Today, is International Transgender Day of Visibility, which honors the lives of transgender and non-binary people across the world. For Black people, it’s an opportunity for us to remember that even before the term transgender existed, Black people showed up throughout the diaspora in incredibly diverse ways and that our humanity and liberation is tethered through our linked fates.
While we too often hear of trans and gender non-conforming lives stolen by violence, today is a day to lift up the incredible and powerful ways that transgender people are thriving both within and outside of gender and sex-based stereotypes.
This day is critical for transgender and non-binary youth who need to see that they are not alone and that their dreams are possible. Transgender people are doctors, lawyers, entertainers, elected officials, advocates, athletes, teachers, clergy, parents and so much more. Seeing this breadth of representation can be life-affirming and life-saving. Given the sad reality that still so many people do not have meaningful and intimate (not romantic) relationships with Black trans people, today is also an important opportunity to listen and learn to increase both competence and compassion.
At the National Black Justice Coalition, we are honored to lift up some incredible transgender voices – who make up our Black Transgender Advisory Council (Black TAC). They are trailblazing leaders re-imagining understandings of what it means to live and lead as Black transgender people. Through their breadth of experience, the members of our Black TAC remind us that access to opportunity is a critically important step toward equality.
We cherish leaders like ToniMichelle Williams (shown above) who leads Solutions Not Punishment (SNAPco) a Black trans and queer led organization building safety within our community including by investing in collective embodied leadership and building political power. SNaP Co. was a direct response to the criminalization of sex workers in Atlanta, GA and the abuse of Black trans people by the police and the prison system. ToniMichelle is a community organizer, HIV health educator, and highly sought after public speaker. She earned a degree in journalism from Norfolk State University and is a teacher in trainer after having also graduated from the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. Her CV also includes being a performance artist, author (The Most Dangerous Thing Out Here Is The Police) and healer.
Follow ToniMichelle MissToniMichelle
We celebrate people like Carter Brown who through his lived experiences as a Black transgender man, was compelled to found Black Transmen, Inc. (BTMI) to advocate for the empowerment of transgender people through community building and organizing to address the disparities faced by Black trans people. BTMI enabled the development of the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition (BTAC), a Black trans-led, national non-profit organization that is based in peace-building, community education, public policy initiatives, empowerment programs and direct services. Brown’s most recent accomplishments include testifying before the U.S. Congress in support of the Equality Act, an amendment the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections for transgender people. Brown and his team are also celebrating their 9th year of organizing and advocating for Black trans equality and empowerment – because Black Trans Lives Matter.
Follow Brown and Black Transmen, Inc @BlackTransmen
We revel in the success of Sage Dolan-Sandrino, an Afro-Cuban citizen-artist and founder of TEAM Mag, a digital zine and youth studio. Sage became an activist when she transitioned at the age of 13. Sage is the National Black Justice Coalition’s inaugural Monica (Trans Grio) Roberts Fellow and was recently named one of The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts’ inaugural Social Practice Resident artists (2019-2020 season). She is committed to creating community-based platforms that allow young queer Black and Brown artists space and resources to tell their stories and her leadership has been acknowledged by Teen Vogue’s 20 Under 20, BET’s Future 40, and President Obama.
“It is important that we celebrate trans lives every day, not just today! Black trans folks have been the liberatory leaders of history, yet, we see no recognition except in death. The stories of black trans folk often go untold and in the rare event our narratives do make it to the screen we are erased, through casting and writing decisions. This widespread ration leads to the normalization of our marginalization and violence against us in the streets. We must celebrate our trans siblings not only though posts to social media, but legal action and mutual aid donations. Trans lives are under attack and we need warriors to aid us in this fight. Stand up, speak up, and step-in when you see harm transpiring against us. Walk us home, donate to orgs like For The Gworls so we can receive housing and medical support. Donate to orgs like Black Trans Travel Fund so we can get to and from work safely. And donate directly to us, when you see a GoFundMe, share it! These are all forms of tangible celebration, the kind we need.”
Follow Sage & TeamMag (@thhrift @theteammag) and read this: As the Pandemic Continues, Black Transgender People Are More Vulnerable Than Ever
We honor leaders like Nala Toussaint who has done extensive work as an outreach liaison, conducting safe sex interventions for youth, and coordinating educational and job development services at renowned LGBT public service organizations. Nala is currently the TGNB Health Advocacy Coordinator at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. She engages and mobilizes transgender and gender non-binary (TGNB) patients and their allies – as well as external community members–to advocate for policies that expand access to gender-affirming health care and services. In addition, she is the founder of Reuniting of African Descendants (R.O.A.D), a grassroots project invested in advancing the social and economic well-being of African Descendants, with an urgent focus on queer, same-gender-loving people, transgender, and non-binary people, and ultimately the entire community. Nala’s fierce advocacy work has been included in outlets like Out, the New York Times and Complex.com.
Follow Nala: @Nalasimonet and learn more about her leadership by watching Stop Killing Us: Black Transgender Women’s Lived Experiences
And as we celebrate people like Brown, Toussaint, Dolan-Sandrino and Elliot for their incredible contributions to our society and communities, we encourage you to actively seek to increase your competence about and compassion for the experiences of others. Each of us can learn something from and about the incredibly diverse ways that people enjoy this human experience, especially our Black trans sisters, Black femms, and Black people who are gender non-conforming.
We live at a time when more information is produced and shared in nano-seconds compared to what took centuries to share before. Here’s a list of TDOV events that you can access virtually. We also encourage everyone to learn from and support Black trans leaders like Ashlee Marie Preston, Angelica Ross and Tiq Milan, connect with and support trans-led and focused organizations like the Marsha P. Johnson Institute and SNAPCo and to invest in efforts to ensure that fairness and equality can be enjoyed by all by supporting the passage of the Equality Act as well as voting and civil rights bills HR 1 and HR 4.
Right now, more transgender people are focused on their everyday safety and survival than their quality of life, and for good reason. This year is on track to be the deadliest year ever for transgender Americans. This is unacceptable and it must change. You can call your U.S. Senator today to urge them to pass the Equality Act in order to ensure that there are clear and consistent federal non-discrimination protections that extend to Black women, both cis and trans.
Today, we invite you to celebrate the members of our community who are thriving in spite of all of the obstacles that have been designed to prevent them for doing so. Fanny Lou Hamer, and the teachings of brilliant scholars like Patricia Hill Collins, taught us some time ago that when we ensure that Black trans women are safe, protected and supported then all of us–as Black people–can truly get free.
David J. Johns is the Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition