Senate District 6 Unsung Hero
Kay Temple Kirk
Program Manager of Danelle's Place,
Gender Health Center
Three years ago, Kay Temple Kirk walked into the Gender Health Center and immediately got to work, first as a volunteer and then as the Program Manager for the center's respite space. In that time, she has helped hundreds of people get the vital, life-changing assistance they so desperately need. Often times, when people come to Danelle's Place at the Gender Health Center, it's because they are experiencing terrible crises and have nowhere else to turn. Kay's deep roots in her community, sense of urgency, and connections have allowed her to serve as a bridge between people and the assistance they need to get back on their feet. Kay's co-workers at the Center describe instances when she has stepped up to hold fundraisers when the program didn't have enough food to distribute or when Kay took it upon herself to accompany people to the hospital so they didn't have to go alone. They also describe her as being incredibly attuned to flaws in the system, and that sensitivity and knowledge helps as she so ably advocates on behalf of people needing help.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I was born at Kaiser Morse and was raised in Rosemont, with stints in New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas before returning and eventually buying the home my mother grew up in back in Rosemont. I've been transgender as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories involve me dressing up in my mom's old clothes, and being upset that I had to do gender segregated activities with the boys rather than the girls. I came out as transgender at age 19, and started medical transition at the age of 34. After a period of further self-discovery, I now identify as agender (neither male nor female) and my pronouns are she/her/hers or they/them/theirs. I am married to a brilliant and beautiful queer woman, and we are in a committed polyamorous long-distance relationship with a queer couple in Butte County.
How are you making a difference in your community?
I work at Gender Health Center as the Program Manager at Danelle's Place Respite Space, a peer respite/suicide prevention program paid for by Mental Health Act funds (a tax on large incomes championed by now Sacramento Mayor-Elect Steinberg back in 2004). Every day, between 15-30 members of the LGBTQIA+ community utilize our respite space to take a break, connect with fellow community members, or seek help in a crisis. Transgender people are subject to dehumanizing aggression, discrimination and violence in our society, and need a place to call our own. Through a combination of direct peer advocacy, narrative reauthoring activities, crisis management, and utilizing a robust referral network, we are able to help community members keep small crises from becoming big crises, and help keep big crises from becoming emergency room visits, hospitalizations, arrests, or worse.
Why is the work important to you?
Unlike a lot of folks who live in one community and serve another, the community I serve is the community that surrounds me. Transgender people are ten times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, due to discrimination, stigma, lack of acceptance, and other factors. I do the vital and important work I do because I am literally working to help my community to continue to survive. I also do this work because transgender people want more than to merely survive; we want to thrive, and help society accept our unique talents, gifts, and perspectives, rather than degrade, dehumanize, and dismiss them.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I'm too much of an anxious perfectionist to take much pride in accomplishments, but if I was to pick something, it would be the amazing team of volunteers, staff, and interns we've built together at Danelle's Place, and at Gender Health Center overall. We come together to serve a rapidly growing community from an inclusive nonjudgmental perspective, providing counseling, health advocacy, a hormone clinic, community groups, respite, and many other services. These services aren't only available to the transgender community, but to the entire community (with a few trans health-oriented exceptions). We're also a teaching institute with over 30 interns in our counseling and advocacy programs alone, with dozens more medical students rotating through our hormone clinic. It's a special place, and I'm glad to be a part of it.
What have you struggled most with in your life?
My life's biggest struggle has been navigating in a society rife with smug judgmentalism, anti-intellectualism, and needlessly cruel superstition. These foul fugues manifest as racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and othering in general. As a precocious child, all I wanted to do was to gather everyone together and get along, like my heroes Mr. Rogers and Robin Williams (as Mork from Ork) taught me. The pain of rejection from those who cannot or will not do so has sent me into many dark spirals of depression over the years. Yet, this constant fight to stay calm in choppy waters has given me experience and resilience that I now use every day in my job to help others.
What kind of lessons do you think should be instilled in future generations?
Humans and sentients in general, live our best lives as important parts of a well-balanced ecosystem, as opposed to being dominant greedy resource-hoarders in an increasingly imbalanced ecosystem. It is imperative that humanity do the work to shed "us and them" mentalities and work together to manifest the true potential of interdependent existences that mutually serve humans, other animals, and the biosphere as well.
If there is one problem in our community that you wish you could fix, what would it be?
Fixing one problem without addressing others merely puts a band-aid on a wound that requires stitches. We need comprehensive solutions that involve meaningful re-investment in social and physical infrastructure. We need to create a culture in which taxation is gamified and fun, and peoples' predilection is towards mutual benefit rather than individual gain.