Author Archives: Rebecca Wisotsky

Trans Justice in Action: 2014 Grantee BreakOUT!

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2014 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

BreakOut1“I’m inspired everyday.”  This is what Wes Ware, the Director of BreakOUT! said when I asked him to tell me about a time he was inspired by their work of. Really? Every day?! Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe I’m burnt out. Maybe I’m exhausted by the struggle and need a nap. But, in that moment, I couldn’t imagine being inspired every day. So I pressed Wes for more information. How is that possible?

BreakOUT! builds the power of LGBTQ youth ages 13-25 who are directly impacted by the criminal justice system through youth organizing, healing justice, and leadership development programs. Wes broke down the realities for trans youth in New Orleans for me. “The majority of BreakOUT! members are trans young women who are black, involved in street economies, and struggling with jobs and family life. Beyond every day being a struggle, they still continue to come to BreakOUT! and do work on behalf of their entire community. The struggle is real.” These members’ investment in the organization’s work is a testament to their resilience. I was starting to understand where Wes’s daily inspiration came from.

BreakOut2The struggle is real. Brought together by their shared experiences with injustice and oppression, the members of BreakOUT! have built a deep connection with each other. But Wes also wanted to make sure that this connection is not romanticized. “BreakOUT! feels like family,” he explained. And with family comes both beautiful moments and challenges.

One beautiful moment was the recent release of their “We Deserve Better” report. BreakOUT! wants to make sure that trans youth of color’s stories are uplifted in this recent report and that their youth members are consistently reminded of their rich legacy of struggle against injustice. They are also educating the general public about the long history of queer and trans people of color organizing and seeking to end discriminatory policing practices, particularly for black transgender young women in New Orleans. As the mainstream TV cameras once again disappear, BreakOUT! and many other grassroots communities know that the story of racial profiling, militarizing of police forces, and unjust court proceedings continue for black, brown, low income, immigrant, youth, and queer people. Our communities’ cameras have not turned off. Our realities continue. 

BreakOut3BreakOUT! remembers that many people who have been murdered by the New Orleans police never had a day in court. They wrestle with the fact that so many black and brown trans women are murdered by the state and that their lives are going unnoticed. This hard reality fuels the fire that keeps members organizing. BreakOUT! sees this particular political moment as an opportunity to educate allies about how and why we ended up here and what steps they can take, even after the public rally ends. This is a moment for us all to be politicized, re-politicized, question everything, and create collaborations and strategies.

The struggle is real and small, underfunded trans and queer youth of color groups like BreakOUT! are leading the way. Learn more about how they are doing it at www.youthbreakout.org.

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2014 Grantee Transgender New Hampshire

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2014 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

TGNH

As I was settling down in my usual coffee shop in Brooklyn, getting ready to speak with Julian Long from Transgender New Hampshire (TG-NH), I was feeling a bit sheepish. I didn’t know much about the state of New Hampshire or the experiences of trans people living there. So I did a bit of research about the great state of NH and here is what I found out. New Hampshire is the 5th smallest state with a population of 1.3 million. Only an estimated 38,000 people out of that 1.3 million publicly identify as LGBT.* Boston, the nearest big city and the place with the most support and medical resources for trans people in the area, is not accessible to many New Hampshire residents, especially those in the western and northern regions of the state.

Why all the numbers? I wanted to get my head out of that Brooklyn coffee shop (which, at the moment, felt like it had a population of 500) and think about what it might mean to live somewhere so rural that even if there were other trans people nearby, they might not be out because of hostility in their local community. It’s hard to say what the trans population in the state of New Hampshire is, because as Julian pointed out to me, New Hampshire is comprised of many low-population-density, fairly rural regions, which have few resources for LGBT communities in general and almost none for transgender communities specifically. That’s why TG-NH works to build connections and bring badly needed resources to trans people throughout the state.

