Monica Roberts

Why Black Transgender Issues Are Black Community Issues

Filed By Monica Roberts | July 26, 2008 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: African-American, Monica Roberts, transgender issues, transition, transphobia

"In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute..." - Justice Thurgood Marshall

aa hands_butterfly.jpgAs a proud African-American that also happens to be a transwoman, there is no doubt- and I make it quite clear on many TransGriot and TBP posts- that I love my people.

But some of them don't love me.

African-Americans have a duality when it comes to African-American transpeople. On one hand some of my peeps can be the most accepting, compassionate, articulate and passionately motivated advocates for us.

On the other hand, some of them can also be our cruelest tormentors. Some of our unfortunate sisters who are memorialized on the Remembering Our Dead list (and sadly, this year we are adding three more names so far to that list) were killed by other African-Americans.

I, and my transsistahs and transbrothas, have noted the reluctance of the NAACP, some African-American politicians, ministers and other mainstream African-American civil rights organizations to get on board with pushing for civil rights coverage for their fellow African-Americans who happen to be transgender. Some of this reticence is driven by misinterpretations of Biblical scripture, misinformation, and in some cases outright hatred, ignorance and transphobic bigotry.

But I want to point out why the issues that Black transgender people deal with are Black community issues as well.

Let's start with the most pressing one- jobs. Many of my transgender brothers and sisters are gainfully employed. Many of us are college educated. But because transpeople aren't covered in job discrimination laws in many parts of the country, it's hard for us just to get a job.

Even if we have one, some employers are aware that it's illegal to fire us just for being African-American. They'll just simply say "I'm firing this person because they're transgender" and unfortunately get away with it.

Sometimes, as Rochelle Evans has discovered, they won't hire us period.

Lack of employment is a root cause to some of what ails the African-American transgender community. We gotta eat, put clothes on our backs and have a place to lay our head. In addition to that, we gotta keep the cash flowing not only to pay for the necessities of life, but in order to complete our gender transitions.

Sometimes my young transsisters are kicked out of their homes by their own families. They don't want to deal with their gender transformations out of either sheer ignorance or specious religious reasons.

Cutting us off from legitimate employment and the love and support of their family leads to some people feeling they have no other option but to turn tricks for cash. The end result of that can be what happened to young Ebony Whitaker a few weeks ago.

If they're lucky enough to not run into a john that kills them, then my street walking transsisters are at higher risk for contracting HIV, another issue in which we share a kinship with our African-American biobrothers and biosisters. They get paid more if they have sex with clients without a condom, and it's hard to say no to that if you're trying to survive.

The 2000 Washington Transgender Needs Assessment showed an alarming 25% of the respondents of that survey replying they were HIV positive. If they don't get it that way, then because of the cost of the hormones that we need to transition some girls pool their money to share hormone shots. If the person you're sharing a needle with is HIV positive, then you'll share that with them as well as the hormones you're injecting into your body.

Speaking of injecting things into your body, there's also the practice of silicone pumping parties than can lead to HIV infection, disfigurement or death.

Police brutality, as the Duanna Johnson case demonstrated in Memphis, is an issue we share with our bio brothers and sisters. We also have the added problem of being harassed by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us either verbally, physically or in some cases sexually.

Because our ministers have been more concerned with clocking dollars than uplifting the community and speaking truth to power, they've been acting and sounding more like white fundies instead of adhering to the traditional mission of the Black church to be drum majors for justice. That nasty rhetoric coming from our pulpits has opened gender variant kids up to being bullied, harassed and possibly killed. In some cases it has gotten so bad that some transpeople drop out of school because of it.

If you drop out, not only does it cut your income earning potential and your chances of landing a good paying job, it also greases the skids for you to end up in that vicious cycle that leads to the street life or worse.

The point that I must continue to make until some of my fellow African-Americans get it is that just because we transitioned, that doesn't forever divorce me or any of us from the African-American community. I am just as down with the goal of uplifting the race as any non-transgender African-American.

