2021 has been a trying year for everyone, especially members of the trans community. The Mahogany Project, Inc. (TMP) Executive Director Verniss McFarland III, a nonbinary individual who uses they/them, she/her, and their name as pronouns, says this year has been heavy and fraught with burnout and hopelessness.
According to a recent study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, members of the LGBTQ community who did not suffer from anxiety and depression have experienced those conditions since the COVID-19 outbreak. The 2021 Texas Legislative Session and additional special sessions have also had a devastating impact on the local LGBTQ community. Lawmakers tried to pass over 75 anti-LGBTQ bills, and none of those bills got far—except one.
On October 25, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which requires trans student athletes in interscholastic competitions to play on sports teams that match the sex on their birth certificate. The bill, and others like it, have had a detrimental effect on the well-being of trans and nonbinary youth.
“The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors have been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas who are scared and worried about anti-trans laws being debated in their state—and some have even expressed suicidal thoughts,” said Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, in an article by Los Angeles Blade. “This is a crisis.”
But 2021 isn’t irredeemable. McFarland says the year has also inspired resilience in the trans community. Their volunteer-led organization secured a place for a resource center in October—an achievement made possible thanks to the community’s support, McFarland’s experiences as a nonbinary person, and TMP’s desire to provide a safe space for Black trans and gender-nonconforming people.
“Trans people are oftentimes left alone to solve our own problems,” McFarland says with tears in their eyes. “The Mahogany Project has limited staff and funding but so much imagination, vision, and resilience to just make it happen, not only for us, but for so many other people.”
Along with TMP, local trans-led organizations The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc., Save Our Sisters United, Inc. (SOSU), Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), and Casa Anandrea/OLTT and Organización Latina de Trans en Texas are going to celebrate trans people’s resilience, achievements, and lives with educational and empowering events during Transgender Awareness Week (TAW) and the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). TAW is celebrated November 13 through 19 to help raise visibility for trans people, while TDOR on November 20 honors the memory of trans people who were killed.
The Human Rights Campaign has reported at least 41 trans or gender-nonconforming folk have been fatally shot, or killed by other violent means, in 2021. Five trans folk were killed in Texas, one of whom, Iris Santos, was murdered in Houston. A majority of the victims, including Santos, were trans women of color.
Throughout November, TMP will host a documentary screening, a ball, a dinner, a spoken-word and visual-art event, and a brunch—all designed to celebrate the trans community.
McFarland says it is important to recognize trans people while they can appreciate and reap the benefits of being honored. “When you die, we’re going to hang flowers over your head. You can’t smell those flowers. Those flowers absolutely serve you no purpose. Who they serve are the people who came and put them on your grave—like, ‘This is my good deed.’ What we [should do] is uplift the trans community in their time of need. Celebrate the trans community, instead of mourning the loss of a trans person.”
McFarland is not the only one who believes it is important to remember and praise trans folk. The Normal Anomaly Initiative will recognize members of the trans community and allies at The Marque Awards and Community Thanksgiving Dinner on November 14.
Honoring members of the trans community and allies is important to The Normal Anomaly Initiative Executive Director Ian L. Haddock, because he wants to highlight the positive side of allyship to inspire others to become better advocates for the trans community.
“To protect Black trans women, I have to do more because they’re more marginalized, but [in return] I get a wealth of brilliance, friendship, and connection,” Haddock says as he reflects on his friendship with Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri Espeut, a Black woman of trans experience and The Normal Anomaly’s director of ancillary programming.
Not only will the nonprofit kickstart their Transgender Allyship Day event at the dinner, but The Normal Anomaly will also relaunch the Trans Ally Collective (TAC). That collective consists of TMP, SOSU, and the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus—groups that have partnered to uplift Black women. Espeut, who will oversee the collective, is excited about the event and the relaunch because it will help shift discussions around TDOR from trans deaths to trans life.
“The Day of Remembrance is about highlighting trans trauma and trans death, but really for me, being a Black woman of trans experience, my journey has always been about life—walking a path that is not tried and true,” Espeut says. “ We don’t talk about our successes, our joy, our love. That’s what Trans Allyship Day is. It’s about not only uplifting Black trans women, but also our allies.”
SOSU also wants to commemorate trans people with Reign in Paradise: TDOR Memorial 2021, an art exhibit on November 20 that honors the lives of trans folk who have been killed. Archway Gallery will feature portraits of trans people who were murdered, along with printed details such as how their loved ones remember them.
“Our Day of Remembrance event is not in the memory of their death, but in their life, the fun person they were, to show them as human bodies who were brutally taken from us,” SOSU’s founder Atlantis Narcisse says.
