Brave Space Alliance (BSA), Life Is Work (LIW) and Chicago Therapy Collective (CTC) hosted three free events across the city that they namedTDOR Weekend: A New Era, Together to celebrate the community's resiliency and honor the trans people who have died this past year. This collaboration was designed to unify the South, West and North Sides of Chicago and provide connection, support and healing.
Among those events was a Trans Town Hall held Nov. 19 at Kehrein Center for the Arts on Chicago's West Side.
Following the meet and greet, LIW Founder and CEO Zahara Bassett spoke about the 390 trans people who have been murdered globally since 2001.
BSA Board President and Howard Brown Health Director of Strategic Partnerships Channyn Lynne Parker served as the event moderator.
Panelists included Illinois state Sen. Mike Simmons; trans activist Eisha Love; Illinois Attorney General Civil Rights Division Deputy Bureau Chief Mary Grieb; BSA Health and Wellness Programs Manager and trans activist Niya Mona; Howard Brown Health TGNC Surgical Health Navigator Ella Josefina Jasso; CTC Board Member and Transformative Justice Law Project Court Support Specialist Alexis Martinez; Howard Brown Health TGNC Surgical Health Navigator ZiRenae Young; therapist and drag performer Alex Jenny; BSA Interim CEO Jae Rice; Trans Chicago Empowerment Center Social Media Specialist and undocumented immigrant Eve Stiles; and Cook County State's Attorney Director of Community Engagement Lauren Simmons.
Parker asked each panelist what liberation means to them.
Martinez said means when events like this meeting do not have to happen, because discrimination will have ended in all aspects of life, including employment and education opportunities.
Young added that visibility is the key, when seeing trans and non-binary people in society becomes the norm.
For Mona it means "what we are doing now."
Jenny said that from a mental health perspective it means "to be fully authentic in ourselves," including the connection to one's spirit and other people.
Access to resources without barriers is the key to liberation for Black and Brown trans and non-binary people, according to Rice.
"All of us being here on a Saturday morning is liberation in itself," said Sen. Simmons.
Parker asked what ally support for trans and non-binary people really looks like outside of being a "catch-phrase."
Martinez said the fact that this event was not filled will ally attendees is a problem that has to be fixed.
Mona added that the word ally always gets mentioned in these spaces and that overwhelms the conversation. Her message to allies was "just do it … today is about calling people out. The reason why people are not filling these seats is because you are not calling them out."
Grieb said that from a legal perspective, allies need to provide more resources and visibility.
According to Jasso, allyship should not be conditional depending on the circumstances.
Young added that it "starts with bravery and being able to sacrifice" things to support trans and non-binary people's equality and safety. She also pointed out that this also means supporting hospitals that provide gender-affirming care and the cis partners of trans and non-binary people.
"When you liberate us, that means you liberate yourselves," said Parker.
Parker said there are more cis people that love and support trans and non-binary people, but society prevents them from expressing it in public due to how they will be perceived by the world writ large.
Jenny added that she tells cis people to think about their relationship to their own gender first and "unpack that … because if your definition of manhood or womanhood does not include trans people, then that is a problem."
Martinez said that when she started doing the name changes work, judges were often quite transphobic. Now some of them will ask her what her client's preferred pronouns are. She added that education is the key to ensuring that cis people are better allies.
Love added that it should not just be a hashtag moment.
Parker called Illinois "the California of the Midwest" when it comes to legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community but said that this is not enough to prevent discrimination. She asked Sen. Simmons how those laws are actually being enforced so LGBTQ+ individuals can navigate the world like everyone else.
Sen. Simmons reminded the audience he is the first out LGBTQ+ person to be elected to the Illinois state Senate. He said people with access and privilege need to acknowledge that discrimination continues to happen, even in states like Illinois, including the way "mundane spaces are controlled and policed." Sen. Simmons added that there is a good chance that he will be profiled when he is out shopping and the only thing that helps him is his status as an elected official. He emphasized that elected officials must "require accountability in how these laws are enforced."
New panelist Stiles spoke about being an undocumented trans immigrant who is currently a DACA recipient. She said she asked to be a part of the panel because she did not see that there was anyone representing the undocumented community and she wanted to be that voice. Stiles said undocumented people need to be "unafraid and unapologetic" in public spaces and also hold leader accountable for their actions. She said her DACA status prevents her from doing many things to make her life better due to legal barriers that should be removed.
Other topics included how to decrease the number of trans and non-binary people who are murdered each year and what self-accountability looks like.
In terms of what the Illinois Attorney General's office can do about trans and non-binary people being murdered, Grieb said that her office has no jurisdiction other than to file civil hate crimes lawsuits against these individuals.
Parker also made note of the other elected officials and community leaders that were present in the audience.
BSA COO Stephanie Skora and Lauren Simmons also spoke.