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Transgender advocates outline challenges during pandemic
by Matt Simonette
2020-06-10

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The coronavirus pandemic will likely intensify challenges experienced by transgender Americans, especially transgender persons of color, according to local advocates.

In a May 29 forum presented by Chicago House and Social Service Agency, transgender activists and organization officials weighed in on how both the health crisis, and the public and official responses, necessitate action from the transgender community and its allies.

"To speak about this pandemic solely in terms of virus transmission only scratches the surface," said Channyn Lynne Parker, Howard Brown Health's director of strategic partnerships, who moderated.

As the pandemic has unfolded, the community has gotten "a lot of energy from virtual community building, but the challenge is to make that last over the long run," said Ash Stephens, a policy coordinator at the Transgender Law Center.

Reyna Ortiz, who is a TransSafe coordinator at Chicago House, connecting the agency's clients with resources, spoke of the overall paucity of resources for trans people, and of the difficulty having to redirect those scant resources "without having physical contact."

Those difficulties are accelerated even further if a trans person is undocumented, said Tania Cordova, founder of the advocacy SER El Cambio. Those persons are now living with a fear of COVID, a lack of healthcare resources and a fear of detention and deportation, she added. Cordova emphasized, however, that even as the stakes for their survival recently shifted, undocumented trans persons are not only now waking up to their challenges: "This community has been organizing for years."

She further spoke of both the resolve needed for the community to claim its rights and resources, urging them not to be just in "survival mode," and the importance of acknowledging individuals doing activist work on the community's behalf, all too often without pay or even access to care.

"What our community needs is funding," Cordova added. "Our community has a lot of pride, but pride doesn't fill your stomach."

LaSaia Wade, executive director of Brave Space Alliance, spoke about added difficulties that Black transgender people face, noting, "People see my blackness when I walk into a space."

She spoke at length of the police violence that Black Americans have experienced at epidemic levels, portending the numerous protests in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that occurred in the days following the May 29 forum.

COVID-19, Wade said, functions as "germ warfare on people of color." She said that she was nevertheless pleased that Brave Space Alliance was accelerating "levels of respect" from the community, and was receiving acknowledgement of its work from stakeholders and public officials. Wade also emphasized acknowledging contributions from trans men on the community's behalf.


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