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Chicago: Protect Safe Space for Queer and Trans Youth and Youth Experiencing Homelessness!

Update: We won! Thanks in part to hundreds of folks turning up to the hearing and thousands more writing letters of support, BYC got the permit. It was amazing. Love y’all. 

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The place I work, a drop in center for LGBTQ young people experiencing homelessness or housing instability, needs a special use permit to continue existing and we are experiencing resistance in our neighborhood to our presence here. We need your help. Please read this beautiful description of BYC via Prison Culture blog .. it made the tears well up, in a good way. Taking Care of Our Own: Stand With the Broadway Youth Center.

I will also add that the BYC is one of the most transformative,  loving, radical, healing, magical, beauty-inducing, community-supporting, life-sustaining, world-changing spaces I have ever been part of and it’s continued existence is absolutely crucial to the hundreds of young people served here.

(1) Everyone Deserves Safe Work Places. (2) Self-Defense is a Human Right.

Two things.

The DC Trans Coalition released summary findings from the first phase of our ongoing Needs Assessment Project. Click the link to read the full four-page document, and see the press release below the cut or at our website. Please read it. We’ve put a lot of work into this project, and the information is extremely important.

I’d like to highlight one point. Over half of all 108 trans people surveyed marked the trans sex work stroll as a place that is central to their identity as a trans person in the District. The percentage is even higher for the trans women of color who participated. When asked about it, almost all described the (now heavily gentrified) stroll as a place where they hang out with friends, distribute resources, and make sure everyone there is safe from harm.

What does it tell us if one of the primary, tangible spaces where trans people (especially women of color) create communities and build networks of mutual support is also one of the most heavily policed and criminalized places in the world? And what if that place is also the primary work environment for many people within those communities?

Next.

In Minneapolis, a trans woman of color was attacked with racist and transphobic slurs by a stranger. A brawl ensued when the stranger, a white cis man, attacked her and her friends. The attacker was killed somehow, and now that woman is in jail facing criminal charges. This is the same criminal “justice” system that institutionally disadvantages youth, people of color, low income people, trans people, and feminine presenting people.

The woman’s name is CeCe McDonald. The Trans Youth Support Network has organized a campaign to rally around her. If you’re in the Twin Cities, join them. They are also raising money to make sure she can afford a lawyer that will help get her a fairer trial. Visit their site at Support CeCe McDonald! and show solidarity with working class trans communities who are targeted by the prison industrial complex!
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Austerity Hits Home – DC cuts services for sex workers and trans people

I recently started working at HIPS. Working on a harm reduction and anti-oppression philosophy, HIPS assists thousands of sex workers with peer support groups, crisis counseling, safer sex workshops, help accessing services, a drop-in center, syringe exchange, HIV testing, a clothing closet, and more. Every weekend night until 5am, HIPS runs a van that gives out condoms, hot chocolate, referrals and other support to people working the strolls. Plus, they’ve been amazing allies to the broader (non-sex worker) trans community, too. I was honored to be working with them. I have so much respect for HIPS and the work they do. As someone who has used their services and been a volunteer there, I know they are a powerful resource in my communities.

Unfortunately, I’ve already been laid off. The local government decided to cut funding for social programs instead of raising taxes on the top 5% of earners and we lost a crucial grant.

Isn’t it interesting how, during an economic downturn, the government is quick to abruptly discontinue funding to an agency dedicated to supporting sex workers, and whose major constituents are poor Black and Latin@ trans women, but refuses to raise taxes on the ultra-rich?
I’m not surprised, of course. But this one just really hit me directly. In addition to my position, HIPS had to cut peer education classes, a program manager, and will no longer be doing the outreach van on Thursday nights. We were given no notice at all. HIPS has received this grant every year since 1995, so no one saw this coming.

As my friends know, I’ve been dealing with some serious mental health issues. This news has been especially hard on me. I put a lot of my heart and soul into the program and clients I worked with. I was just finishing getting settled and beginning to feel confident in my position there.

For the brief time I worked there, it was wonderful. I got to use and develop all of my favorite skills: designing and writing resource manuals, one-on-one counseling, talking about anal sex, advocating clients through the legal system, leading workshops, and teaching trans women about empowerment, self-love, and the importance of using lube. I was working in my own community (trans sex workers) and my own neighborhood (Northeast/Brentwood). Also, I felt very supported by the HIPS family.

So I’m pretty devastated. I do have my other job at the coffee shop. I’ll survive. But losing this job was a huge set-back to my already-slowly-recovering mental health. Having relief given, and then taken away so soon after, was also especially harsh.

I woke up this morning and felt completely unable to get up. I was overcome with feelings of panic, despair and depression. This was also the first time in a very long time that I had serious thoughts about hurting myself. I had a clear idea of how I was going to cause myself physical pain. That is something that (even during panic attacks) doesn’t usually happen.

I took the day to spend with and think about loved ones. I was able to jump back from this crisis so far. Seriously, to the people (especially at HIPS and my sisters) who stepped in to check on me and sent me supportive messages: I love you all so much!

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HIPS will go on providing really important services, and I’m sure they’ll continue doing an amazing job with the resources they do have. But these funding cuts just gave one more trans woman a choice between poverty and sex work. This time it’s me. (Guess what I’m going to choose?)

I basically just went from being in a position where I was able to help my community get out of poverty, to being another person who will need to access those services.

When the government cuts funding to social programs, we all suffer. The whole city is negatively impacted when sex workers aren’t getting condoms or HIV testing or counseling and all the other stuff HIPS gives.

I know HIPS will be relying more on volunteers than ever, so come sign up with me! Both I and HIPS appreciate the support.