We African-American transpeople want to do our part to help. But this is a two-way road of mutual assistance. You have a moral obligation as fellow African-Americans to help us, too. We are your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. We are as Frederick Douglass wrote in a North Star editorial in 1847:

We are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other; if we are to succeed.

Frankie Beverly said the same thing in the song "We Are One" over a century later.

I would have to say that transgender issues weren't on his mind when he wrote this song, but the point is we are one people. We'll need help from our biobrothers and biosisters to help stop the misinformation, the violence directed at us by our own people and help from our elected lawmakers to expand civil rights laws so they protect us from job discrimination as well.

Yes, Black transgender issues are Black community issues. The sooner that realization takes hold and we begin working together to solve what ails Black transgender America, the sooner we African-American transpeople can do our jobs to help heal what ails Black America as well.


Crossposted to TransGriot


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Wow. What a great article, Monica. Let's hope the plea to work together on issues that affect us all will be heeded one day...

The worst part is that you have to spell it out.

United we stand and whatnot. Did they miss the memo?

When I wrote my response to CNN'S Black In America:Black Women and The Family the first question I asked was where were the GLBT community. It seems that unless you are heterosexual or CIS your identity as a black person is not counted and you are invisible. I believe a lot of this has to do with the so-called black church. It is has history of marginalizing those that are non-gender conforming. This aspect of our community is very troubling to me. I speak out against it as often as I can. I simply cannot understand how one marginalized group can turn around and oppress another in this fashion.
I really felt it in the case of Had she been CIS Jessie Jackson would have been screaming at the top of his lungs about police brutality and instead there was a vacuum of silence. It was as if the community was saying that it was okay to abuse her because she is trans. I have repeatedly said that we cannot expect tolerance and acceptance from others until we begin to display it as a community. If you cannot stand up for the least amongst you then you don't really value freedom and autonomy.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 27, 2008 2:30 AM

Wonderful consciousness raising Monica. I think part of the cause of the Black ministry in not being supportive is the fear that they will lose some of the federal green masquerading as a "faith based initiative."

I absolutely agree with what is said here both about the issues facing our African-American transbrothers and sisters, but also the necessity of facing these issues as a UNITED community. There is no other way this is going to get done. I can envision a time when small groups or even just one person will have to have conversation with ministers and other church leaders in order to educate them about our issues. One of the ways we can do this is to appeal to their sense of justice by telling them that murdering our young gender variant brothers and sisters simply must stop. Hopefully they will join us in our efforts to stop the violence.
While the issues facing African-Americans is terrible, there is another group rarely touched by this or any other blog that I know about, and that is the Hispanic community. Gender variant persons have very difficult lives in most parts of Mexico, and they come to the USA out of fear for their lives, but when they come here and aren't documented, not only do they face prejudice, but their lack of documentation prevents them from most every kind of job. About the only option is working the streets with all the hazards Monica mentioned in her article. If you think there is a lot of room for improvement here in the USA, may I suggest a visit to the interior of Mexico. Just don't go alone. I was there for a year and a half, and I know.

I love this article. At its core is a case for the basic humanity of all people in our community. Facts are this: if we don't pull together, no one else will or should for us. I also think the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement never addressed diversity and its complexity hence the tendency for Black folk of a certain generation o look down on queers and non-conforming bodied folk in the community. If they had let Jimmy Baldwin speak more often, if they had not privileged correctness and properness over the complex, messy, intricate human animal that is too creative and delicate to be boxed and labelled, I doubt the church would be the main venue to breed hatred and bigotry. Jesus was at the margins, unconventional and unwanted by mainstream religious society in His day. In a Black world, He would be left out. Transfolk are people---simply people who need loving and hurt so deeply. I just wish, ya know?

D'shea Kinta McRae, BLS | February 11, 2011 1:29 PM

I was educated on this article. I learned about the social issues that African American Transgenders face daily. As openly gay African American queer, I grew up with spanish and black transgenders in my community, they were cherish and respect in my community. The transgenders of color in my community held employment positions and had their own apartments, the East Harlem community love them. I also love them! The transgenders was the fabric of the El Barrio and spirit of the community.