Starting with the idea that change begins at the grassroots level, TG-NH has held four state-wide regional meetings over the last year to grow local community, bring people together, and share resources. Because the southeastern part of the state is more densely populated and is also where the University of New Hampshire is located, they have had more success organizing regionally there. The northern part of the state is a mountainous region where travel can be tough, especially in the winter. And throughout New Hampshire there are many sparsely populated areas where it is hard to hold an event with significant turnout without requiring people to drive long distances. TG-NH is still working hard to get regional meetings off the ground in those places. Having a strong online presence has helped with rural organizing, visibility, and connectedness to community when people can’t always reach each other in person.

TG-NH has also been working to tackle state policy issues. Recently they collaborated with the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders to work on getting the city of Portsmouth, NH to adopt a non-discrimination policy for transgender people. “Fighting discrimination not only provides crucial protections to an extremely vulnerable and marginalized community, but it benefits the whole community,” Julian explained. The policy was passed in March of 2014. For only being 2 years old, TG-NH has made huge strides! The struggle continues as they are now tackling the DMV’s policy for changing gender markers on IDs.

Along with TG-NH’s great successes over the last two years, challenges persist. They’ve been through some growing pains and leadership transition. They realize that while they are diverse in terms of background, they are not as diverse in terms of state geography. TG-NH is also run solely by volunteers and they are not a 501c3, which can make fundraising tough. Julian stressed that “keeping our people fed, housed, and in jobs” remains one of the greatest challenges. “Sometimes we just need to talk to one another,” he explained.

When I asked Julian what people could do to support TG-NH, he answered with an official call to trans people in New Hampshire to get involved with TG-NH’s steering committee. They are especially seeking people who know local trans resources, who can connect to other trans people in their own community, or have some non-profit experience. TG-NH believes strongly in being an organization that is led by and for trans people. But local non-trans allies, they need your help too: TG-NH needs space to bring people together in their own regions, and to host potlucks and meetings, so hand over the keys to your meeting rooms! Share your resources! If you want to get in touch with TG-NH, email them at TransgenderNH@gmail.com or visit their facebook page here.

*According to the Transgender Law Center Equality Map

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2014 Grantee Black and Pink

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2014 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

Black and Pink trans health fairPrison abolition is real. It’s not a theoretical issue or a pipe dream. It’s a concrete issue and the stakes are high. This is what the staff, “free world” volunteers, and incarcerated members of Black and Pink think about as they do prison abolition work, as they are everyday outraged by the violence against LGBTQ people in the prison industrial complex.

Black and Pink is an organization of  volunteers who work across 8 national chapters, with the most active being in Boston, MA. There are over 6,500 incarcerated LGBTQ folks who are doing the work of Black and Pink. Both inside and outside of the prison industrial complex, Black and Pink volunteers are connecting with each other to abolish a system that is rooted in “isms.”   

When I talked with Jason, Black and Pink’s one staff member, he highlighted two incredible ways that incremental but tremendous change is being made towards the concrete goal of prison abolition and liberation. I will lay them out here for you, in hopes that you will see that making change at both the systemic level and in someone’s daily life is attainable.

Black and Pink at Jobs Not Jails rally

Black and Pink at Jobs Not Jails rally

The Monthly Newspaper: With stories, poetry, art, and articles by LGBTQ people in prison, the monthly newspaper is 80% prisoner generated and allows for prisoners to connect with each other. It is distributed to 4,200 prisoners across the United States and is an effective tool for organizing prisoners and sharing strategies for change. Prisoners are able to tell stories about how they have fought for access to hormones, release from solitary confinement, entitlement to programs, and other demands. Recently an incarcerated woman in California wrote into the newspaper multiple times, asking Black and Pink to organize volunteers to write letters to her warden. Her goal was to get out of solitary confinement and get access to hormones. This process has connected her to other trans women across the country and has succeeded in getting her out of solitary confinement, although she is still fighting for hormones. She was so inspired by her experience that she started a Black and Pink chapter in California! Lesson learned from this story? Victory doesn’t always mean winning all your demands. Sometimes it looks more like building cross-struggle alliances and leadership development.

