“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free,” said Hollis Kinner, queer and trans students of color resources and retention coordinator at Portland State.
He was quoting civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and speaking at a virtual event entitled “Black and Trans in the PNW,” which was organized by the PSU Queer Resource Center (QRC) and Pan-African Commons (PAC).
The QRC held a series of virtual events in November for Trans Empowerment, Resilience and Resistance Days (TEMPRR), an annual month of programming leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on Nov. 20.
Most events were held between Nov. 18–21 for the Trans Action and Care Conference (TACC), a weekend of events put on by the QRC for Transgender Awareness Week .
TDOR memorializes transgender people who have been murdered, and recognizes onging violence and oppression that transgender people endure. Transgender actvist Gwendelyn Ann Smith began TDOR in 1999 to memorialize Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in 1998. The day is now annually observed by communities around the world.
Transgender Awareness Week, held to raise awareness about transgender people and the issues members of the transgender community face, takes place the week leading up to TDOR.
Events held by the QRC throughout November included a weekly book club, documentary and film screenings, panels about gender questioning, transgender inclusion and allyship and multiple speakers.
A virtual vigil was held on the night of Nov. 20. A vigil commemorating all the transgender lives lost to anti-trans violence was held during the first TDOR on Nov. 20, 1999. Vigils and memorials have since been held annually by communities and individuals who observe TDOR. At these events, the names of all the transgender lives lost that year are often read aloud.
“As of today, there have been 36 murders of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States this year. This year is higher than last year, and is likely higher than reported due to police misgendering people,” Kinner said at one event. “We will speak their names with utmost diligence and dignity. Trans lives matter. Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter.”
Black and Trans in the Pacific Northwest
One event held on Nov. 18 was billed as “an interstate dialogue on activism, resistance and resilience,” and included two speakers—Jaelynn Scott, executive director of Lavender Rights Project, and Zeloszelos Marchandt, an artist, public speaker and journalist. The event was organized by both the QRC and PAC.
“PAC and QRC staff convened after Tony McDade, a Black transgender male, was fatally shot by police in May of 2020, along with the murders of Black transgender women such as Titi Gulley in 2019 and Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears in 2020, here in Portland,” PAC Coordinator Courtney Taylor said. “This event was created to stand in solidarity and support the Black transgender community, who faces scrutiny by the Black community and society due to their intersectional identites and counter-existence to heteronormative ideals. We are hosting this event during the week of TDOR to pay homage to all of the Black trans lives that were lost this year.”
Scott, a Black transgender woman, is the executive director of Lavender Rights Project, a Tacoma based nonprofit which provides lowcost legal services and community engagement centered around low income LGBTQ+ people and others within marginalized groups.
Marchandt, a Black transgender man, works in various roles as a director, journalist, producer and artist.
The event explored topics such as solidarity, coalition building, allyship, activism, justice and self-care.
The moderator, Aneesah Rasheed, asked what solidarity and coalition building were.
“For me, solidarity means, really for everybody at this point, center Black trans people, just do it,” Scott said. “That’s solidarity for me. If you’re not centering Black trans people, then you’re not doing the work that needs to happen at this moment.”
“Why is there a need for solidarity?” Rasheed asked.
“We need solidarity because we’re not protected,” Marchandt said.
“There has been very little progress, and there has been very little that has translated into our own protection, and we’re being murdered—it’s a genocide,” Scott said. “Solidarity is needed. Some shift in theoretical thinking, some shft in the way that we’ve been approaching the problem and fighting for queer rights, period. It needs to shift. It has to shift, because I need to be able to walk out of my door after 9 p.m. and feel safe.”
From there, the conversation touched on topics like allyship and activism before landing on liberation and justice—the theme of this year’s TEMPRR and TACC.
“Right now, [transgender people] are barely even case numbers, is how I feel,” Marchandt said. “There’s so much explanation, and not enough people who see a trans person for being human—human first, a human who just happens to be trans. That’s justice to me, and I don’t feel like we’ve really got it yet, but I’m hopeful that we will soon.”
“I don’t think we have a good picture of what justice is or what it will be, and I think we’re looking with the wrong eyes,” Scott said. “We can’t get there from here. It is something that we have yet to figure out how to approach.”
