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Spokane developers create app to help transgender people transition

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 3, 2020

The Solace smartphone app is seen running in this undated photo from the program’s developers. Solace, which was released the last week of 2019, is intended to provide transgender people with assistance during their transition. (Solace / Courtesy)
The Solace smartphone app is seen running in this undated photo from the program’s developers. Solace, which was released the last week of 2019, is intended to provide transgender people with assistance during their transition. (Solace / Courtesy)

When Robbi Katherine Anthony set out with her business partner, Patrick McHugh, to develop an app that would assist the transgender community, she was surprised to learn that such a resource didn’t exist.

“When other people who are not part of the trans community see you come out, there’s this assumption that there’s this guidebook, or step-by-step instructions,” Anthony said in an interview this week. “But you’re just completely in free fall when you come out.”

The pair, along with an international team of programmers, developed Solace to fill that void. The free app was released this week for Apple and Android devices. It is intended to be a safe, secure way for people looking to transition to find information about medical procedures, lifestyle changes and legal requirements based on where they live.

The assistance provided, which amounts to more than 100,000 words of text, was in part informed by Anthony’s own transition, she said. The app also gives users a sense of progress by creating checklists to tick off. For people starting the process and feeling overwhelmed, that kind of feedback can be hard to come by, Anthony said.

“This community is plagued by that awful 41% suicide attempt rate,” Anthony said, referencing a 2016 finding that 41% of respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey said they had attempted suicide. “And there’s a chunk of it that stems from that feeling that you’re never going to get there.”

Solace was first developed as part of the HackOut startup competition in Austin, Texas, earlier this year. Anthony and McHugh took home top honors for the app at the weekend competition for LGBTQIA-themed startups and quickly approached sponsors to help support expansion of the project.

The Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund provided a $10,000 grant and nonprofit incubation services for Solace, said Sharon Smith, co-founder of the nonprofit with partner Don Barbieri. Smith said the app furthers the group’s mission of helping marginalized communities in Spokane.

“This fit perfectly into (our mission),” Smith said. “The transgender community is extremely vulnerable and has very little resources.”

The donation allowed Solace, which hopes to form as its own nonprofit, to release the app for free. Anthony said it was important to provide assistance without a paywall for potential users.

“We’ll never charge a dime for it, and we’ll never do any data mining,” she said.

Once downloaded, users are asked to give a name, choose from pronouns she/her, they/them and he/him, and then provide an email address. To log in, users must use a 4-digit passcode. All of those features are designed to allow users to be discreet and remain confident the software can’t be broken into, said Anthony.

“Even if you broke our system, it would be damn near impossible to piece together what someone is doing on that app,” she said. “Even I can’t do that.”

But Solace does have an idea of how in-demand their product is. Anthony said in its first 48 hours of release, the app had been downloaded nationwide, and Smith said she knew people personally who were clamoring for its release.

Anthony said the goal now is to increase the amount of assistance available on the app. While users can select state-specific information, Anthony would like to see county-specific resources available to users and provide updated information about changing legal forms and options that are available in some states and not in others.

“For something like this to come out of Spokane, Washington, is staggering,” Anthony said. “We’re just really proud to have built it here.”

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