I wish I could only deliver good news, but the reality is that Black and Pink is denied their right to distribute the newspaper to multiple prisons across the United States. In Kentucky, Black and Pink has been denied on the premise that the prison refuses anything that “promotes homosexuality.” Black and Pink have also been denied to multiple prisons in Michigan for “providing information about the prevention of AIDS.” Black and Pink continues to struggle against these denials and find ways to challenge them. You can read the latest Newspaper here.

Black and Pink at the Chicago Dyke March

Black and Pink at the Chicago Dyke March

The Pen Pal Program: Ok, there’s a chance that if you’ve read this far, you might be inspired, outraged, intrigued…but still not know what you can do to support incarcerated LGBTQ people. I’ll make it real easy for you. You can be a pen pal. Right now there are over 6,500 prisoner members and only 2,500 successful pen pals/outside connections. By becoming a Pen Pal, “free world” volunteers work in solidarity with prisoners through a mutually beneficial connection. “Free world” pen pals are educated on the issues that affect LGBTQ prisoners daily and LGBTQ prisoners are relived from some isolation and gain support on many levels. One Chicago-based pen pal has been visiting and writing their pen pal for well over a year. They have been developing a connection based on care and compassion. This has helped the “free world” pen pal ground their work in concrete issues that they have developed into workshops like the School to Prison Pipeline. If you want to become a pen pal or have more questions about it, click here.

I truly hope you will take this moment to understand that prison abolition is a reality that can be achieved. And for the moments in which we’re feeling defeated, I’ll let the resilient words of Zarabee from California keep us fighting for justice.

The Light of Our Great Spirit

Let us be proud of who we are,
Whether we are black, pink, circle or square.
Locked up or free WE will be,
With our head held high, we will strive and survive,
As our sister Brielle in Louisiana said,
“Still I stand and never will I fall,”
Let that be the call to oppression, depression, hatred,
Alienation, discrimination, loneliness, and fear,
Loving ourselves let us be proud to be queer.
Brothers and Sisters, let us rise,
Letting the loves for our lives shine,
Like a beacon of light, A thousand suns,
Rising to the sky at once.
A light of our great spirit.

—Zarabee, California
From the June 2014 issue of the Black and Pink Newspaper

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2013 Grantee DC Trans Coalition

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2013 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

DCTC_1

“We believe that as many people as possible should be involved in making decisions that will affect them.”

“We believe that people are capable of liberating themselves and should not be dependent on others to speak for them.”

“We believe in acknowledging existing barriers to participation in our organization, and are committed to challenging those barriers.” 

These are some of the guiding principles of the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) that I learned about from dedicated volunteer member Nico Quintana. Nico generously took the time to fit me into their busy day and talk with me about some of DCTC’s biggest accomplishments and biggest challenges.  

In Washington D.C., there has been increasing violence against trans women of color. Government and outside forces have responded to these tragedies without anyone ever asking the trans community what they needed or what they wanted to see as a response. So DCTC decided to take action.

DCTC started a community-led needs assessment to explore and document the many issues trans folks in DC face. The assessment was created by holding local roundtables in which members of the community from many racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds explained their areas of concern to researchers. DCTC then hired community members and gave folks stipends to reach as many trans folks as possible to make this survey successful. They ended up collecting 600 surveys! So what is the theme we’re seeing here? Say it with me people: community-led work = community-led solutions = community-led liberation!

DCTC_2In July of 2013, DCTC had a preliminary meeting, in both English and Spanish, to share the data collected and analyzed from the surveys. DCTC used part of their TJFP grant to pay for materials and give out bus tokens to help make the meeting accessible. This was the one of the biggest local efforts DCTC has ever accomplished! You can check out phase 1 of their summary findings here.  Nico relayed that DCTC wants these results to be shared with everyone, but especially with activists in DC who need data in order to push forward policy around trans healthcare, shelters, unemployment, and violence.  “We continuously have to confront the criminal (in)justice system for its systematic devaluing of trans lives.”

