Chicago Public Library's Pride Heritage Committee and Brave Space Alliance hosted a panel discussion, "LGBTQ Activism's Past, Present and Future in Chicago," Oct. 12 at the library's Woodson Regional location.
Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt served as the event's moderator. Panelists included Ser el Cambio Founder, community educator and advocate Tania Cordova; Chicago House TransSafe Coordinator, advocate, activist and T, Stands for Truth author Reyna Ortiz; and Brave Space Alliance Associate Executive Director Stephanie Skora.
Following an introduction by Rogers Park library branch Adult Librarian Alexis Cantu, Hunt told the crowd about the all transgender identified panelist lineup.
Hunt asked the panelists who influenced them to become activists.
Cordova said it was her godmother, the late Miss Ketty, because she learned so much from her. She added that Miss Ketty was instrumental in getting many transgender women like herself access to hormone therapy drugs. Ortiz also said Miss Ketty as well as Miss Ketty's daughter Monica Fernandez, who was her Ortiz's mother.
Skora said she has been "yelling about injustice" since she was a child, and that the three people who have inspired her were the late Sylvia Rivera, Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman. She added that meeting both Bornstein and Bergman was very meaningful to her.
Other topics included the Stonewall Uprising relationship to Chicago; the panelists' relationships to the Boystown neighborhood; how LGBTQ people are affected by the current immigration and refugee/asylum seeker policies; and hate crimes against transgender people, especially Black transgender women.
Both Cordova and Ortiz said they did not learn about Stonewall until recently, and Ortiz added that there is an issue with LGBTQ history not being passed down from one generation to the next. Ortiz said transgender people of color are primarily focused on survival.
Skora mentioned the recent Human Rights Campaign- and CNN-sponsored LGBT Town Hall, where transgender women interrupted the proceedings to highlight the issues facing the entire transgender community but were forcibly escorted out of the room. She added that there is a direct line between Stonewall and the town hall "through the organizing and direct action of transgender women of color who are publicly visible and take over stages, grab microphones, interrupt speeches, and shut down Pride parades because people are not interested in listening to us."
Cordova, Ortiz and Skora said they do not feel safe in Boystown and have not for a number of years. Cordova said that, for transgender immigrants like herself, there is no safe space in this country.
Ortiz spoke about being a sex-worker from 1999-2003 who worked along Halsted Street and how it was a safe space during that time but it is now a racist and classist neighborhood. Skora said for her Boystown is just a place that exists in Chicago and the only safe space for her in the city is at the Chicago Dyke March.
Cordova spoke about her work helping asylum seekers while Ortiz said no presidential administration has been friendly toward transgender immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Skora tied the current anti-immigrant Trump administration policies to what happened to Jewish refugees who were turned away from the United States during World War II and sent back to die in concentration camps.
Ortiz said that hate crimes and violence against transgender people is a community problem that has to be taken care of at the community level. Skora spoke about dismantling white and cisgender supremacy and capitalism, and funneling money toward grassroots organizations and resources that help the most marginalized in the LGBTQ community. Cordova said that this work starts in one's own biological families to eradicate anti-LGBTQ bigotry and violence.
Cordova said Ser el Cambio is a new support and resource network for transgender women of color who have been incarcerated or detained and that they need funding to continue their work.
Ortiz spoke about helping house 90 transgender and gender nonconforming people who were previously experiencing homelessness.
Skora said Brave Space Alliance is partnering with the Transformative Justice Law Project to address issues around Illinois name change laws as well as partnering with the Intersex Justice Project co-founded by Pidgeon Pagonis to make Illinois the first state to delay medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex babies and children.
See prideactiontank.org/, serelcambiotrans.org/, www.chicagohouse.org/, www.bravespacealliance.org/ for more information.