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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 3, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 05
Ingersoll Center at 40

SGN exclusive interview with new executive director Karter Booher
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Ingersoll Center at 40

SGN exclusive interview with new executive director Karter Booher

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Ingersoll Gender Center, Seattle's pioneering center for Transgender and gender-nonconforming people, is celebrating its 40th anniversary by hiring its first ever executive director, Karter Booher.

The SGN sat down with Booher and Ingersoll's founder and co-chair, Marsha Botzer, to talk about the center's anniversary and its future.

'I've been doing activism for 50 years,' Botzer said. 'I've known so many executive directors from so many organizations. I know the process intimately.

'I can say now that Ingersoll has the right person backed up by the right board. In Karter we're getting an advanced level of skill at a very young age.

'We're starting at a good place. At Ingersoll we're used to doing the impossible. Now the impossible will be done much faster.'

Botzer will stay on as co-chair and will remain actively involved in the organization she founded four decades ago, but Booher will take over Ingersoll's day-to-day operations.

At 26, Booher (who prefers the pronouns they/them) is 14 years younger than the organization they will be leading, but they come with substantial experience. Booher has been on the Ingersoll board for several years and was fellowship manager at Washington Bus, an organization empowering and mobilizing young people.

'Marsha and I don't have the same experiences,' Booher explained. 'But one thing Ingersoll does really well is we see people as whole people. We do a really good job of raising these conversations, talking about our different experiences and not shying away.

'It takes community to makes things happen. The fact that I'm now executive director, that reflects the community Ingersoll has built here, and that's why I am where I am.'

Bringing Booher on as executive director was the outcome of several years of discussion by Ingersoll's board of directors, but the decision turned out to be especially timely in view of the election, Booher noted.

'The election gives us a sense of urgency,' they said. 'The election was Tuesday, and you could see it at our Wednesday night support group. There were more people than usual, and they were scared.

'Obama was the first president to say 'trans' in public, and that took till 2016. [Loretta] Lynch was the first attorney general to say that the administration stands with trans people.

'Now that's gone. But it's easy to focus on national politics and not look at what's going on in our communities. The history of Ingersoll proves it doesn't matter that much who is president, or mayor. Ingersoll is a place where anything is possible.'

In addition to the regular Wednesday night support group, Ingersoll provides a number of services and helps link Trans people with competent service providers. The group currently has offices in the Gay City space at 517 E. Pike Street and holds its Wednesday meetings at Seattle Counseling Service at 1216 Pine Street.

'We met quietly and in secret places when we started,' Botzer recalls. 'We've seen everyone and all their challenges in the mix.

'I take great satisfaction that we've come this far. At the same time, I'm afraid. We're creating a structure that will let this organization live on, and we have to answer so many questions. Why are we here? Why are we needed? Can we provide real service?

'Everybody has a resource list. We've expanded ours as far as we can. But the intangibles - the fact people can come to Ingersoll's regular Wednesday night groups and talk about anything - that's what we provide, that's the difference,' Botzer explained.

'For some folks, in the beginning the biggest resource is community,' Booher interjected. 'I've seen people come into the room for the first time, and sit in a room with 50 or 100 other trans folks - you can see them change, you can see them shift...'

Community - the idea of Trans people helping other Trans people - was at the heart of Botzer's vision when she founded the organization, but now Ingersoll has developed to the point where new forms are needed.

'Mutual aid is built into the bones of Ingersoll,' Botzer said. 'So our problem was, how do we blend sustainability with the concept of mutual aid?'

'It's hard to provide a sense of continuity to people who need it by relying on all volunteers,' Booher added. 'And we have very, very dedicated volunteers. But there's a limit to what we can provide - a ceiling - with just our volunteers.

'We want to be able to offer more services on a more regular basis. And we want to pay trans folks for the skills they bring to the table. In the future we could possibly hire more folks to provide more services. We want to have a sustainable future in a sustainable space.'

Asked for a last thought to share with SGN readers, both looked to the future.

'It's an exciting time to get acquainted - or reacquainted - with Ingersoll,' Booher said. 'And by the way, you don't have to be trans to support the trans community.'

'Come to Ingersoll, help us imagine, help us create the next 40 years,' Botzer concluded.

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