PHOTO: The Equality Coalition
“The First- Ever Transgender Person to Chair a Citywide Commission Ousted by Office of LGBT Affairs & Commission Members,” is what many local Philadelphia media outlets are reporting.
It happens all too often too many of us. Too many women of transgender experience who are of color are exploited for our intellectual property, our labor, our image, and our trauma. We are the most under paid, abused, dismissed and disrespected group in the LGBt community. My recent removal from my position as chair of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by the Office of LGBT Affairs and the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs as the only black transgender female and first-ever transgender person to chair a citywide commission is most troubling. The reason for my removal is because I took a risk, a risk to tell the truth. A risk to demand accountability from the Office of LGBT Affairs for the greater good of our community’s most marginalized, vulnerable and underrepresented populations.
During my time as chair I was not empowered and I felt tokenized. I constantly requested bylaws, guidelines, confidentiality agreements, attendance policies, and what the role of the commission is as it relates to city government, Mayor Kenney’s office and the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia to ensure the commission would be able to serve in a most effective capacity. There were no guidelines and/ or procedures for the commission in place. The larger issue here is the treatment of black transgender women in the movement toward equal rights. We are to be seen and not heard. Our voices do not matter unless it is about transgender issues only. I personally know many transgender women who are black that have been discarded, used and abused in LGB spaces that tend to be overwhelmingly controlled by white cisgender gays. Unfortunately, the Office of LGBT Affairs based my removal from chairperson on a series of social media posts, in which, I was questioning the behaviors of two commission members- a white cisgender bisexual woman, who I believe was taking up too much space during meetings, wanted to lead a Community Conversation on racism as the Outreach Committee Chair and the fraudulent fundraising activities by a white transgender woman claiming to be Latinx. Other LGB community members in positions of economic, political and social power, I believe, heavily influenced the Director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes’ decision because they are big money donors to Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community’s non profits, businesses and political campaigns. The Director of LGBT Affairs has both personal and business relationships with many of these individuals and I have made attempts to call for accountability of these individuals regarding racism in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ communites and my removal from chair was an act of censorship. And it is in my opinion that Amber Hikes’ current role as a city employee with the mayor’s office conflicts with her ability to see what is in the best interest of outspoken activists in the community who have critical issues pertaining to racism in the Gayborhood, Philadelphia. Another issue the Office of LGBT Affairs and Mayor Kenney’s Commission on LGBT Affairs neglected to address is the fact that, I was the target of attacks on my race upon first becoming chair in March. One of my biggest issues with Office of LGBT Affairs was their lack of response, sympathy and support when I was being personally attacked by a community member. The personal attacks on me started with an article on a website by a cisgender white gay man, that escalated to a petition and a social media account with many graphic images of black people being lynched and people dressed as the Ku Klux Klan with posts that included my name, photo and social media post calling me the n-word and saying I should be killed. A white cisgender gay man published an article about me, using my private social media post. In that article, James Duggar of QFlix Philly called me, a black transgender woman who lives below the poverty line, without stable employment, health insurance and equal rights, a racist. This article was circulated on social media with a petition calling for my resignation. The Office of LGBT Affairs, did not take any measures to secure my safety, they never offered any type of support or sympathy. The office did not even inform all the commission members of the racist attacks against me. This is what happens to black transgender women all the time, we are never protected, nobody has our backs except us when we are in these spaces and when we take matters into our own hands to protect ourselves, we are demonized, criminalize and victimized. Then we are labeled, and branded bullies, difficult and crazy when that is far from what the truth is. The truth is, gender identity is completely separate and distinct from sexual orientation. The truth is, women and men of transgender experience and our issues should also be separate and distinct from the issues of gay men and women. Bisexuality is also a sexual orientation. Therefore, gender identity has it’s own set of circumstances and experiences that I, a woman of transgender experience who is black need to understand that unless a person is transgender they will never be able to completely understand our experience and many cisgender people will always have unconscious and/or conscious ways of viewing transgender people which in turn affects how they treat us especially in leadership roles and roles of power. Our contributions to revolution and equality mean nothing to many people in our community yet many of these organizations, programs and institutions are benefiting from our oppression and work. We represent the unknown. We are a mystery, something that cannot be put in a box. Therefore, any type of position or role in which a, transgender women of color, occupies that is of power and influence it is eventually riddled with attempts by many cisgender people to undermine and invalidate our contributions to equal rights.
- It is declared and agreed that black transgender women be represented in LGBTQ leadership and Mayor Jim Kenney appoint a black transgender woman to the Commission on LGBT Affairs.
- It is declared and agreed that the Office of LGBTQ Affairs must compensate Black and Brown LGBTQIA community members who are advising the office on issues of racism in the gayborhood.
- It is declared and agreed that a public apology be made to Sharron Cooks for calling her a racist, educationally elitist and biphobic by the Office of LGBT Affairs.
- It is declared and agreed that in the interest of black and brown LGBTQIA individuals that a thorough investigation of the quality of the LGBTQ House of Hope’s services, facility, staff be examined as well as their organization’s status with the state of Pennsylvania and their questionable fundraising tactics during the time Divine Light Inc had a revoked 501 3c Status.
What has been declared and agreed is a Call to Action for The Community to hold those who serve and represent us in the LGBtq accountable.