While there are great successes to be proud of, Nico told me that there are also daily challenges. One challenge is money. DCTC is not a 501c3 because they believe that “the corporate non-profit model should never entirely replace democratic, grassroots organizations.” They also believe that “political organizations should be accountable to their communities and to the individuals who are most directly impacted by their work, and not to corporations, governments, nonprofit industries, or wealthy individuals.” So they do not accept corporate or foundation funding or private sponsorship, and depend on grassroots fundraising by their members. Radical fundraising like this isn’t easy, so the group’s budget is small and DCTC is run by volunteers members. The challenge in this is that the people who most often have time to volunteer are often also people with more privilege (i.e. they have another sustainable source of income, are not homeless, etc.). This makes it harder to keep and maintain a membership that crosses race and class lines. But DCTC uses the funds they do have to maintain community participation and maintain sustainability. 

Rooted in the traditions of social justice philanthropy, TJFP is a community-led funding initiative supporting grassroots, trans justice groups run by and for trans people. TJFP is keenly aware of the power that funders hold over what work gets prioritized and the importance of local grassroots trans justice work. A perfect (funder) match to DCTC? I think so. 

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2013 Grantee Rainbow Community Cares

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2013 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

CAM00766While reflecting back on my conversation with Rev. J and her work with Rainbow Community Cares (RCC), I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of capturing her remarkable commitment. Sure, I could start with posting RCC’s mission, talk about how they aim to serve “as a resource with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning people in the Raleigh, NC area and beyond to promote community reconciliation and enlarge the scope of spiritual expression within organized communities…” But, as with many TJFP grantees, my conversation with Rev. J went deeper than that and got to the core of why trans justice is critical to all movements. How do you express the importance and passion behind someone so committed to this work and making trans justice a true daily lived reality? I’m not always sure how to do it, but I’m about to try.

Rev. J volunteers over 40 hours a month at the LGBT Center of Raleigh just to be available to people looking for support, looking for a connection. As a minister, she creates services, ceremonies and rituals for life passages like name changes and transitions. Rev J and RCC are also creating tools that help allied faith communities engage in advocacy work with LGBTQ people. Since faith communities have historically been instrumental in shaping and supporting policies and laws, they also have the influence to help people become better educated on the issues and concerns that transgender and gender non-conforming people face. There is so much work to be done with faith communities to help them understand how they may be supporting policies and laws that hurt trans and gender non-conforming people. RCC has developed a document to be used when helping allied faith communities discern how to best work in engaging in advocacy for LGBTQ folks within their faith community and beyond. To gain access to this and the plethora of resources RCC provides, visit their website.

RCC’s presence as transgender and gender non-conforming folks is extremely important as they respond to the daily discrimination and violence their communities face. They organize and co-facilitate the monthly Affirming Faith Forum at the LGBT Center of Raleigh where local leaders participate in discussions around life issues and needs for LGBTQ folks, their families, and friends. They have been working to encourage people to report incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence, knowing that transgender and gender non-conforming folk face discrimination, harassment and violence at a high rate, and that the data collection on these incidents is poor. Communities of faith can also learn how to better support survivors and work towards preventing violence.

So, I again ask myself—and you, as a reader of this blog—how do you express the importance and passion behind making trans justice a true daily lived reality?  Connect with Rainbow Community Cares, one of our other grantees or applicants, or with TJFP, and let us know!

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2013 Grantee Durham Gender Alliance

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2013 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

DGA_2_croppedThe Durham Gender Alliance (DGA) is a moderated, gender-issues support group serving Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and nearby regions of North Carolina. DGA is guided by the principles of mutual respect, support, and education, and their goals are to develop community, foster leadership, and offer outreach. Membership in the DGA is available to all gender-diverse individuals (cross dresser, transgender, transsexual, intersex, and questioning), their significant others, family members, friends, and allies.

Marcilla Smith is an active volunteer and member of DGA. She was in the car on her way back from a memorial for a trans community member and friend when I caught up with her. We didn’t get into the specifics of how her friend passed, but I think this is an important time to note that the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 30 hate-related murders of LGBT people in 2011, and 40 percent of those victims were transgender women of color. Of course I offered another time to talk, but Marcilla saw this moment as an important one to move the work forward. So we got right into it!

