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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Credit union unveils gender-affirming loan package
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2016-02-10

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North Side Community Federal Credit Union ( North Side ) has announced a groundbreaking Gender Affirming Procedures Loan Product ( GAP LP ) package.

GAP LP was created by Lee Dewey, a trans person and accounting manager at North Side. It is designed to assist trans people who are looking for help in covering the expenses related to surgeries, procedures and anything else associated with their transition including, but not limited to, voice lessons and a new wardrobe.

Dewey, who holds an economics/business degree and is also a community organizer, explained that he's "been aware of much unmet demand for a product like this for some time."

North Side's mission is, according to its website, "to promote the financial well-being of our diverse community by providing affordable services and expanding the availability of alternative financial resources."

In announcing the GAP LP, North Side noted that they "strongly feel that providing the trans community with access to our services and developing a loan product package tailored to them is integral to our mission."

Dewey noted that due to North Side's history of inclusion they knew their idea to create this loan package would be embraced wholeheartedly.

"Through my experience working for the credit union for the last two years and the knowledge of their ethically serving diverse groups of marginalized communities since their inception in the 1970s, I have come to trust their lived intent towards harm reduction," said Dewey. "I have come to trust their intent to responsibly, ethically and equitably serve the queer and trans communities through a thorough queering of our internal culture. We have had an in-house Trans 101, I have been able to institute a truly non-binary dress code and my co-workers have willingly followed my recommendations in how to de-gender our interactions with our members until they confirm what pronouns/language they use."

GAP LP is made up of three levels—Starting Small, Build and Save and Signature Access. These levels are designed for those with poor or no credit to those with excellent credit. There is also the ability to sponsor someone under the program's Benefactor Secured loan.

Dewey noted that in order to take advantage of what they have to offer with this program, one has to become a member of the credit union.

"We are a local credit union, with a service area limited to a large swath of the North Side of Chicago, that one must live, reside, work, worship or receive services in to qualify for membership," said Dewey. "Many queer and trans folks access services within this area already, from the Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health, Chicago Women's Health Center, TPAN, etc. If one cannot qualify this way, however, we do also have an internal 501c3 Credit Counseling department, where if one receives free credit counseling, they may thus qualify for membership."

When asked during the research and development phase if this product seems predatory, Dewey explained that North Side is a not-for-profit, community development financial institution with a low-income designation from the National Credit Union Administration ( NCUA ) and was founded on the principles of fighting against redlining practices as well as serving under-banked and un-banked populations.

Dewey has been given full creative control and is also the point person for the GAP LP at the credit union.

"Although I have had full creative control over this product, I absolutely couldn't have done it without this credit union as a platform and the support and collaboration of all the folks that work here, are on our board and in our committees," said Dewey. "Not all folks want or need surgeries, but many of those that do experience multiple high barriers to entry, causing them to seek out underground resources or predatory means; this is about harm reduction."

Ahead of the Feb. 1 official launch date, Dewey distributed the GAP LP marketing materials at the Creating Change Conference. Dewey noted that the response from conference attendees was overwhelmingly positive.

As for this specific product, Dewey noted that to the best of their knowledge this is the first of its kind.

"We've asked around in the credit union world, and although I have heard of one specifically LGBT credit union in Washington, D.C., no one has heard of this product anywhere else in the country," said Dewey. "I further asked everyone I met at the Creating Change Conference and no one there had ever come across a similar product, either. If anyone out there does know of another provider, please do let me know. I'd love to network with them, in my quest to inspire similar products, and queer the world."

"Lee has been a strong advocate for the transgender community over the course of their employment at North Side," said company CEO Sarah Marshall. "They have evolved and continued to mature in their activism and outreach while educating staff about issues facing the transgender community. Lee personally identified a need in a marginalized community that they felt the credit union could address, in a way that was in line with our long history of providing affordable credit to diverse groups. They showed a tremendous amount of initiative in the development of this product, as well as engaged their peers in the process. North Side is excited to offer a unique product that will provide expanded access to financial stability for the transgender community."

See www.northsidecu.org/loans/gaplp-products for more information .


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