Alternatives FCU launches transgender loan program

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Alternatives Federal Credit Union, in partnership with Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes (PPSFL), recently launched the TransAction Financial Empowerment Program, offering loans specifically designed for those in the transgender and non-binary communities.

The program, which was announced in June, provides loans to support transition-related care and expenses. These include, but are not limited to, hormone therapy, vocal coaching, wardrobe changes, surgeries and other needs.

Reily Schoen, chief operations officer at Alternatives, said the inspiration for the program came from a similar program in Chicago. He and others at Alternatives saw an upcoming grant opportunity from the National Credit Union Association as a way to turn that idea into reality.

“We have so many fabulous not-for-profits in our area, but working on TransAction is the thing that I think everyone felt the most jazzed about,” Schoen said. “It just seemed to fit with a marginalized group of people that we weren’t connecting with that we felt we could find a connection with.”

TransAction offers a personal loan and a line of credit, both with interest rates about 2% lower than that of a typical loan. The process starts with a referral from a health care professional, which can include those at PPSFL, stating that a person qualifies for such a loan. No specific details of care are requested for the referral, according to an Alternatives press release.

Liz Hudson, Alternatives director of development, said this program was in response to a growing need in the community. PPSFL has been seeing more transgender patients than ever before for hormone replacement therapy, Hudson said, which is why it was a crucial source of information for crafting TransAction.

“We know that they have an expertise in this area because they are getting information directly from the trans community,” Hudson said. “From them, based on actual data on what’s happening in the world, we were able to design some financial solutions to help people be empowered around the use of money.”

Devon Ritz, senior outreach educator and LGBTQ patient navigator at PPSFL, said Alternatives reached out to Planned Parenthood with this idea over a year ago, when Alternatives was applying for NCUA grant funding. She and others at PPSFL helped with figuring out what TransAction should look like and who might benefit, and she said Alternatives was on board every step of the way.

“Something that really struck me was their dedication to it,” Ritz said. “They really wanted to do this regardless of if they got that funding.”

Alternatives Chief Lending Officer Carol Chernikoff said the program fits with Alternatives’ dedication to serving the underserved.

“Once you show somebody that you care and you’re not judgmental and you’re respectful, and then you care about their next step as well, then you see amazing things happen,” Chernikoff said.

Ritz agreed, saying discrimination based on gender identity still affects people today in getting and keeping a job and housing, which is why a specific program for the trans community is so important.

“This is another option that people have available to them that didn’t exist before,” she said. “I don’t think that this is going to solve financial disparities for transgender and non-binary people, but it is absolutely something that can feel attainable.”

TransAction is a substantial program that, like a lot of programs Alternatives launches for minority communities, is not cheap, Hudson said, but that is not the focus.

“It’s a lot more expensive to do this work, but it’s worth the expense,” Hudson said.

Schoen said that part of this collaboration between Alternatives and PPSFL is joint education, with Planned Parenthood educating Alternatives about transgender interactions and then Alternatives educating Planned Parenthood on economics.

Chernikoff said Alternatives is proud to be making a powerful statement by creating this program, and she hopes other financial institutions outside of the county will follow suit.

“We’re part of a movement,” she said. “It’s certainly important for us to be a model of what a financial institution should and could do to address the needs of the people who are in their community.”

Schoen said that TransAction distinguishes Alternatives from other county financial institutions as an advocate for a thriving trans community, which draws members who share that desire for understanding.

“People need to recognize that, wherever they’re banking, the money that they have on deposit here is going to support their community,” Schoen said.

“When we’re living our mission and our vision and our values, we meet people whose mission, vision and values of themselves are in alignment with us.”

Schoen, who is a member of the transgender community and one of the first HRT patients at PPSFL, said he has seen first hand the sort of economic difficulties the trans community faces. Societal factors like discrimination make it hard for transgender people to get access to funds to live their authentic selves, he said.

“For me, this is a dream come true. … As a trans person looking and navigating the world trying to find funding for any sort of medical surgeries, it’s scary and overwhelming,” he said. “It’s a way for me to be able to work with folks within my community and in the bigger world of trans people that I’m connected with … and hear their struggles … and to be able to say, ‘Well, we’re doing this.’”

As of right now, Alternatives is spreading the word about TransAction through many pilot discussions, promotional literature, pride events and social media. Ritz said she has worked within Planned Parenthood to get the word out and has already referred some PPSFL patients to the program. She has seen HRT treatments take off in just a year and thinks TransAction could see similar growth.

“Word spreads fast and quickly, especially when services that are being offered are thoughtful and with a lot of care put into them,” Ritz said.

Both Alternatives and PPSFL staff are excited to see TransAction help trans and non-binary people reach their goals. Schoen said he would love to hear one success story, and Ritz said she wants to see those at PPSFL find their own path to success.

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