Trans Communities Are Demonstrating Incredible Resilience
Through grassroots efforts, we’ve found abundance among ourselves
In late February, New Orleans hosted its annual Mardi Gras celebrations. As usual, there were vivid floats, crowds galore, and attendees adorned in green, purple, and yellow decorative beads. Community organizer Mariah Moore was one of those folks relishing in the experience, but little did she know that just a month later, those Crescent City streets would be all but deserted due to the novel coronavirus.
“A lot of our culture is just gone right now. We’re not able to do a lot of the things that bring us joy like our second lines and celebrating people’s lives,” she says. “It’s hard for everyone, but specifically for us because we thrive on that human contact.”
Since the clampdown of stay-at-home orders nationwide to address the global pandemic, Louisiana has become one of the hot spots for Covid-19. In fact, by early April, New Orleans had a per-capita death rate twice that of New York City. As soon as more information began trickling out about the disease, Moore sprang into action with other LGBTQ organizers to address the needs of the local residents.
Utilizing the LGBT Community Center of New Orleans for space, Moore and organizers launched a grab-and-go lunch initiative. They soon expanded their efforts to raise funds to address rent and phone bill expenses. Last week, they raised nearly $4,000 in 24 hours for the TGNC Peoples COVID Crisis Fund of Louisiana.
“A lot of our folks aren’t receiving any of the stimulus packages because they don’t qualify for unemployment or work traditional jobs. Many are sex workers or drag entertainers,” Moore says.
In New York, The Okra Project, a collective focused on alleviating food insecurity for Black TGNC people in the local area, took a similar approach to support local community members. Founder Ianne Fields Stewart shares that the threat of coronavirus has required multiple shifts from their more holistic strategy of funding Black trans chefs to cook in people’s homes. Initially, she held a pick-up operation at her home, but due to increasing social distancing guidelines, they began delivering food items in conjunction with Black Trans Travel Fund.
After helping nearly 50 Black TGNC folks with their food drive, The Okra Project partnered with another organization, For the Gworls, to highlight the ongoing medical needs and expenses of Black trans folks. Founded last year, For the Gworls typically hosts lavish rent parties and donates proceeds to those in need; however, they’ve also had to switch up their process with increasing demands from the community according to founding host Asanni York.
“We started [raising funds online] five days ago, and we’ve already spent $1,400 to support folks,” they say. “There’s a need, and now it’s a matter of really getting the word out and letting people know that we do have money reserved for Black trans people.”
York is quick to point out that grassroots initiatives are often scrambling for funding because larger nonprofit organizations siphon resources that don’t often reach Black and Brown folks in the LGBTQ community. Aldita Gallardo, a program associate for the Fund for Trans Generations at Borealis Philanthropy, echoes those sentiments, emphasizing that increased awareness of trans experiences haven’t translated into a large enough push to support trans-led movement work on the ground.
“I would love to grieve and save face, but the work requires us to continue moving and do more. I’ve been balancing my own self-care, grieving, and healing through the work.”
When the Fund for Trans Generations first launched in 2016, Gallardo noticed that there was a major disparity between funding specifically for trans people and the larger LGBTQ community. According to a 2015 Tracking Report of LGBTQ grantmaking by domestic foundations, approximately 9% of all funds were specifically allotted for trans communities with a similar figure specifically for all LGBTQ communities of color in general. As of 2018, it seems funding for trans communities has dropped nearly two percentage points while funding for LGBTQ people of color has increased by just one percentage point.
“Folks have been creating mutual-aid efforts, creative food banks, and mobilizing volunteers to not just feed trans folks but their entire communities. They’re delivering care packages with soap, disinfectants, food, and trans-related health care needs like hormones and needles,” she says. “Personally, this has been such a hard emotional time because I would love to grieve and save face, but the work requires us to continue moving and do more. I’ve been balancing my own self-care, grieving, and healing through the work.”
