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Howard Brown hosts transgender-focused 'A Call to Action'
by David Thill
2017-04-19

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With eight reported deaths of transgender women of color throughout the country so far in 2017—including 24-year-old Keke Collier of Englewood in February—Howard Brown Health is aiming to bring together Chicago's transgender community, particularly transgender women of color. As part of this effort, the organization hosted "True Voices: A Call to Action," a town hall discussion at its Sheridan site April 13 thatt Teyanna Veasy, PrEP navigator at Howard Brown, moderated.

One in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, said Lia Stokes, research assistant of SPNS at Howard Brown, quoting the National Center for Transgender Equality. She noted wide disparities for transgender people in areas of employment, health care, and subjection to violence. ( More than one in four transgender people have experienced a bias-driven assault, according to the NCTE, and rates are higher for transgender women and transgender people of color. )

Stokes remembered one of her own friends, 24-year-old Christian Paige, a transgender woman murdered in Chicago in 1996. "Her murder has been unsolved for 21 years, as so many other murders of Black trans women, and trans people in general, go unsolved for so many years," said Stokes.

Community activist Tania Cordova spoke of challenges facing transgender people of color throughout the world. In other countries, she said, people are criminally prosecuted for being transgender. Originally from Mexico, Cordova said she was the victim of a hate crime there, and almost didn't make it to the United States. Though she eventually did, she said, many of her friends were murdered before they did the same.

"What are we going to do in order to help our neighbor?" asked Cordova, who said that many transgender people in other countries are seeking asylum from dangerous discrimination.

"Though we exist in the midst of violence, we must first make sure that we ourselves are a united front," said Channyn Parker, TransLife manager at Chicago House. Parker later noted that while gatherings like the one at Howard Brown often engage people on the North Side of Chicago, they fail to draw in youth from the West and South sides, who face very different challenges from their North Side counterparts.

Speaking bluntly, Parker said that gender-neutral bathrooms—a highly publicized issue in the transgender community right now—don't matter to the transgender youth from those parts of the city that she has talked to, many of whom are more worried about where they are going to sleep each night or whether they will be subjected to life-threatening violence as a result of their gender identity.

Parker acknowledged that issues such as public accommodations are important. But, she said, "We forget that we ourselves have this amazing privilege to highlight what we deem as important," adding that in the process, "We forget that there are a lot of other voiceless individuals out here who are not being spoken for." She said she would like to see people be more thoughtful of the whole transgender community.

Uniting across the whole city and finding other people to trust within the community are important steps in resisting violence from outside the transgender community, panelists and audience members said. Many attendees noted that they witness conflict within the transgender community. They said that if transgender community members refrain from judgment of other people who identify as transgender, it will help bring them together.

Trisha Holloway, program manager of SPNS TWOC at Howard Brown, finished by emphasizing that "this is a call to action. We want to start a trans coalition and we want to start a trans coalition for women of color."

To take part in that coalition, Howard Brown invites interested readers to contact Holloway at TrishaH@howardbrown.org .


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