Counseling Grad Student Norena Gutierrez receives Award for Work with Coastal Bend Trans Alliance

Gutierrez Family

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – For her tireless work with the local transgender community, Norena Gutierrez ’22, a graduate student in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, received an Ally award from the Coastal Bend Trans Alliance (CBTA).

The award was presented on Nov. 20 during the sixth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance service and vigil for her devoted support for transgender and wider LGBT+ community in Corpus Christi, specifically for her work with the Coastal Bend PRIDE Center.

A new Coastal Bend resident, Gutierrez first became involved with CBTA after meeting the director of the PRIDE Center at TAMU-CC’s community fair shortly after starting classes at the Island University in fall 2019. As the parent of a trans woman of color, Gutierrez quickly became an able and resourceful ally to the community.

“I started going to the trans support group meetings every Tuesday to learn about the issues facing the trans community,” Gutierrez said. “This led me to create and host the Trans Family Support Group in March 2021 for all those who have loved ones who are in some state of transition.”

For that support group, Gutierrez created over 20 psychoeducation pieces – everything from one-page info sheets to complete presentations, which she shares with family members of transgender individuals who need information and support to help guide their loved ones through transition.

Islander alumna and CBTA co-facilitator Kitana Sanchez ’10 said Gutierrez also designed and oversaw the Transgender Day of Visibility in March 2021 that attracted 60 participants. Gutierrez also became the first counseling intern for the PRIDE Center in August 2021, which allowed the PRIDE Center to begin services for the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Coastal Bend PRIDE Center is the only Texas-based operation of its kind south of San Antonio which provides resources, tools, staff, and a safe, physical space for the South Texan LGBT+ community. Because of Gutierrez’s assistance, and with support from others, it now offers free counseling for LGBT+ individuals, families, and couples.

During her time at the Island University, Gutierrez has explored the intersections between ethnicity, religion, and culture with the LGBT experience, along with how such an experience affects mental health. She is hoping is to plan a workshop for her classmates and professors about the nuances of the LGBT community, along with new research regarding LGBT health such as the link between autism and being transgender.

Now 60, the Boise, Idaho, native has traveled to at least 30 countries, raised two adopted children, and is working on her Master of Science in Professional Counseling in the family and marriage therapy track after 25 years as a senior leader for Hewlett Packard. She has also received 10 scholarships during her time at the Island University.  

“The scholarships I have received from the University and various external organizations have been diamonds in my crown of accomplishments,” Gutierrez said. “Without the financial support, I would have really struggled but more importantly, the scholarships affirmed my trajectory.”

Dr. Jennifer Gerlach, TAMU-CC Assistant Professor of Counseling, says Gutierrez’s Transgender Ally Award is well deserved.

“Norena has been doing incredible, life-changing work with our transgender community,” Gerlach said. “We are so incredibly proud of her and her dedication to advocacy for a community very much in need of support and empowerment.”

Sanchez said having the opportunity to present the award to a fellow Islander proves that Texas A&M-Corpus Christi students are working to find solutions to today’s most pressing problems.

“Giving this award to another Islander gives me hope and realization that there are people out there who care about the issues faced by a marginalized group of people,” Sanchez said. “That is why the Island University continues to be ‘the wave of the future.’”

After graduation, Gutierrez plans to move to North Carolina, where she once called home, to begin her licensure. Sanchez says Gutierrez will be missed, and her impact in the Coastal Bend will be long-lasting.

“We cannot thank her enough for all the hard work she has done,” Sanchez said.