Marcilla was excited to tell me about DGA’s new collaboration with other local groups. They had just participated in a sister group weekend, building bridges with the Triangle Empowerment Center and El Centro Hispano’s LGBT group. Each group’s focus is a bit different, ranging from HIV/AIDS communities, Black LGBT communities, and trans Hispanic communities in the South. The goal of the weekend was to work on intersectionality, build community and find ways to collaborate together in the future. They are planning another retreat and regular meetings for trans folks in all of these communities soon. As Marcilla explained, “For folks who are trans*, there is an opportunity in Durham to nurture an LGBTIQH culture which is not only ‘gay’ but truly Queer.”

DGA currently has one support group meeting each month. They also have a listserve which connects trans* people who are local, have moved away, live in rural areas without support, or are otherwise unable to attend meetings. The listserv has over 200 members and as many as 75% of them have never been able to attend a meeting to receive the in-person support that is critical to trans* lives. Both the listserv and the monthly meetings provide space for people to talk not just about gender and sexuality but also intersecting issues like racism and ableism that can marginalize and “other” members.

Marcilla expressed how important it is that these groups exist because one of the biggest challenges she sees among trans* community in her area is social isolation. Group members often express insecurity about intimate relationships and wondering if they will ever be loved, hesitations about applying for new jobs, and overall general social anxiety. It is critical to the health and well being of trans* communities that members are able to socialize and build community with each other. And it’s critical that we all support groups like Durham Gender Alliance.  Invest in bringing trans* leadership to the center of grassroots social justice movements!

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2013 Grantee YEPP

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2013 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

Group1For those of us who don’t know about the Lakeview area of Chicago, IL, it is considered by many to be a welcoming space for LGBTQ individuals. However, this relative safety may not be felt by the LGBQ and trans* youth who experience homelessness. Police, business owners and neighbors oppress LGBTQ street youth, due to classism, racism, transphobia, ageism and other social issues that disproportionally target LGBTQ youth of color.  

The Youth Empowerment Project (YEPP) serves as an outlet for these youth everyday by creating full theatrical productions from the stories of their lives to create restorative justice pieces between the Lakeview police and queer youth. YEPP seeks a safe environment for LGBTQ street‐based youth between the ages of 12 and 24 to explore their history, investigate new ways to address their struggles and to celebrate their strengths through the process of developing a theatrical performance piece.  Yep, YEPP is so awesome, they made a documentary about them called “Out In The Open.” 

I recently spoke with Bonsai Bermudez, the previous program coordinator of YEPP, about the challenges they’re facing and how impactful this work is on the lives of everyone involved. (Side note: Bonsai is one of the most fabulous, gentle, kind, heartfelt, people in this work I’ve had the privilege to talk to. At the end of the conversation, I wanted to jump through that phone and give them a big hug of strength and solidarity.)  Bonsai explained that YEPP’s work consists of 6-months of individual and group work where LGBTQ youth can collectively process their experiences of being street based queer youth.  They then work together to produce a public performance.  The show is a healing experience for the performers and it is also a group healing experience for the audience. The first show Bonsai worked on with YEPP youth was 3 years ago and Bonsai told me he didn’t realize how powerful it was going to be in the theater. He said, “I feel so privileged to experience something like this and so does the audience. This work, this art, is a healing tool for everyone involved. And let’s just be real and say art is a powerful tool of social justice and most importantly an honoring of our ancestors who created art to survive and share their lives either secretly or subliminally for fear of discrimination and prosecution.”

What YEPP is doing is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t come without major challenges. Recently, young people in YEPP have been experiencing a lot of HIV related deaths. Some of them are HIV+ and those who aren’t get scared about the risk and internalize it. They say things like, “I don’t want to be queer anymore.” Some YEPP youth have been locked up by the police for minor “crimes.”  The impact the criminal injustice system has on people’s lives is detrimental to their livelihoods in more ways than I have room to list here.  However, there is still beauty and resilience to be found in this moment, and that is that YEPP youth are still rehearsing while they are locked up even though they don’t know if they will be able to perform in the production. A lot of LGBTQ street youth are survivors this has had an emotional, physical and spiritual impact on their lives. Embracing and dealing with the challenges and realities of queer youth’s lives can sometimes slow the momentum of YEPP’s performances moving forward, but it’s also an important part of their work.