There’s also the grieving of trans people who are still facing an ongoing epidemic of violence in the wake of stay-at-home orders. This year, there have been six anti-trans murders reported, with four occurring since the first reported coronavirus-related U.S. death. And at the end of March, trans Latina community legend Lorena Borjas succumbed to Covid-19, leaving the New York trans community bereft of morale. Activist Cecilia Gentili stirringly eulogized her in the New York Times last week: “Without her we are a motherless brood, but we will thrive nonetheless. In the end, she gave us the greatest gift of all — she taught us how to fend for ourselves.”
That survivor spirit has also been embodied in efforts to support trans people who are incarcerated, particularly at Rikers Island. The Emergency Release Fund, founded after the death of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco in prison custody last June, has continued its efforts to keep folks alive on the inside with support from GLITS on reentry efforts. Alex Tereshonkova, an organizer with the project, shares that incarcerated trans people may be more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus given their extenuating medical needs like HIV-positive statuses as well as heightened threats of violence.
“The week before [the stay-at-home order], we got lots of requests from folks about their clients or family members who were trans and being detained at Rikers to get them out,” Tereshonkova said. “We’ve been doing advocacy work on top of providing bail funds with some that are between $20,000 and $200,000 each.”
While noted grassroots organizers have carried out the bulk of the work supporting trans communities in this time, actor and activist Indya Moore used their platform to galvanize others to support in whatever way they can. Starting March 17, Moore took to social media to send funds to those in need through CashApp. In a time when many celebrities are making ineffectual references to tragedy, Moore believes that it is the responsibility of those with even a sliver of power to alleviate the concerns of others.
“There are a lot of us right now [who are] doing fine, sitting in the house, by the pool, sipping wine; it’s really important for folks to use their platforms to do this work,” Moore says. “A lot of folks who have the attention of millions of people in the palm of their hands must use the resources they have to be of service to those folks who are loyal and consuming their work.”
Moore’s efforts alongside other members prove that the community has a resilient spirit that ignites even when resources are scarce. A common refrain is that they aren’t waiting for the government or other institutions to come to their aid. Stewart, for her part, is heartened by how Black trans people in particular have come together to support each other at this time.
“This is an interesting moment to be reflecting on what community actually looks like and which communities we find worth saving, deserve ventilators, deserve proper health care, or proper facilities where they can be saved,” she says. “I am always amazed by and grateful for and who I always will rely on and lean on are the Black trans community organizers. Those are the people who I put my trust in and they have yet to fail me.”
For more ways to contribute:
Destination Tomorrow and TRANScend Rapid Response Fund
Point of Pride COVID-19 Emergency Fund
Shade Literary Arts, Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund
Trans United’s Showing Up for Our Communities Relief Fund
Emergency Release Fund (Rikers Island)
The Caribbean Equality Project, Emergency Relief Fund For LGBTQ+ Caribbeans
Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, COVID-19 Emergency Fund for LGBTQIA+ Immigrants
LGBT Center Intercultural Collective Inc and Lorena Borjas Community Fund, Transgender Emergency Fund 101
The Okra Project (+NJ and Philly)
The Central Florida LGBTQ+ Relief Fund (Orlando)
Our Fund’s Resilience Fund (Miami Area)
Solution Not Punishments Collaborative’s Black Trans Sex Worker Survival Kits Fund (Atlanta)
Southern Vision Alliance’s Frontlines Leaders Fund
Trans Disaster Relief Fund (Houston)
Artist Relief Fund Amid COVID-19 (Seattle)
Transgender District COVID-19 Relief Fund (San Francisco)
Brave Space Alliance and Trans Liberation Collective Trans Relief Fund (Chicago)
COVID-19 Mutual Aid for Incarcerated Folks (Massachusetts)
No Justice No Pride (Washington, DC)
SisTers PGH COVID-19 LGBTQIA Emergency Relief Fund (Pittsburgh, PA)
Mutual Aid/Foundation Directories
COVID-19 Collective Care Document