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Transforming trans survival into trans joy

Nov 28, 2022

By Nahr Suha and Dr. Monique W. Morris

Trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color deserve to be safe, free and thriving.

But today, trans and gender-expansive communities are facing multiple, interlocking systems of oppression. Across cities and states, trans communities are under attack from anti-trans legislation that aims to direct physical, psychological and spiritual violence in homes, schools, facilities and communities. This includes legislation that specifically targets youth, as well as trans folks who are Black or come from other communities of color.

In 2022 alone, there have been more than 100 bills introduced in state legislatures across the country targeting young trans people. Beyond political targeting and systemic discrimination, too many young people coming into their trans and queer identity find themselves on the streets compared to their cisgender counterparts.

One year ago, Grantmakers for Girls of Color and the Black Trans Fund, incubated at Groundswell Fund, created the Holding a Sister Initiative, the first national fund explicitly dedicated to resourcing and uplifting trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color. We created this necessary space for cis and trans girls of color to build solidarity and community with one another. To date, we have invested $2 million in more than 20 organizations serving, and led by, trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color through this initiative alone.

Our incredible grantees work every day to ensure that trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color have access to gender-affirming care, which includes hormone replacement therapy, mental health support, as well as affirming clothing and spaces, all of which serve as healing tools. They work to ensure trans youth can meet their basic survival needs including help with securing short- and long-term housing, food, and other necessities. Our grantees do the important work to shift and dismantle the systems that continue to perpetuate violence on trans youth of color. They are engaged in work to advance research, respite and healing, activism toward liberation, policy work, and — most importantly — joy, play and power.

This is why the Holding a Sister Initiative was created: to resource places to heal, find joy, and to co-create a world in which trans girls, femmes, and gender-expansive youth of color thrive. Through our work of deep listening and relationship building with our grantee partners, we affirmed two critical and primary needs we need to fulfill to achieve this goal.

First, we need to create and hold dedicated spaces for our trans girls and gender-expansive loved ones to heal from the layers of trauma they have accumulated throughout their lives. Second, trans girls and gender-expansive youth need to feel safe in their own bodies and in all aspects of their lives. They need connection among one another so they can build a community of care, affirm their own humanity, advocate for themselves and their rights, and have access to opportunities for growth and development. They need their own spaces to celebrate their authentic and unapologetic selves.

Trans people deserve to exist as the artists, healers, visionaries, caregivers and builders that they are and have always been. When we look back to history, trans people were held up as divine keepers of deep knowledge that exists beyond masculinity and femininity. In Native culture, two-spirit identity was widely believed to be the result of supernatural visions or dreams. In many Native Nations, two-spirit people filled special religious roles as healers, shamans and ceremonial leaders. And in the Hijra community in South Asia, they are considered to be a third gender and have been revered throughout history.

Trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color are their own examples of people leading successful, happy, loving lives. They have a depth of knowledge and wisdom that we can all benefit from if only we let them. By centering the leadership of Black trans women and girls, we can secure all of our safety and vitality.

As funders, those of us who support racial and social justice must also resource our trans, femme, and gender-expansive youth of color siblings, niblings and cousins.

Philanthropic organizations and leaders can invest deeply into and partner with existing funds and foundations created by and for trans people, especially those led by and serving Black trans and other trans people of color. They can invest in queer- and trans-led intermediaries and philanthropic serving organizations like the Black Trans Fund, Third Wave Fund, Funders for LGBTQ issues, Fund for Trans Generations, and our own Holding a Sister Initiative. They can take the GUTC pledge and begin the journey to meaningfully increase and track their investments in trans communities, and ensure that trans girls of color are included in those investments. Finally, they can help influence their philanthropic colleagues to follow their example of centering trans communities.

As we commemorate this year’s Trans Week of Awareness and Trans Day of Remembrance, let us memorialize our Black and brown trans femmes and folks. Let us keep creating and expanding space for trans joy, and working toward a world where trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color are robustly invested in — and loved.

This commentary was originally published in TheGrio.