For some of these queer youth, the space that YEPP provides is so much more than a place to heal. It also provides liberation and harm reduction through education, food, transportation, stipends and, most of all, friendships and community. As a community-volunteer-run program, YEPP doesn’t have the capacity for a full time paid staff to develop and coordinate fundraising efforts. TJFP’s grant has meant the hustle for funds to pay for the basic needs to run the program has slightly lifted. But as we all know, funding for the arts, LGBTQ youth and social justice is in short supply, so the struggle continues.  To learn more about YEPP you can visit them here. They should be on your list for amazing organizations to watch out for!

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2013 Grantee TILLT

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2013 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

Tiltt1Located in the “Bible Belt” of the South, TILTT is on a mission to provide a safe and supportive place for the transgender community, giving them the tools to cope with the community at large. I got the opportunity to catch up with Ms. Cheryl, the main organizer of TILTT, and she shared with me how by addressing the issues the transgender community faces head on, she believes we can begin a new movement to “tilt the world towards change.”

Sounds good right? I’m in! But the big question I had for Ms. Cheryl was: how is TILTT actually tilting people’s negative perceptions of trans folks? And how can TJFP get on board to support the work? Well, let me tell you she had no shortage of answers. I’ll do my best to list out a couple for you here:

1.  TILTT is dedicated to creating visibility. For the first time, they were able to represent and participate in Atlanta Pride by having their own booth at the festival. Ms. Cheryl used some of the TJFP funds to make TILTT their very first banner which they marched proudly with in the Trans March. For many members it was their first time being in a pride march. She proudly told me, “At the end of the two days, I felt like we really accomplished something and that it was critical that we were there.”

Tiltt2

2.  TILTT is being resourceful and building collaborations with ally organizations. One of the biggest challenges Ms. Cheryl shared with me is trying to do outreach to trans community (or “my girls” as she lovingly said) without a reliable source of transportation. Ms. Cheryl tirelessly does outreach to trans individuals to help make them aware of their HIV status, as well as providing current information around prevention and information on resources/treatment for those needing it. “I need to reach the girls where they’re at.” This outreach is done at all hours of the night after public transportation is not running. TILTT organizers will now be joining another organization in their clinic van to hand out condoms, give HIV/AIDS testing and education, Hepatitis C prevention education, diabetes and high blood pressure testing, and information about how to get involved in TILTT.

These are only a few of the ways in which TILTT is working against racial and transgender discrimination while striving to motivate membership to participate in and provide leadership for community events and actions. There is so much more that TILTT is doing to combat the negative images of trans community while also advocating trans justice. If you want to learn more and really want to tap into the brilliance of Ms. Cheryl and TILTT organizers you can always get in touch with them at www.tiltt.org.

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2013 Grantee First Rain

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2013 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

First Rain pic 2“We often feel like we leave out a piece of our identity.” This is how Rafaela explained to me why it is so important for trans, two-spirited, mixed, indigenous people of color in the Seattle area and beyond to connect with each other and preserve their indigenous ways of life. First Rain is a small collective of people who are committed to creating more accessibility, reconnection and awareness of brave spaces for making ritual around all stages of transformation during a two-spirited person’s realization of body, heart and mind.

It’s not uncommon that communities are built (or rebuilt) as a response to oppression. First Rain began as a response to trans, two-spirit, people of color feeling like they had no access to being in community with traditional indigenous folks in their local area because of homophobia, transphobia and internalized racism. “I wanted to be in more places with each other than just rallies…I just really wanted to be in prayer together…creating places to heal.” First Rain has spent 2013 creating places to heal through organizing sweat lodge ceremonies, talking/prayer circles and pipe ceremonies. Over the last year they’ve hosted many pipe ceremonies where generations of indigenous two-spirit people of color come together and learn rituals and are encouraged to share rituals from their own lines of tradition. Through ceremonies, a resurgence of two-spirit traditions and the reconnection to ceremony contributes to the collective healing of TQPOC communities and the reclamation of bodies, hearts, and spirits. TJFP’s funding was First Rain’s first grant and since receiving it, they were able to help coordinate many more ceremonies and provide transportation for more people across generations to attend these gatherings.

