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Reflections on Trans Day of Visibility

I don’t usually talk much about myself. As a white, upper-middle-class, genderqueer person assigned female at birth, my role is to step back and make space for the voices of others, especially people of color, folks living with HIV, youth, immigrants, and people whose experiences of marginalization have been more acute than mine to be heard. After all, on the heels of this year’s Trans Day of Visibility, I want to give my community space to shine.

But to break from my usual modus operandi, I was born and raised in St. Louis and have lived in the Washington, DC metro area for almost 24 years – more than half of my life. In 1993, still identifying as a cisgender woman, I came out as bisexual and have been through several labels since. I’ve been solidly queer-identified since the mid-‘90s and genderqueer since 1998 or 1999. Since graduating from college in 1995, I’ve been working in social justice and have loved it. Outside of work, I currently volunteer with trans and gender non-conforming children and tweens, help coordinate a local anti-racist book group, and am a member of the Race and Equity Task Force of Hyattsville, MD, where I live with my life partner, our three rescued cats, and one rescued dog. This is my second time working for AIDS United, having served here for 8 years in the early ‘00s and then returning in 2017, much to my delight. This is an amazing organization, where I’m surrounded by passionate, committed colleagues who exemplify principles of social justice.

As Program Manager, I run a few of our grantmaking programs, including the Transgender Leadership Initiative (TLI). TLI is unique in the HIV funding realm in that there is no other source of support dedicated exclusively to leadership development for trans folks, particularly those living with HIV. TLI attempts to rectify the absence of evidence-based leadership training options for people of trans experience. It also seeks to counter the lack of resources that are directed toward trans-run organizations doing work for and in trans communities. We have committed to awarding the majority of TLI’s resources to organizations reflective of the communities they serve. Our grantees are “building the plane as they’re flying it” – creating leadership curricula while simultaneously testing those curricula in their communities.

And they’ve been successful. Our first cohort of 8 grantees last year:
  • Provided training and mentorship to 57 trans people;
  • Supported the advancement of 6 people to new leadership positions, including on Ryan White Councils and non-profit boards; and
  • Supported 11 leaders in gaining full-time employment.

Additionally, AIDS United supported Round 1 TLI grantees in presenting their work throughout the country. Grantees made 12 presentations at national conferences on topics ranging from serving Latinx trans communities to how cis-run organizations can better work with people of trans experience.

I have found all my TLI grantees incredibly inspiring, whether they are working with Black trans folks experiencing or emerging from incarceration, teaching trans youth to advocate before local and state lawmakers, or training trans Latinas or Pacific Islanders to speak truth to power and registering community members to vote. The organizations we fund are passionate about their work, can leverage every last dime out of funding they receive, and dedicated like only those in or from a community can be. I can only wish for half of their energy, passion, and commitment.

Let me offer just two examples from the 14 grantees I’ve been fortunate to work with over the last 18 months to demonstrate best the kinds of things these organizations can achieve. First, the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRCNM), which received grants both last year and this year, started with a team of trans women doing street outreach. The program has since expanded to become a formal internship with two interns. The support helped one of their interns become stably housed for the first time in years and is helping to fund the employment of the program’s coordinator, herself a woman of trans experience.

In Round 2, we made two grants to organizations supporting youth. One, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW!, is engaging trans youth of color, including those living with HIV, as community leaders to create trans-affirming policies and legislation. Led by a young, Black, trans woman, their youth are engaging the media, elected officials, and the grassroots to combat stigma and improve health programming. You can learn more about the other youth-focused group, MOASH, in a blog post by one of their youth leaders.

All our other Round 2 grantees are wrapping up their grant year now. AIDS United is certainly eager to see the amazing results that they’ve no doubt achieved and I am just as excited to share them with you. In the meantime, please check out our Round 2 grantee profiles here. You won’t regret it!

Posted By: Shannon Wyss, Program Manager - Tuesday, April 02, 2019

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