Narcisse wants to change the narrative surrounding trans murders because it is dominated by details about their murders rather than their lives. That can be traumatic for Black and brown trans people, so she hopes the Day of Remembrance event helps attendees heal—especially Black and brown trans guests.
“This event is trying to make a happy note out of tragedy,” she says. “My focus has been giving homage to those who’ve been taken from us—the trans individuals that were murdered, not on the trans murders.”
Check out a list of local events celebrating TAW and TDOR below:
The Marque Awards and Community Thanksgiving Dinner
November 14 at 3 p.m., East End 3661 Art Studio
This dinner by The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc. will honor several members of the trans community and allies with awards in between performances. Guests’ temperatures will be checked at the door, and they must wear masks to enter. Tables at the event will be spread out.
For more information, visit: https://bit.ly/3mjM9WU.
Mama Gloria – Documentary Screening
November 16 at 7 p.m., online event
The Mahogany Project, Inc. (TMP) hosts a virtual screening of Mama Gloria, a documentary that follows the life of Black trans icon Gloria Allen. Emerging from Chicago’s South Side drag-ball culture in the 1960s, Allen, who is now in her 70s, overcame traumatic violence and blazed trails for the trans community.
Register to watch Mama Gloria here: tinyurl.com/hxepx3vw
The Transgender Awareness Ball
November 17 at 11:30 p.m., Hamburger Mary’s Houston
TMP presents The Transgender Awareness Ball at Hamburger Mary’s Houston. Sponsored by Destination Tomorrow and hosted by the legendary Jrock Ebony, winners will receive cash prizes in seven pageant categories. The categories are open to all, and no experience is necessary.
For more information on the event, visit tinyurl.com/y9kv4d7t
SoulGiving – Fellowship Dinner
November 18 at 6:30 p.m., Maggiano’s Little Italy
TMP and Save Our Sisters United, Inc. (SOSU) are teaming up with Destination Tomorrow to host SoulGiving at Maggiano’s Little Italy. While the community fellowship dinner is centered around Houston’s Black LGBTQ community, the event is open to all queer folks who have been vaccinated.
November 19 at 6:30 p.m., 800 Rosine Street
This TMP spoken-word and visual-art event gives trans folk a platform to talk about their experiences. Dear Marsha will include poetry, singing, dancing, and other creative performances. Everyone is invited to attend.
For more information, visit https://fb.me/e/6Z8dQU3lj
Reign in Paradise: TDOR Memorial 2021
November 20 at 7 p.m., Archway Gallery
SOSU is hosting a walk-through memorial that will give guests the chance to learn more about trans people who were murdered during 2021. Masks will be available at the door, and guests are required to wear them to enter. TMP will have a table at the art gallery with information for guests who need to correct their name and gender markers on official documents. TMP will also give trans attendees the chance to sign up for self-defense items like stun guns.
For more information, visit: fb.me/e/1rLCb0lLL
Virtual Transgender Day of Remembrance
November 20, 6 p.m., online event
To keep folks safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) will observe Transgender Day of Remembrance virtually on its social-media platforms. The event will honor all trans people who lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence during 2021 by showing their pictures and calling out their names.
“We are using the ability of having the online event to be able to share the space with community members and allies across Texas and the world, like last year,” says Gin Pham, TENT’s community engagement specialist. During the event, TENT will highlight other trans-led organizations and the work of trans leaders across Texas.
For more information, visit fb.me/e/18DM7YHO4.
Día de Recordación Trans, and Transgiving
November 20, 7 p.m., 7121 Harrisburg Boulevard
The Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT) presents Día de Recordación Trans (Transgender Day of Remembrance) to honor victims of trans violence in 2021. Cecilia Gentili, who performed as Ms. Orlando in the award-winning television series Pose, TENT’s Executive Director Emmett Schelling, and Alma Rosa Silva-Banuelos, the director of The University of New Mexico’s LGBTQ Resource Center, will appear at the event. OLTT’s Transgiving will also be devoted to a night of remembrance, love, and family.
For more information, visit https://bit.ly/3BNguBu.
The Trans Empowerment and Alliance Party – In Bloom
November 21 at 12 p.m., Hilton Houston Plaza/Medical Center
Hosted by Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri Espeut from The Normal Anomaly Initiative, this TMP rooftop brunch will honor three individuals or agencies for their contributions to the trans community. Attendees must have a ticket to attend, and IDs will be checked. Masks or proof of vaccination will be required, and there is a suggested donation of $30.
For more information or to register for the event, visit https://tinyurl.com/hv3razdr.
This article appears in the November 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.