Speaking about liberation, Scott said: “We are so stuck in survival that we can’t even hear the word liberation. And for thousands of years, people have been able to imagine the end times, and imagine the afterlife, and imagine their futures, and imagine the futures of their children, but that has been robbed from us.”
“We’re in survival, and we’re not able to have that imagining,” she continued.” I can’t even approach the liberation question. I can approach the survival question, and I can say that I don’t know what justice is yet. It’s not what we’re doing yet. It’s somewhere out there, and we might be on the right track of discovering it, but it is a discovery that is yet to happen.”
The speakers then discussed ways to build coalitions and solidarity across the Pacific Northwest, as well as self-care.
“Being with community and talking about these things that we’re passionate about, I mean, maybe this is the only self care I can do at the moment,” Scott said. “It’s work, but it’s still invigorating.”
Before closing out the event, Kinner explained the importance of providing solidarity for the Black trans community. “It’s important to note that anti-trans violence disproportionately affects trans women of color, specifically Black trans women,” he said. “We can’t be leaving people behind.”
Dominique Morgan, a Black transgender woman, award winning artist, activist and TedX speaker, was the keynote speaker for TACC on Nov. 20.
Morgan is the executive director of the largest prison abolitionist organization in the United States, Black and Pink. As a formerly incarcerated person—she once spent 18 months in solitary confinement—Morgan advocates from personal experience. She also works in various roles as an educator and activist.
“Dominique Morgan is a Black, formerly incarcerated trans woman, community organizer, educator, advocate, visionary, musician, author and multifaceted leader local to Omaha, Nebraska,” said Angeline Booth, a TACC organizer, in her introduction. “She consistently challenges oppressive systems and works towards, in her own words, ‘community solutions for change and engaging in the empowerment of system impacted individuals.’”
“Since 2018, Dominique has served as the executive director for Black and Pink,” Booth said. “Black and Pink is a national, abolitionist organization that aims to support and advocate for LGBTQ+ and HIV+ people through organizing, education and providing direct services.”
Morgan began her talk by discussing transgender narratives and identity.
“I’m really thankful to be here today, not only because of holding space with you all, but for a day like today, TDOR, and this desire that we have, as trans and gender non-conforming people, to be seen as more then a hashtag,” Morgan said. “To be seen as more than the oppression that we have to navigate, to be seen as more than the stories that are told about us when we’re unable to tell our own stories. Opportunities like this also allow us to say that we were here, and allows us to tell our own stories, and to leave a mark on how the world sees us.”
From there, Morgan began discussing her own life experiences.
“I’m a person who lives with HIV. I’m a person who lives with the experience of having PTSD. I navigate the world with ADHD and oppression. These are my truths. I’m a Black trans woman. Of course every day isn’t perfect. Of course every minute isn’t sunshine and rainbows. But what I mean when I say that is, no matter what type of day I have, I recognize and I hold that this isn’t the end of the story, and I have to stay present in the story because there’s something greater coming.”
During the Q+A portion of the event, the moderator asked, “How do we destigmatize things like being formerly incarcerated?”
“I don’t think anyone has not been connected to someone who has been impacted by incarceration, and that’s one of the important reasons that we talk about people being system impacted, because it positions me to be able to talk about not only the person who was in the prison, but also their children, their partner, their neices, their nephews, their church,” Morgan said. “To say that when we make decisions around incarceration and we think we’re kind of making these singular decisions, that is not true.”
Morgan also discussed finding access to joy and liberation, as well as food, music and comic books.
“I have decided that being simply resilient is not going to be my whole story,” Morgan said. “I know so many folks who, you know, you find that new restaurant, or you’ve made this great recipe, and you cannot wait to tell everybody about it. You can’t wait, right? Why, when we are talking about access to joy, access to liberation, aren’t we talking to people in the same way, like it’s an amazing recipe?”
Morgan concluded by discussing the importance of centering Black trans people.
“If I’m centering the most oppressed in how I’m creating solutions, everyone else is inherently going to benefit,” Morgan said. “For our white trans and gender non-conforming siblings: your identity is so valid, and so important, and absolutely that pressure that you’re navigating is real. But the shield of whiteness is real as well.”
“Understand that you not being centered does not mean that you’re being erased,” she said.
Over the weekend, additional events were held by the QRC for TACC, including workshops and panels, and on Nov. 23, TEMPRR concluded with two events: one panel discussion about trans inclusion, and another about cisgender allyship.