In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey report Injustice at Every Turn detailed the inordinately high numbers and "wide range of alarming experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people with police and the criminal justice system."
"Black and Latino/a incidences of being incarcerated due only to gender identity/expression were at 41 percent and 21 percent respectively," the report stated. "Sixteen percent of respondents reported being sent to jail or prison 'for any reason,'"
One year later, the Center for American Progress noted that although "gay and transgender youth represent just 5 percent to 7 percent of the nation's overall youth population, they compose 13 percent to 15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system."
Since 2008, the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois ( TJLP ) has established itself as a first line of defense for transgender and gender—non conforming individuals who have consistently been forced to navigate a complicated and, the TJLP argues, fundamentally flawed United States legal system with very little in the way of resources and fewer advocates willing to assist them.
The organization has dedicated itself to providing legal services for the transgender and gender non-conforming communities with a holistic and abolitionist eye. "We want to build a collective awareness of the injustices perpetrated by the state through the legal system, and to support the empowerment of those most affected and targeted by the prison-industrial complex," the organization's website states. "We do not see reform or direct services alone as a solution to systemic oppression, instead we support a long-term broad-based movement for prison abolition."
On March 5, collective members of the TJLP held an open house attended by over 45 people interested in the organization's work which has expanded beyond legal services for those ensnared in the criminal justice system to include legal name change mobilizations, clothing and gift cards drives for those incarcerated, institutionalized or homeless as well as pen-pal projects and a magazine entitled Hidden Expressions distributed and designed to provide emotional connections and support to those transgender, gender variant, and gender nonconforming people isolated in the cells of Illinois' prisons.
Most recently, the TJLP has helped to bring the abuses and torture suffered by the transgender community at the hands of U.S. police departments and correctional institutions to the attention of the United Nations.
"Transformative Justice is our value and way of thinking about what an alternative to the current criminal legal system could look like," TJLP co-founder Owen Daniel-McCarter told the audience. "It doesn't hurt that it has the prefix 'trans' either."
"We were founded out of a critical need to provide holistic, life-affirming and zealous legal services to transgender people who are impacted by the criminal legal system," Daniel-McCarter told Windy City Times. "We believe in gender self-determination which guides all of our legal and advocacy work."
Daniel-McCarter added that the open house was designed for the TJLP to connect and build relationships with the local community and maybe cull a few volunteers in the process.
"It's about transparency with emphasis on the 'trans,'" collective member Lark Mulligan added. "We have at least 30 volunteers so far."
Mulligan discussed the Hidden Expressions zine with the audience. In its latest issue she wrote "I have seen too many of my transgender sisters become incarcerated and harassed by the system. "I believe that collective action is the basis of all beautiful transformation in our world and I believe that amazing things can happen when trans people start talking to each other."
Such is the case when collective member Myles Brady hosts After Hours. "It's a gender affirming clinic which is done in collaboration with the Howard Brown [Health Center]." Brady explained.
The drop-in provides a rare opportunity for the transgender community to freely and safely discuss the issues that affect them. Brady also organizes Glam Squad which "provides gender affirming clothing and products to people who both are and are not incarcerated," Brady said.
TJLP collective member Monica James has a great deal of first-hand knowledge of the injustices alongside the physical and mental desecration transgender people undergo while in the custody of the Chicago Police Department ( CPD ), the Cook County Jail and Illinois Department of Corrections.
It is more experience than she would ever have preferred yet she has imparted it to United Nations commissions held in Geneva Switzerland in November 2014.
On March 11, James will travel to New York to address the United Nations Commission on the Status of Womenaccording to their website "the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women."
"I will continue to press the issues about transgender women of color being targeted and profiled by police," she told Windy City Times. "I will also talk about providing gender affirming health care for individuals who are having a hard time or facing barriers and I will be firm on the violence that trans women of color find themselves under attack by today. The murders that we have seen alreadyand we are only at Marchwill be my biggest vocal outcry."
Windy City Times will be following and documenting James's discussions with and speeches to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.
For more information about the TJLP please visit www.tjlp.org .
Trans photo shoots
offered March 15
On Sunday, March 15, 12-4 p.m., the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health ( ICAH ) office will welcome trans and gender nonconforming individuals to be photographed for various stock photos.
Professional photographers will work alongside stylists and makeup artists to create various scenes to be used in a variety of options for organizational and corporate stock photo needs.
This multi-partnered photoshoot is hosted by TransTech in partnership with RAD Remedy, ICAH, TransNetwork MD, Trans Life Center, and Lurie Children's Hospital's Gender and Sex Development Program.