Transgender advocates support LGBTQ+ community

Conner Wenzel (left) facilitates the transgender support group at the Stonewall Alliance Center and Ian Ruddell works as the Outreach and Education Coordination. The center is marking its 25th anniversary this year. Photo credit: Dj Morris

Chico’s Stonewall Alliance Center is celebrating and reflecting upon 25 years of acceptance, strength and support for individuals in the community.

The center helps and provides resources for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, queer, questioning and ally community.

The center is open to all members of the community and provides counseling, special group meetings and social programs.

Ian Ruddell, Outreach and Education Coordinator at the center and Chico State alumni, reflects on his experience coming out and his early life.

Ruddell came out to the public while he was on the board of trustees as a representative from Chico State. He attended conferences where there were representatives from different cities in California, he said.

“It was a bit of a struggle,” Ruddell said. “I essentially came out to the state of California.”

Growing up, Ruddell began to question gender roles as early as 4 years old. He always had a sense of not fitting in but did not know why. When he was 18, he was introduced to transgender identities and was intrigued, he said.

According to the center’s website, individuals that identify as transgender do not identify in accordance to society’s gender standards and/or believe that their gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth.

Conner Wenzel, facilitator of the center’s transgender support group and Chico State alumni, describes his life as a transgender individual.

“I didn’t date or do the typical things a female would do in high school or college,” Wenzel said. “You think you’re just different and then you put it off to the side.”

Wenzel has been facilitating at the center for about three years. When he was younger he was always more comfortable hanging out with the boys than the girls. He thought he was just going through a tomboy phase, and he went through a series of emotions and phases before he realized who he truly was, he said.

Before his transition he was married to a man. When he was married he realized that he liked women instead of men and after separating from his husband for a year, he realized he was a transgender male and not a lesbian.

“We are still friends,” Wenzel said. “However it was hard for him because when I was transitioning, he had to as well.”

In light of their experiences, Wenzel and Ruddell work at the center to help others with their transitions and struggles in their lives. Everyone has a different story and they aim to help others through their experiences.

With complete confidentiality, the center offers counseling services and support for the transgender community in Chico. They accept Chico State students at their meetings and all aspects of the center.

“You never out someone or tell their identity to someone else,” Wenzel said. “It is not your story to tell.”

It can be difficult for people to express themselves.

That is why at the end of every interaction with someone who shares their identity, Ruddell and Wenzel end with saying, “Thank you for sharing your truth.”

DJ Morris can be reached at [email protected] or @djthejournalist on Twitter.