans adults. 

“It was really the timing of what was going on in my professional life as a therapist and what was going on in the world. I was working in community mental health at Central Clinic. With community mental health and specifically the agency I was working for, we only accepted people who were on medicaid or had some sort of financial hardship to access mental health services. I realized that there were a ton of trans and nonbinary folks who were falling through the cracks and having a really hard time accessing basic mental health services. I felt like we needed something to meet that unmet need.”

Evie Heflin

Although Heflin was a newer member of the Central Clinic team and freshly out of counseling school, she managed to get the support from leadership she needed to start the program. The rest is history.

Heflin left the clinic in 2015, but her work was just beginning. Determined to continue making a difference in her community, Heflin helped organize TAC, a non-profit organization that serves the trans and nonbinary communities of greater Cincinnati and NKY.

Heflin said that TAC began in 2019 when members and organizers from local community support groups decided to pool their resources and create a more centralized structure to plan large events for the trans and nonbinary communities in the greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area.

“It creates a framework for a bunch of different organizations to communicate.” Heflin said. “One of the most rewarding parts of working at TAC has been seeing it grow from its inception, to see that improved communication between so many local groups.”

Since its birth, TAC’s community efforts have made a staggering difference for trans and nonbinary individuals. 

“We’ve seen that organization become able to offer a bunch of things beyond support groups,” said Heflin.

According to Heflin and the official TAC website found here, the organization currently offers services through the Transgender Emergency Fund, a grant program designed to give emergency, need-based financial assistance to trans and nonbinary individuals in the area. These services range from money for transportation to gender-affirming healthcare appointments to paying utility, phone, electric, and/or gas bills.

Despite Heflin’s relentless positivity surrounding her work, she is well aware of the hardships that come with it. She said that one of the most challenging parts of her work at TAC is operating out of a volunteer-only system.

“It’s hard when people have full-time jobs,” Heflin said of local organizers. “Their heart’s in it, and they’re committing all this extra time, but it can be challenging, because things tend to move a little slower when it’s all volunteer-run.”

Not only does Heflin work directly with members of the trans community, she also hosts professional gender-affirming training sessions for local healthcare providers. These training sessions are designed to help healthcare professionals create a more inclusive experience for trans and nonbinary indivudals.

In order to create thorough and prevalent presentations for these providers, Heflin dove into the current “best practices” for providing gender informed care from various sources including but not limited to the World Professional Association of Transgender Health and the National Association of Social Workers.

According to Heflin, efforts to create a more gender-inclusive environment in healthcare must extend beyond the examination room. She said that creating gender-affirming intake forms and assuring there are gender-diverse photos on the walls of the facility’s waiting room can contribute to a welcoming and support space for trans and nonbinary folks.

Information regarding gender-affirming care is ever-changing, but Heflin keeps her training up-to-date the best she can for the sake of the trans community, but also because she personally understands how harmful a non-affirming medical experience can be.

“As a trans person, I’ve had medical encounters that were not the most affirming and seen therapists that just didn’t click,” Heflin said. “Having this bare minimum of what should be expected is really important.”

Although Heflin’s work in this area focuses mainly on mental health services due to her social work background, she said she’s been able to partner with other professionals who can better reach doctors and nurses. In Heflin’s eyes, the work is quite rewarding.

“What’s neat about it is that there are so many people who attend who really want to be supportive,” Heflin said. “They want to help support trans and nonbinary folks, but just don’t know where to go to find accurate information.”

Heflin’s advice for members of the queer community who are also working to create more inclusive spaces for trans and nonbinary individuals resembled her advice for local providers. 

“Being able to get feedback from trans people, especially trans people of color, Black trans people…just asking them what they need is super important,” Heflin said. 

Heflin stressed the importance of people outside of the trans and nonbinary communities utilizing educational online resources, asking for name and pronouns during introductions, de-gendering language, and learning from mistakes when they do happen. 

“These are great starting points,” Heflin said. “Nobody is perfect, but the effort is what’s really important.” 

Community organizing and making a sustained impact within a marginalized group can be difficult, but Heflin has proven that it isn’t impossible. She urged young trans and nonbinary folks interested in advocacy work to make their presence known in spaces beyond social media, whether it’s through reaching out to like-minded individuals or asking local organizations about volunteer opportunities.

“Being able to write a letter to a state congress person or attend an event in your community is very different from posting something on social media,” Heflin said. 

Heflin wants young activists and organizers to know that this work requires patience.

“Understand that it’s a learning curve,” Heflin said. “Not only do policies change, but your knowledge of the world and yourself grows with time.”

Check out the TAC official website to learn more about their current services and upcoming events, or to donate to the organization.

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