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Masen Davis reflects on time at Transgender Law Center
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-02-10

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Kris Hayashi moves from deputy director to executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center ( TLC ) on Feb. 1, replacing Masen Davis, who is leaving the organization Feb. 15.

Davis, 43, has been with TLC for more than seven years and said he wants to "remain in the movement," although he first plans to take a break, travel extensively for a few months and pursue consulting gigs before returning to work full-time.

Hayashi has been active in social, racial and economic justice organizing for more than 20 years, including 10 years as the executive director/co-director of the New York city-based Audre Lorde Project.

"I am extremely proud of what I've done since I've been at Transgender Law Center," Davis said. "The organization was already in good shape, but we have grown tremendously since I've been here."

There were four staff when he arrived; TLC will be up to 14 at the end of the year, he said.

"It's been such a dynamic time in the LGBT movement, especially when it comes to the emergence of transgender work. It's been an amazing run," said Davis, who noted TLC is a "fiscally-solid organization in a time when many groups have struggled."

"I am really proud of the impact we've had."

Davis, a transgender queer man, said it's been a "tremendous ride for us as a movement over the last decade—we have come so far and have so many more legal protections and much more visibility than we've ever had. There's so much that we have to build on at this moment."

Davis said national trans icons, such as Laverne Cox, "[are] incredibly important because the majority of Americans still don't know a transgender person," and they are role models.

But still, "we have a lot more work, especially [in] education," he said.

Davis said anti-trans violence, especially directed at transgender women of color, is a major national issue "and we clearly need to grapple with that."

To that, the Transgender Law Center is bringing together a small group in late March in Chicago, "specifically to look at the issue of violence against transgender—and explore possible solutions that we can fight for," he said.

The event is called "A national Trans Anti-Violence convening" and will run alongside the Trans 100. In addition, the last weekend of March will be the Color of Violence 4 ( COV4 ) conference, dubbed "Beyond the State: Inciting Transformative Possibilities." This gathering will mark INCITE!'s 15 years of engaging in grassroots organizing projects, critical conversations, national actions, transnational campaigns, and community building strategies to end colonial, racial, and gender-based violence against women of color, trans and queer people of color, and our communities, according to the event's website. COV4 is March 26-29 at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.

Hayashi is spearheading #translivesmatter for TLC.

Davis will not be in Chicago in March, but he definitely has long ties to the city.

He went to Northwestern University "and I came of age as a college LGBT activist," he said. Davis also worked at Horizons Community Services—first as a volunteer, and then as a staff member—in the anti-violence project. "It was a great place to learn, and in many ways, I feel like Chicago is my home—it's where I came out and just a great city," Davis said.

Davis lived in Chicago for about seven years, from 1989-95. He is originally from Missouri.

"I still remember $1 drink night at the Bistro," he said, laughing.

Davis said Chicago is now a "real innovative hotbed for transgender programs and advocacy, and I love seeing that."

Chicago-based transgender sportswriter Christina Kahrl said Davis is a "tremendous leader, a personal hero." She added, "On Masen Davis' watch, the Transgender Law Center has been one of the most productive LGBT organizations in the country. On the policy front, it has not just worked on better working conditions and access to health care for trans people, it has achieved them. Pound-for-pound, TLC has achieved more with less, delivering results far beyond its weight class. Masen Davis has been a big part of the reason why. Nothing against what's coming next because Kris Hayashi looks like a great hire, but it's a mark of the man himself that Davis leaves big shoes to fill."

Davis added, "I feel real fortunate to have been doing the right work, at the right time and place. It's been such an honor to see the emergence of this organization and this movement. Now I'm ready for my next chapter, and Transgender also is ready for its next chapter—and it is in incredibly good hands with the next executive director, Kris Hayashi."


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