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The Mahogany Project Opens Houston’s First Black Trans Resource Center

Verniss McFarland III previews the organization’s February 26 grand opening.

Verniss McFarland III (photo by Alex Rosa for OutSmart magazine)

The Mahogany Project, Inc. (TMP) is providing Houston with a historic new resource center.

“This is a major accomplishment,” says Verniss McFarland III, the organization’s founder and executive director. “It’s the first space [specifically] for Black trans people in Houston.”

The new center’s grand opening takes place on Saturday, February 26, from 10:00 a.m. to noon at 9896 Bissonnet Street, Suite 370. The nonprofit is renting a multi-room facility inside the community center for some of its events and programs.

TMP was founded in 2017 by McFarland in Houston after the death of Chyna Gibson, a trans woman of color who was shot in New Orleans on February 25 of that year. Chyna was a much-loved performer in the pageantry community who was visiting friends and family in New Orleans at the time of her death. At least 30 other trans people died from violence during 2017. Texas accounts for 10 percent of the 148 transgender individuals who have been murdered since 2017, according to the Transgender Law Center.

As a nonprofit organization, TMP has cultivated multi-intersectional spaces that center the Black diaspora with the goal of decreasing social isolation and stigma while breaking barriers of social injustice.

In 2018, TMP became the sister organization of Save Our Sisters United, Inc. (SOSU), a group of women working to bridge the sisterhood gaps between cis women and women of trans experience. Together with SOSU, The Mahogany Project strives to increase the quality of life for Black women of trans experience in the South. On June 5, 2017, the Mahogany Project was incorporated as a nonprofit entity in the State of Texas, and was recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt charitable organization the following year.

Having a dedicated space will further TMP’s mission to end social isolation and acts of injustice in TQLGB+ communities of color, according to McFarland. “If you are trying to seek mental health, you need a space to congregate with others. This has always been a vision of ours.” 

And now that vision is a reality for TMP. The organization also offers self-defense classes, bus passes, mutual aid, and help with ID changes. Ongoing programs that can now meet at the new center include Transparency, The Body Beautiful, Project Action, and Tea Time. 

TMP will still be hosting events and programs at various locations around the community, just as they have always done. “It’s important to us to still be in the community and doing outreach,” McFarland says. TMP serves around 450 to 550 people annually, and they hope the new center will increase those numbers. 

The grand-opening event is capped at 100 attendees, and requires online pre-registration. Light bites and mimosas will be served, and TMP staff will be masked. Attendees are encouraged to mask up as well. 

Those who cannot attend the event but would like to support TMP are encouraged to donate to the organization at bit.ly/3KBo1Jr or gift them with supplies from their Amazon wish list at amzn.to/3ubYDUT.

McFarland notes that TMP is essentially a labor of love. “We are an all-volunteer staff. We do this work because we believe in what we are doing. We believe the community deserves better resources.”  

What: The Mahogany Project Center Grand Opening
When: 10:00 a.m. to noon on February 26
Where: 9896 Bissonnet Street, Suite 370
Register: tinyurl.com/yc5wpbfx 

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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