Greta Martela lies her head down on her pillow every night knowing that she has probably saved more than one life that day. She isn't a doctor, a nurse, or a firefighter. She founded and runs a nonprofit called Trans Lifeline, a crisis line that is staffed by transgender people that is specifically for transgender people. Greta is a transgender woman herself, but that isn't necessarily the most notable thing about her. She is a parent, a wife, a business owner, a counselor, a spokesperson, an engineer, a musician, a genuinely nice person, someone who loves bunny rabbits, and she saves lives, quite possibly thousands of them.
The transgender community in the United States is estimated at 1.4 million - and it is undeniable that they are at risk. They are frequently misunderstood, bullied, harassed, and discriminated against. A staggering 41% of trans people have made or will make a suicide attempt. That is in comparison to 1.5% for the rest of the population. Many years ago when Greta experienced suicidal thoughts she did what many people do to try and help themselves, she called a crisis help line. Unfortunately, the well-meaning man who answered the phone made things even worse. He was completely uninformed, uncomfortable, and once she explained her identity to him, he appeared to become disgusted. None of his behavior was helpful to Greta in her most critical time of need. What she needed was trust and there was none of that to be found. In spite of the man's hurtful demeanor, Greta survived that crisis but many are not as fortunate.
Fast forward several years and Greta was in a much better place. She was happily married to Nina and the couple had earned a fairly significant amount of money as software engineers during the tech bubble. They wanted to do something positive with their newfound wealth, to find a way to give back. As transgender women themselves, they had learned the hard way that the unique and extraordinarily necessary crisis needs of the transgender community were not being met. It was from that understanding that Trans Lifeline was born.
Trans Lifeline (877) 565-8860
One month after their little nonprofit startup began, Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl, took her own life and left a suicide note on social media that eloquently and painfully detailed the immense suffering she had experienced as a trans person. That post was shared hundreds of thousands of times, and Greta discovered that the Trans Lifeline phone number was being added to the post. Literally overnight, the calls were exceeding their limited capacity.
Today, two and a half years later, Trans Lifeline has sixteen employees and hundreds of volunteers. They have answered more than twenty-two thousand, nine hundred and fourteen calls for help from every continent in the world except Antarctica, and have spoken to people aged eight to eighty-eight. That is a lot of compassion, listening, understanding, and advice.
This is Greta. I couldn't make her photo any larger because it is too pixely. She is busy celebrating Pride Month in San Francisco this weekend so we couldn't get a photo with better quality:) This photo is from the Trans Lifeline Facebook page of their booth in the city:
If Greta could offer one piece of advice for every young girl, it would be to "Be yourself." She says that, "Being true to yourself is one of the most powerful things you can do. Don't look to someone else to tell you who you are. You have to figure that out for yourself."
Being true to oneself can be challenging for anyone and means different things for everyone. For Greta, it meant finally finding peace from within, and ultimately helping thousands of others find theirs.
Thank you for reading!
Trans Lifeline is a nonprofit organization that could not continue without donations. To make a donation to help save a life, please go to: www.translifeline.org/donate.
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