Health & WellnessLifestyle

Food and Friendship for the Holidays

Montrose Center provides Thanksgiving meals to transgender Houstonians on November 24.

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TGiving volunteers Atlantis Narcisse (l), George Zemanek, Jayla Sylvester, René Mendiola, Matty Gracia, Kai Jones, Kennedy Loftin, and  Kaylee Christine (courtesy photo). 

Due to stigma and judgment, some transgender people are unable to celebrate the holidays with their biological families, according to Houston activist Atlantis Narcisse. “It is our chosen families that remind us that we are not alone and that we are valued members in the community,” she notes.

In order to provide displaced queer folks with a Thanksgiving celebration, the Montrose Center hosts an annual dinner event for trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming individuals. Traditionally, this event is an in-person potluck dinner, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s TGiving on Tuesday, November 24, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. will be drive-thru style to ensure everyone’s safety.

The Montrose Center has hired a private caterer to prepare and seal individual meals, which will then be distributed by volunteers to people’s cars. In addition to the Thanksgiving dinner, attendees will receive shelf-stable food boxes, comfort/care packages, personally written Thanksgiving cards, COVID-19 resource information, and raffle tickets.

The Center has also produced a Zoom video that folks can watch while eating their meals. A variety of transgender community members will speak about how the community can still come together in spirit this year, even though they can’t meet in person.

Matty Gracia, a nonbinary Houstonian, says that attending TGiving in 2018 helped them find a sense of belonging. “I was taken aback by being in a room filled to capacity with other transgender and nonbinary community members, and I was inspired by how nurturing and inspiring our community is,” they say. “Now, more than ever, because of social distancing, it is essential to host this event to provide hot meals and care packages to our community, so they know they are being thought of and taken care of during the holiday season.”

TGiving is part of the legacy of the late Brenda Thomas, a local trans activist who began hosting an annual trans-affirming Thanksgiving Day celebration in her home beginning in the mid-’90s. After Thomas passed away in 2006, local trans organizations took over the effort by holding their own potluck dinners. 

In 2018, those organizations decided to hold a joint dinner at the Montrose Center. Kent Loftin, the Center’s chief development officer, says last year’s event served more than 125 people. “It’s one of the Center’s favorite events,” he says. “People love to cook and prepare for it.”

While reflecting on the evolution of TGiving, George Zemanek, who volunteers each year and runs the Be Free transmasculine support group, notes that this thriving dinner tradition began with about 10 friends. “I believe that Brenda Thomas would be so happy that we have continued what she started so long ago,” Zemanek says. “This year, there was concern that COVID-19 would put a halt to our beloved Thanksgiving potluck. I am infinitely grateful that the good folks at the Montrose Center have found a way to make this event happen.”

While TGiving is an event specifically for trans individuals, any member of the LGBTQ community can sign up to help with the distribution effort. Loftin says a total of about 25 volunteers are needed this year, and their tasks will range from prepping and moving meals to loading cars and providing cheer to attendees in the parking lot.

Narcisse, founder of Save Our Sisters United, Inc., a Houston organization that serves trans women of color, has already signed up as a volunteer. “I will enjoy taking part in the Transgender Thanksgiving Dinner drive-thru, because it is important for our transgender community to visibly see and feel unity within the community.”

To register for a TGiving boxed meal, visit bit.ly/mctgiving2020 (English) or bit.ly/tgivingesp2020 (Spanish). To donate items for the care/comfort packages through Amazon, go to bit.ly/montrosecenterwishlist.
To volunteer at the event, register at
montrosecenter.galaxydigital.com.

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

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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