With this year's Transgender Day of Remembrance now honoring the most transgender individuals murdered in the United States in a single year, and with fears of increased transphobia after this year's presidential election, a meeting hosted by Pride Action Tank, Brave Space Alliance and Windy City Times at the downtown offices of the Chicago Community Trust ( CCT ) Nov. 17 was not simply a matter of good timing but urgent necessity.
Moderated by DAB of Consulting Director Xavier Danae MaatRa, transgender individuals of color and noted community leaders LaSaia Wade, Eisha Love, Emmanuel Garcia, Reyna Ortiz and Beverly Ross presented an open dialogue concerning desperately needed improvements in resources for transgender and gender nonconforming people of color to leaders and representatives of advocacy groups across the city including Chicago House, Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Illinois, Howard Brown Health, Affinity, CCT, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Association of Latinos/as Motivating Action , Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, Test Positive Aware Network, the Transformative Justice Law Project ( TJLP ), the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ), the Center on Halsted, Heartland Health Outreach, Project Fierce and Equality Illinois.
According to Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim, the meeting "came out of the murder of [Chicago trans woman of color] T.T. Saffore this summer, a vigil that was subsequently held and meetings with [Chicago House TransLife Care Program Project Manager] Channyn Lynn Parker and LaSaia Wade of Brace Space Alliance about ways we can move the dialogue forward between communities. This is a starting point."
The ideas explored were the result of a Nov. 13 gathering of almost 20 transgender people of color from across Chicago who formulated actionable steps from a statement of demands released during the Oct. 6 vigil for Saffore.
"I am only 29 and I've lost 30 friends. This past week I've lost three," Wade said. "This is an emergency now more than ever. We've slowly tried to reach the table and we've constantly been denied at it. This past week, we've known 300 reports of hate crimes [against] the LGBT community. A trans woman in the South had her truck was burnt with the word 'Trump.'"
"Not only are trans women disassociated from the cis hetero community, we also experience a disconnect from the LGBT community as well," Ortiz said. "We need to connect resources to the trans community in general."
Ross discussed the need for a major citywide media campaign to create visibility for transgender people of color internal to the LGBTQ community and external to Chicago and Cook County. The campaign would be targeted toward law enforcement, emergency services, healthcare providers, retail outlets and others and would focus upon the lives of transgender people of color in order to create sensitivity, safety and resources.
Wade verbalized the need for spaces by and for transgender and gender nonconforming people of color particularly on the South and West sides of the city where the dearth of advocacy organizations is as critical as the need.
Wade noted that the 24-hour, free services offered by the proposed spaces should include safety from violence, opportunities for trans elders and youth to talk and learn from one another, peer-to-peer counseling and medical advice, job training and professional development.
Increased geographic diversity was also emphasized by Ortiz, who has been working extensive hours at Taskforce, presently the only trans advocacy organization on the West Side, and they are struggling to survive. Ortiz suggested community liaisons to connect South, Southwest, West and Northwest side transgender individuals to the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS services offered on the North Side.
Wade also suggested ways in which advocacy groups could be accountable in programming and leadership opportunities for the transgender community of color, whether through board incentives, job fairs, cultural sensitivity training, more comprehensive grant applications, grant writing support, and ensuring that trans applicants are not eliminated from employment if a background check should determine arrest or incarceration for an activity of survival.
Love, who was jailed in a maximum security men's division of the Cook County Jail for nearly four years without a trial, reinforced the need for housing and holistic health as well as the need for more advocates in the Cook County Department of Corrections ( CCDOC ) who are representative of both trans feminine and trans masculine individuals.
"If it hadn't been for Channyn, I don't think I would be here today, free right now to talk with you," Love said. "We need help. People are coming out of jail and have nowhere to go."
Solutions included housing opportunities that would take trans people off the streets and allow them to be self-sustaining, the integration of trans youth and adult issues into general homelessness services, a sustained fight against police brutality toward transgender women of color, and safety training for transgender sex workers.
Finally, both Wade and Baim offered ideas to improve fundraising efforts including a tithing from community groups of $25-per-$100K-budget each month for the next two years, fiscal sponsorship for transgender and gender nonconforming start-up organizations and enhanced fundraising partnerships with existing nonprofits.
All of the leaders in attendance expressed support of the concept of working better together to create solutions and more resources and inclusion of trans and gender nonconforming people of color.
Organizers hope that a timeline of attainable and measurable goals for inclusion of transgender and gender nonconforming people of color in agency staff and board functions can be created by no later than March 2017. The first step will be creating an asset and deficit map of current resources available to trans and gender nonconforming individuals in Chicago.