The high profile murders of trans women Alejandra Leos and Gizzy Fowler last year brought the plight of trans people in Tennessee into sharp relief. Unfortunately, such deaths reflect the realities trans people face around the world and across this country. According to Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transsexuals are four times more likely than the general population to live in poverty. Besides being at increased risk for becoming a target of violent crime, “a staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population.”
While major national LGBT rights organizations have recently begun focusing more on bisexual and transsexual issues, such groups are still lagging significantly in promoting trans rights. Rather than waiting for other organizations to catch up, a new organization is forming in Nashville: the Tennessee Trans Justice Project (TNTJ).
Under the leadership of LeSaia Wade, the organization’s founder, executive director, and trainer, TNTJ’s mission will be to “shine a light on inequalities suffered by the transgender community, including: barriers to health care, discriminatory hiring practices, violence and assault. We network to create access to trans-friendly health care services, find resources for HIV testing, access to safe housing, and advocate for fair hiring.”
Wade saw a gap in trans representation in major local LGBT organizations. “I moved back to change the space of public LGBT leadership. Most of the leadership spaces are still filled by cis gay males, and too often trans folks are still looked at as freaks. But we are women and men, and we will be respected as such!”
Wade’s personal history with activism began with a courageous personal statement. As Injustice at Every Turn reports, “Discrimination was pervasive throughout the [trans population], yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating.” Wade’s experience bears this out: “I became a trans activist the moment I identified as trans! When a trans woman of color steps outside her home, it’s revolutionary!”
From that point, Wade moved on to work with the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC), “creating spaces for Trans folks all over.” Bringing the skills she’s developed back to Tennessee, Wade’s major goals are “to create jobs and spaces for my community, to organize training for people to help them get jobs, to help open jobs for our community’s members, and to build a living space of freedom for trans and non binary folks.”
One of the organization’s first major events is directed at the goal of increasing visibility and combating erasure. On Sunday, February 22 TNTJ will host a “Visibility March” beginning at 10 a.m. at Legislative Plaza. The march, the first of its kind in Tennessee, will proceed down to OutCentral on Church Street, and a meet-and-greet will follow from 12–1 p.m.
“The march,” Wade said, “brings attention to the life of trans folks are living and trying to survive, as well as to the ones who have been murdered or were unable to survive… It’s time for us to do more than survive—we need to live free, and the ‘T’ should never be left behind again. We started this at Stonewall. We will now start something here in Nashville!”
For more information on TNTJ, visit www.facebook.com/TNtransjustice. Injustice at Every Turn can be downloaded for free at goo.gl/tHzh6k