Continuing to create awareness, language and relationships between trans, two-spirit, indigenous people is critical to the liberation of all oppressed people. By continuing to operate in a gay and lesbian mainstream movement we can easily lose sight that our lives are connected and true liberation will only be a reality once we are all free. As people who have been colonized, marginalized and forced to learn methods of survival in our current (and past) societies, it is important to remember that sometimes we need to literally be in the same space with each other to chip away at the isolation that has come between our qtpoc communities. Reflecting on my conversation with Rafaela and the work of First Rain, I was reminded of the power we have when we’re sitting together, learning about each other and being accountable to each other. “It can be difficult to explain because we don’t always have the language. We can get really intellectual, but as time goes on it’s interesting to watch people come into their heart.”

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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Trans Justice in Action: 2013 Grantee Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico

TJFP volunteer Rebecca Wisotsky chatted over the phone with our 2013 grantees to learn more about what their year has been like organizing their communities, providing public education and services, and working towards trans justice. Our grantees generously took the time to share their stories, including their success and challenges. Come meet some of our incredibly dedicated and inspiring grantees from across the country! 

TGRC NMI caught up with Adrien Lawyer, Executive Director of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRCNM), while he was driving home from an

elementary school where he had just supported a 9-year-old student to come out as trans* to his class. More on that later… But first, for those who may not know, TGRCNM is dedicated to serving the transgender communities of the state of New Mexico. In collaboration with community and many other organizations, agencies and programs, they create and cultivate resources that support, assist, educate, and advocate for transgender people and their families and loved ones. Pretty amazing, right? I think so!

I began my conversation with Adrien by asking him to tell me about a recent highlight or accomplishment that TGRCNM wanted to share with all of you, the readers. He told me how they became a 501c3 in 2011 and that since then they have been able to open an official drop-in center to provide case management, support groups, legal advocacy, and so much more. They serve trans* folks who are homeless, struggling with drug use, living with HIV, or just needing a meal, a shower, or an understanding friend. This safe space also provides free trans* specific items like binders, wigs, bras, and packers.

Now I know you’re all wondering about the 9-year-old student who had just come out, so let’s get back to that story. Adrien said that TGRCNM had provided advocacy for people coming out many times before, but this was his first time serving as an advocate for someone so young. “This young person just wanted to have some ownership about how his life was talked about and have his peers be in a safe space to ask questions free of judgment.” About 20 of his peers came to the talk and the conversation flowed freely, covering everything from what does being transgender mean to bullying at school. Adrien told me it was a very positive conversation and that, when it was all done, the student seemed satisfied and relieved. If that’s not a small win, I don’t know what is. This is what we hope and strive for everyday: those small wins and cultural shifts where beliefs of hate and ignorance and systems of oppression are dismantled, leading to a larger goal of liberation for all.  

Of course TGRCNM hasn’t forgotten about the larger transphobic systems that have played into this moment. There is work to be done here too and victories to be won. Violence towards trans* youth from both staff and students is present in schools everyday. To work towards freedom from institutional violence, Adrien sits on an Albuquerque Public Schools task force to propose trans* specific policies to the ABQ school district which is one of the largest in the country. TGRCNM has also successfully obtained funding from the State Health Department and HIV Prevention Office of School and Adolescent Health to fund suicide prevention work. Having this seat at the table and access to state funding makes TGRCNM more sustainable by helping them pay their bills and staff each month. Though let’s not forget that TGRCNM has been doing this work without funding from the Health Department for years. But this along with the grant from the Trans Justice Funding Project allows TGRCNM to remind funders that trans* people know best what they need.  

If you want to keep up with TGRCNM, check them out at www.tgrcnm.org.

Rebecca Wisotsky, a queer, Puerto Rican Jew from New Mexico, with New Yorkers for parents, has been working towards social justice since she was first able to say “justicia.” 

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