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Patrick McHugh, left, and Robbi Katherine Anthony pose for photo October 2018 in Seattle/Contributed

Spokane duo launches app to guide transgender people through all facets of transitioning

By Alysen Boston

Robbi Katherine Anthony began transitioning in her 20s, but due to a lack of resources, her ability to reach legal, medical and lifestyle goals were stalled. 

So she decided to make an app for that. 

Solace helps transgender users with issues like changing names, finding doctors, dealing with workplace discrimination and even clothes shopping, resources Anthony said she wished she had. 

Solace app guides people through transition

“People think when you’re coming out as transgender there’s a guide book, like an Edible Arrangements from the gods and goddesses of the transgender community with a book on how to get from Point A to Point B, but there’s nothing like that,” Anthony said. “Most of the information was anecdotal information on forums or secrets traded in basements.”

Anthony and her business partner, Patrick McHugh, came up with the app while they were brainstorming ideas for an upcoming tech weekend. 

“We were sitting there thinking about what we could do with technology to make life easier for LGBT people,” McHugh said. “We had a couple beers in us at this point, so we were like, ‘Oh, that’s something we can do.’ ” 

Solace ended up winning first place at HackOut, an LGBT-oriented hackathon, in April 2019. 

“It was like catching lightning in a bottle,” Anthony said. “To get that level of validation, that we were capable and worthy of doing this, we knew that failure wasn’t an option. We could see what kind of domino we had tipped in the community.” 

Just eight months after HackOut, McHugh and Anthony were able to ring in the new year by launching Solace for public use Dec. 31. McHugh, the app’s executive editor, said winning first place at the event was one of his greatest accomplishments. 

“We were just incredibly proud,” McHugh said. “Everyone could look at our app and understand it was important, meaningful and that it needs to exist in the world. I was excited to get to work.” 

Anthony and McHugh originally met at a political rally in Spokane Valley while she was campaigning for Spokane County commissioner against Al French in 2018. McHugh said Anthony was wearing a shirt that said, “Build Bridges, Not Walls.” 

“I knew I wanted to work on her campaign,” McHugh said. 

A few weeks after Anthony lost the November election, McHugh got a text asking if he’d like to join her at a tech startup weekend in Spokane. He agreed. 

“This was the world I wanted to be in,” McHugh said. “We ended up taking first place then, too.” 

Anthony seems to have a knack for wearing political shirts. A 2010 graduate of Gonzaga Preparatory School, she wore a pro-choice shirt while campaigning for student body president in her junior year. She was disqualified. 

“I was raised Catholic,” Anthony said. “I didn’t transition until later, but my moral position with faith was always at odds.” 

To make the U.S. and the world as whole a more welcoming place for transgender people, Anthony said we just have to respect how someone wishes to be seen.  

“The identity around gender needs to stop being litigated,” Anthony said. “If people were more willing to treat individuals on a one-on-one basis instead of trying to draw lines around everyone’s identity, that’s when we’ll see real progress.” 

When you open the app, you’re greeted with the definition of solace: “comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness,” the screen reads. There is a slider to select user pronouns: she/her, they/them, and he/him. The user’s selection helps the app match them with useful resources for their journey. 

Anthony said her decision to transition took her to a very dark place, and the lack of resources made things even harder. 

“I was either going to eat a bullet or I was going to get torn apart by society,” Anthony said. “I had to make a choice. Even if it would cost me everything, at least I would be alive and living on my own terms.”

She chose her name, Robbi Katherine, in part to make things easier for her family and offer herself some protection in situations where people may not respect her gender identity. Her birth name was Robby. 

“The middle name is the name I actually wanted, Katherine,” Anthony said. “Despite my best hopes to be treated decently during my transition, those all went up in smoke. Maybe one day a transgirl out there that wants to be named Katherine, she can have that name and people will call her by that.”

Though Anthony didn’t win the 2018 commissioner election, her goal — to help marginalized people live better lives — still stands. 

“My self-preservation is built on a love for others,” she said. “I know that sounds kind of hokey, but I don’t see my life being done until I’ve done everything I can to make life easier for others.” 

And Solace is just that. Anthony and McHugh intend the app to be everchanging, growing with the laws and expanding outside the gender binary. 

“If I just survive and make it as fair as my life expectancy based on good health, that’s the achievement for my lifetime,” Anthony said. “Hopefully the work I do in between will help other people like me.”

About Alysen Boston

Alysen Boston is a writer from Baltimore living in Pullman, Washington. She has a bachelor of arts in communication with a specialization in multimedia journalism from Washington State University. She works as an events coordinator for Paradise Creek Brewery and is a former reporter and editor at the Daily Evergreen and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. She can be contacted at alysen.n.boston@gmail.com. To read her articles and editorials, visit dailyevergreen.com, dnews.com or facebook.com/MPDailyNewsOpinion.

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