5 trans women in Pa. on the problems facing their community

In the LGBTQ community, trans people – particularly trans women – are all too often the most marginalized. Books featuring trans characters are banned in several Pennsylvania schools. The state Senate approved a proposal to ban trans women from participating in school sports that conform to their gender identity. Many trans Pennsylvanians live in unsafe neighborhoods.

In the worst cases, transphobia can become a matter of life and death. Two years ago, Dominique Rem’mie Fells of Philadelphia, a black trans woman, was murdered and her body found in the Schuylkill. Transgender youth experience higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than their cis-gendered peers.

We asked five trans women in the area about their key concerns for the trans community in Pennsylvania and what solutions they would suggest.

Pope is the director of civic engagement at TAKE Resource Center.

Trans kids across Pennsylvania are being attacked. Conversion therapy is still legal in the state; Lawmakers here in Pennsylvania are trying to pass “Don’t Say Gay”-style legislation to prevent trans kids from being safe in school. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast without statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. We will likely soon see attempts to ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans children and teens. I’ve heard from many young trans people that bullying is a big problem in Pennsylvania schools. How can young trans Pennsylvanians be hopeful in the face of this?

Our greatest task is always to leave the world to the next generation better than we found it. To move Pennsylvania in the right direction, we must ban conversion therapy for minors, pass statewide protections from non-discrimination, reject all proposed anti-trans laws, and expand the types of education, social support, and mentoring we offer to trans young people so they know they are not alone.

James is a trans writer, producer and journalist who has produced more than a dozen stories for WHYY and most recently produced the film “We’re still here.”

Too many trans people feel systemically insecure in the workplace. We need employers brave enough to stand up and take the necessary steps to include us at work. That means paid sick leave for surgeries. That means changing hiring practices — creating checkboxes for select surnames, first names, and pronouns is a must. It means working with trans organizations to find and hire more trans workers. But ultimately, these things mean nothing if the organizations themselves don’t have policies in place to protect and include trans workers.

Employers need to implement radical policies that change how systemically insecure we feel in the workplace. They need to hire more transgender workers in decision-making positions at work and give us the confidence and freedom to lead. The problem that most people refuse to acknowledge is that trans rights are fundamentally at odds with how business as usual works. Assimilation is all but impossible for our community without the means to help shape how the system works. It means caring less about the bottom line and investing more in safety and stability for your trans employees. That means employers need to listen first, step back, and allow us to build the world we need. There is a spiritual teaching that says that if you have loved the least of these, you have loved God. Well, inasmuch as employers have chosen to include one of the most marginalized and underrepresented groups in the workplace, employers will do even more to create a workplace where everyone feels included and safe.

Goodwin is the CEO of Eastern PA Trans Equity Project and Lehigh Valley Renaissance.

There are more good people than bad people in this nation, this state and in our local communities. Unfortunately, their voices and actions are drowned out.

Our political culture is more than willing to stoke hateful passions, and that has been compounded by the anonymity of social media.

We need good people to come to school board meetings, visit their local leaders, write letters to their representatives, speak up, vote and speak up – louder than the voices of exclusion and fear.

Sitting back and allowing hateful actions against our community is not an option because once they are done with the trans community, the forces of hate will seek a new target. We have to organize ourselves. We must work together. We have to take action. And we need good people to stand up and be counted.

Sanchez is the transgender rights organizer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Reactionaries at every level of government are trying to strip us of our dignity and erase us from public life, from school sports to health care to what we read. I am concerned for the well-being of our trans and non-binary family. It’s hard to hear our very existence being so debated. We are also overrepresented in the criminal justice system, need access to safe and affordable housing, and will be harmed if the Supreme Court ends abortion rights. But there are people out here who support us and fight for us.

It starts with voting. The gubernatorial and general elections this year are huge. Vote as if your rights depended on it. I also want our community to remain proud of who we are. Critics may try to marginalize us, but we are here and we belong. We are resilient, so let’s keep educating and building support in our communities.

Woodard is the Community Affairs Manager at the Mazzoni Center and co-founder and co-president of the Ark of Safety LGBTQ+ Safe Haven.

My primary concern is housing insecurity and homelessness in the trans community, an issue that has been ignored for far too long. A 2020 research report from UCLA’s Williams Institute School of Law reported that 8% of transgender people have spent at least part of the past year without a place to stay. This compares to just 1% of their cisgender peers.

This problem doesn’t stop there: The Williams Institute also completed a study that found that transgender people are more than four times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than cisgender people. We also know that these rates are, on average, much higher among transgender women of color. Unfortunately, we don’t know how pervasive this problem is in Philadelphia. This problem is so ingrained in our community and ignored by larger organizations.

We need to stop talking about the problem and do something about it. In 2021, after frustrating myself with the limited housing options available to the trans community, I founded Ark of Safety (AoS), a Philadelphia-based nonprofit. AoS is an emerging LGBTQ shelter that improves access to housing for transgender women of color affected by homelessness. We prioritize transgender women of color because of the racial inequalities they face in housing and employment, as well as their lack of appropriate links to crisis intervention.

Those who receive our services are more likely to transition from the streets to safe and stable housing—thus avoiding further violence, victimization, exploitation and legal troubles. In addition, they increasingly feel safe, comfortable, self-sufficient and connected to the community.

I encourage Pennsylvanians to get involved in organizations like Ark of Safety and Morris Home. These organizations need volunteers, monetary donations, food donations, and clothing donations. Host fundraising events with your networks. We need to stop talking about the problems and start taking action.

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