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A Transgender Liberation Agenda

Calls for visibility and justice dominated the 2020 Creating Change Conference in Dallas.

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Investing in Our Leaders: Trans women of color were front and center at the Creating Change 2020 conference (photo by Devon Rowland).

Three thousand LGBTQ activists, advocates, and leaders descended on Dallas January 15–19 for the thirty-second Creating Change Conference. The annual LGBTQ event, one of the largest in the world, is sponsored by the National LGBTQ Task Force.  The theme this year was “Learning, Love and Liberation.”

The conference’s goal is “to build the LGBTQ movement’s political power from the ground up to secure our overarching goal of full freedom, justice, and equality for LGBTQ people and their families in the United States.”

The conference bristled with political energy,  and it didn’t shrink from diving headlong into some of the most contentious political issues in this election year: the 2020 census, the upcoming presidential election, immigration policy and the treatment of LGBTQ refugees, and the onslaught of violence against transgender Americans.

An Epidemic of Violence in Texas and Beyond

This year, the Task Force made a conscious choice to place trans women of color front and center at the conference, in response to the alarming and ongoing wave of anti-trans violence. In 2019, at least 25 trans Americans were murdered (including four Texans), according to the Human Rights Campaign. In Houston, 22-year-old Tracy Single was killed on June 30, 2019, and on September 20, 29-year-old Itali Marlowe died after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds in southwest Houston.

The toll of deadly anti-trans violence has become so stark that the American Medical Association has officially declared it an epidemic. Since 2015, there have been at least fifteen murders of trans Texans, with half of those occurring in Dallas, according to reports from the Dallas Morning News. African-American trans women are disproportionately represented among the victims.

The centerpiece of Creating Change is its state-of-the-movement address in which longtime Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey lays out the LGBTQ movement’s key priorities and challenges for the coming year, from the Task Force’s perspective.  For the gathering in Dallas, Carey ceded the stage to four Black female trans leaders to discuss the cultural changes that need to happen in order to ameliorate the lives of trans Americans.

Decriminalizing Sex Work

Taffy Johnson, of Seattle’s United Territories of Pacific Islanders’ Alliance, articulated a clear priority: removing the stigma surrounding sex workers, especially those who are trans women of color.

“Culture change means destigmatizing and decriminalizing sex work so that everyone receives the help and care and support that they need,” she observed. “As an indigenous trans woman, culture change means unlearning the binary assumptions of gender identities. Culture change means that some identities exist beyond that, and are more encompassing of a person’s totality than just a person’s genitalia and appearance. Culture change occurs when a person who looks like me, or who is a trans woman of color, is in a leadership position [that we are oftentimes shut out of].”

Investing in Trans Leaders

Another panelist, Jade Lenore of AIDS United, stressed the importance of investing in leadership-development programs for trans women, for being intentional in putting them in leadership positions, and for supporting them in those roles.    

For Jeynce Mizrahi Poindexter of Equality Michigan, providing financial resources to organizations and programs supporting trans women is key. “Invest in Black trans women,” she declared. “When you ask her to come to your spaces to speak, you honor her with a stipend. If we are asking the world to support equality and what we’re going through, we must first set the standards, as a community, that we are going to go by.”

Shifting the Narrative

The dynamic young activist Micky Bradford, a national organizer with the Transgender Law Center, was heartened by the sharing of stories about trans lives. “We have shows like Pose that are shifting the narrative of what it means to be a trans person of color,” she observed. “What we need to do is put cameras in the hands of every single Black femme trans in this room and beyond [so they can] tell their stories.”

She praised the efforts of organizations like Black Trans Media and House of Pentacles, a film-industry training program that launches Black trans youth into filmmaking. “They are literally training Black trans femmes to be filmmakers, to be storytellers, to shift the policies that govern our lives.”

At the close of the State of the Movement presentation, a dozen trans activists from across the country, including Houston’s Ana Andrea Molina, took center stage to proclaim a Transgender Agenda for Liberation. Key components of that agenda include:   

• Equal access to healthcare, housing, bodily autonomy, and intergenerational connection.

• Respect for indigenous cultural practices and land sovereignty.

• The affirmation of trans children from the moment of birth, so that they are empowered to live as their authentic selves at home, at school, and in public life.

• The granting of full rights and protections for individuals in sex-work economies.

“It starts with trusting trans Black femmes, and ends with ending the prison-industrial complex,” commented Micky Bradford of the Transgender Law Center. “At its core, it is about ending state violence. It is about ending the violence that makes our communities the most vulnerable to interpersonal violence, to discrimination, to being over-policed, criminalized, caged, and murdered.

“Trust Black trans femmes across movements,” Bradford stated in conclusion. 

This article appears in the February 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Andrew Edmonson

Andrew Edmonson has written about the arts for the Houston Chronicle, OutSmart, The Houston Voice, and Houston Ballet News. He won the Award of Special Merit from the Texas Chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

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