5 trans women in Pa. on the problems facing their community
Here are solutions — from healthcare to employment, housing, and education.
In the LGBTQ community, trans people — especially trans women — are all too often the most marginalized. Books containing trans characters are banned in several Pennsylvania schools. The state Senate approved a proposal to ban trans girls from competing in school sports that align with their gender identity. Many trans Pennsylvanians are housing insecure.
In the most dire cases, transphobia can become a matter of life or death. Two years ago, Black trans Philadelphian Dominique Rem’mie Fells was murdered and her body was found in the Schuylkill. Trans youth experience a higher rate of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts than their cisgendered peers.
We asked five trans women in the region about their primary concerns for the trans community in Pennsylvania, and what solutions they would propose.
Pope is the director of civic engagement at T.A.K.E Resource Center.
Trans kids across Pennsylvania are under attack. Conversion “therapy” is still legal in the state; legislators are trying to pass “Don’t Say Gay”-style laws here in Pennsylvania to keep trans kids from being safe in school. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast without statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. We’ll likely see attempts to ban gender-affirming health care for trans kids and teens soon. I’ve heard from many trans young people that bullying is a huge problem in Pennsylvania schools. How can young trans Pennsylvanians feel hopeful in the face of this?
Our greatest task is always to leave the world better for the next generation than we found it. To get Pennsylvania moving in the right direction, we need to ban conversion therapy for minors, pass statewide nondiscrimination protections, defeat all anti-trans bills that are proposed, and expand the types of education, social support, and mentorship we offer trans young people so they know they’re 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 Are Still Here.”
Too many trans people feel systemically unsafe in the workplace. We need employers who are 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 boxes for chosen names, given names, and pronouns are a must. It means partnering with trans organizations to find and recruit more trans employees. But ultimately, these things mean nothing if the organizations themselves don’t have policies to keep trans employees safe and included.
Employers need to adopt radical policies that change how systemically unsafe we are made to feel in the workplace. They need to hire more trans workers in decision-making positions at work, and give us the trust and freedom to lead. The issue that most people don’t want to recognize is that trans rights are fundamentally antithetical to how business as usual works. Assimilation is next to impossible for our community without the means to co-create how the system operates. It means being less concerned with the bottom line and more invested in safety and stability for your trans employees. It means employers must first listen, step back, and allow us to build the world we need. There’s a spiritual teaching that believes that insofar as you have loved the least of these, you have loved God. Well, insofar as employers have chosen to include one of the most marginalized and underrepresented groups in the workplace, the more employers will help create a workplace where everyone feels included and safe.
There are more good people than bad people in this nation, this state, and in our local communities. Unfortunately, their voices and actions are being drowned out.
Our political culture is more than willing to inflame hateful passions, and that has been amplified by the anonymity provided by social media.
We need good folks to come out to school board meetings, visit with their local leaders, write letters to their representatives, speak out, vote, and become vocal – more vocal than the voices of exclusion and fear.
Sitting back and letting hateful actions happen against our community isn’t an option, because once they are done with the trans community, the forces of hate will seek a new target. We need to organize. We need to work together. We need to act. And we need good people to stand up and be counted.
Sanchez is the transgender rights organizer for ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Reactionaries at all levels of government are trying to strip away our dignity and erase us from public life, from school sports to health care to what we read. I’m concerned about the well-being of our trans and nonbinary family. It’s hard hearing our very existence debated like this. We are also overrepresented in the criminal legal system, need access to safe and affordable housing, and will be harmed if the Supreme Court ends the right to abortion. But there are people out here supporting us and fighting for us.
It starts with voting. The gubernatorial and state legislative elections this year are huge. Vote as if your rights depend on it. I also want our community to stay proud of who we are. Critics can try to marginalize us, but we’re here and we belong. We’re resilient, so let’s keep educating and building support in our communities.
Woodard is the community affairs manager at the Mazzoni Center and cofounder and co-president of the Ark of Safety LGBTQ+ Safe Haven.
My primary concern is housing insecurities and homelessness in the trans community, an issue that has been ignored for way too long. A 2020 research brief from UCLA’s Williams Institute School of Law reported that 8% of transgender individuals spent at least part of the most recent year unhoused. This is compared with only 1% of their cisgendered counterparts.
This problem doesn’t stop here: The Williams Institute has also completed research finding that transgender people are more than four times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than cisgendered people. We also know these rates, on average, are much higher for transgender women of color. Unfortunately, we do not know how pervasive this issue is in Philadelphia. This problem is so entrenched in our community and is one that is ignored by larger organizations.
We must stop talking about the problem and do something about it. In 2021, after being so annoyed with the limited housing resources for the trans community, I cofounded Ark of Safety (AoS), a nonprofit located in Philadelphia. AoS is an emerging LGBTQ haven, which improves housing access for transgender women of color experiencing homelessness. We prioritize transgender women of color due to the racial inequities they face in housing and employment, as well as their lack of adequate connections to crisis intervention.
Those who receive our services are more likely to transition from the street to safe and stable housing — avoiding further violence, victimization, exploitation, and legal problems. Additionally, they increasingly feel safe, well, self-sufficient, and connected with the community.
I encourage Pennsylvanians to get involved with organizations like Ark of Safety and Morris Home. These organizations need volunteers, monetary donations, food donations, and clothing donations. Host fund-raising events with your networks. We have to stop talking about the issues and start taking action.