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Trans Day of Visibility at Dr. Jekyll’s

As many transgender Lawrentians know, legal name and gender changes are a necessity if we wish to be afforded the same level of institutional recognition and affirmation that our cisgender siblings enjoy. Unfortunately, due to the extremely high costs of pursuing these legal changes, these are privileges many of us can’t afford. A 2019 UCLA School of Law study found that trans people experience a particularly high poverty rate compared to the LGBTQ community as a whole: 29.4% of trans people live in poverty (Badgett, Choi and Wilson, 2019). This increased poverty rate contributes to the discrimination and violence the trans community faces, as gender-affirming measures are only accessible to the financially privileged.  

International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) is observed every year on March 31, and this year, Dr. Jekyll’s, an Appleton bar located just a few blocks from the Lawrence campus, observed TDOV by holding a fundraiser to help trans folks in the Appleton community cover the cost of affirming name and gender changes. Every dollar spent at Dr. Jekyll’s on March 31 went toward the fund, and they also set up a GoFundMe that people could donate to. Ben Mollen, the co-owner of Dr. Jekyll’s, says that their Facebook announcement of the fundraiser had been gaining traction leading up to TDOV, but everything blew up when the Post-Crescent reached out to interview them for an article about the fundraiser. He says, “We were already overjoyed when the GoFundMe was over $1,200 before TDOV had even started, but then that article was posted and the GoFundMe quadrupled overnight. It all felt unreal. And then, as soon as our doors opened, people I’ve never seen before were coming in just to throw cash towards the fund and thank us.”  

For an event that prompted such an overwhelming, positive response from the community, it came together remarkably quickly. Mollen shares that the idea “really only took form the weekend before TDOV. My partner Anna Goelz (she/her) and I were talking to a regular about TDOV, and she offered to loan us her trans pride flag to display for the day. Despite her generous offer, we decided we wanted to have a trans pride flag for the bar to have and display – and thankfully, it would ship in time!” Mollen continues, “The original plan was to display the flag and make a Facebook post showing our support, but later that night, after the bar was closed, I expressed to Anna that I wanted to do more than just that. It didn’t feel like enough. And so we started brainstorming. We reached out to our brilliant friend Helen Kramer [an LU faculty member!] for her assistance, and the idea started to come to fruition that Sunday.”  

Mollen was able to get his business partner’s support in donating 100% of their sales on March 31, while Professor Kramer spearheaded the GoFundMe. Mollen shares that “Our dear friend Aaron Sidman is a lawyer and a staunch ally, and he offered to do the leg work on what is all necessary for legal name and gender changes. He came back with a figure on what it would cost for each person, and that established our minimum goal. We were looking at about $700 [for] each person, and we had three people specifically ask for help, so that set our goal at $2,100. Our grand total from the fundraiser was just shy of $10,000.” 

That number is particularly notable, considering that COVID-19 restrictions are still in place. Mollen says that March 31 was “one of our best days in total sales since we reopened last May after the mandatory shutdown. We saw a lot of new faces and made new friends. And we saw a lot of old friends! Many people that haven’t stopped quarantining made an exception to come out for TDOV and show their support.” He recognizes that “It’s one thing to raise the money we did, and that is absolutely important because it WILL change lives, but equally important (if not more) was seeing the looks on the faces of my friends as they realized this community really does support them and views them as peers.” 

Mollen says that he thankfully hasn’t received any pushback for being an open ally of the LGBTQ community (aside from the Post-Crescent comments section, which he describes as a “hive of scum and villainy”), but acknowledges that the LGBTQ experience in Appleton could be very different: “to be openly trans in a small city like this in the current political climate takes a lot of strength, pride and knowledge of self. I haven’t met a single trans person that I haven’t felt was a total badass.” 

Because Dr. Jekyll’s surpassed the fundraiser goal by such an incredible amount, the additional funds are going to Diverse and Resilient, an organization that works “to achieve health equity and improve the safety and well-being of LGBTQ people and communities in Wisconsin” (diverseandresilient.org, 2021). Though Mollen has never worked with them before in an official capacity, he knows many of their staff members and is a big fan of their work: “What we did here was just one day out of the year, and these folks are doing it every day. That’s why I wanted anything that exceeded our goal to go to them.”  

When asked if he foresaw more community outreach events in Dr. Jekyll’s’ future, Mollen’s answer was an emphatic “Absolutely!” However, Dr. Jekyll’s is still dealing with revenue losses due to the pandemic, so they likely won’t be in a position to do another direct donation event for a little while. If you’re over 21, they’d love to have your support at the bar sometime, but Mollen asks that the legal drinking age be respected because “fines for serving underage drinkers are always devastating, and would especially be so now.”  

Mollen’s mission statement for running Dr. Jekyll’s has always been that “everybody deserves the right to have a drink and unwind, unless you are impeding upon someone else’s ability to do so.” He says that Dr. Jekyll’s “will keep being a place where people can feel safe to be themselves and we can keep listening… we are proud to be a part of Appleton’s downtown community, and we will continue to give back when we can.”