'It's A Necessity To Include Us': Black Trans Women Share Their Experiences
Although Black transgender people have been involved in racial and LGBTQ justice movements from their inceptions, they have not been prioritized. We are starting to see not just more trans visibility but elevation — particularly within the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
However, this is also in stark contrast to the disproportionate rates of violence trans women of color face. There have been 21 transgender homicides in 2020 so far, with four reported within the first week of July. Outside of a higher risk of being targets of violence, transgender people also face higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.
"It's extremely difficult just being a person of trans experience in Wisconsin, then to throw [that] on top of [being] Black in the climate that we're in," says Naomi-Antrelle Jones. She says there are very few spaces for trans women in nearly every aspect of life where they get the same response, care and safety the rest of the community enjoys.
Transgender women are also sexually harassed, assaulted, stalked and cyber stalked on a normal basis, according to Elle Halo. She's a community activist, LGBTQ health equity advocate and board member of Diverse and Resilient.
Halo notes that there are also internal community politics and other factors that ostracize young Black trans women within Milwaukee's Black queer community. But the size of the city's community is also a benefit.
"I think it makes it possible for us to connect in ways that aren't possible in bigger cities," notes Halo. "Whether we know each other or not, whether we call each other friends or not, we are really all a family and we all have grown up with each other and been a part of and seen different parts of each others’ journeys. And a lot of that includes times when Black trans women are not safe."
As protests for the BLM movement continue, Halo says it's important that trans lives be included because it's the true vision of the movement.
"BLM was created by three women of color and two queer women of color," she notes. "All of our movements that have produced actual change were intergenerational, they were intersectional, and people called on different people's voices to be able to lend to the movement ... and we have to do that again."
"It's a necessity to include us. It's a necessity to vocally acknowledge and to have representation from queer communities at this time," Halo adds.
"It's a necessity to include us. It's a necessity to vocally acknowledge and to have representation from queer communities at this time." — Elle Halo
Halo and Jones say this is the time to demand justice for things like police brutality, incarceration, health disparities and safety issues.
"Trans women didn't just start getting killed and slaughtered — it just got publicized. And I feel that where we are now, we have nothing to lose so we're demanding respect," says Jones.
Advocacy in health care is also an important aspect of both Halo and Jones' lives. Jones' work as a prep services coordinator at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin helps her dismantle barriers within health care and help others become preventative in their health, not reactive.
"I came into this knowing and understand that I wanted to teach people not just that they should to go to the doctor but how to navigate systems like health care [and] how to advocate for themselves," says Jones.
"We have nothing to lose so we're demanding respect." — Naomi-Antrell Jones
As a community health promoter, Halo notes that while it's important to help others understand things from an academic or data-based perspective, "it's most important to have people that are providing services to look like the people that they're providing them to. And I think that it has to be actionable and not just a concept."
For Halo and Jones, their self-advocacy journeys inform their work of helping others.
"Me and Naomi are in our positions because people gave us a chance and saw our potential regardless of what our identities were. And we deserved that as Americans and we deserve that in our healthcare and in our safety," she adds.
Jones' advice is to make an effort to include trans people not just in conversations but all aspects of life.
"One thing I always tell people is if you are able to offer an opportunity, do it," she says. "I held off my transition a very long time just so I could finish school, just so I can get set in my career and I felt I would be safe in my career ... And we have to make those kinds of sacrifices being trans people."
Halo says it is possible to improve Black and trans people's lives in Milwaukee, especially if service providers make an effort to authentically engage.
"We have to take advantage of what we have here and we have a very, very strong healing justice community here. And we are all interconnected and we just can't let our work exist in silos," she says.