October 15, 2014

Queer poet to share creative expression during SF visit

Poet Andrea Gibson makes two appearances in San Francisco this week. (Photo: Maria Del Naja)

Poet Andrea Gibson makes two appearances in San Francisco this week. (Photo: Maria Del Naja)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

Award-winning poet Andrea Gibson is in San Francisco this week for two appearances, both of which are expected to be well-attended. Gibson, who identifies as queer/genderqueer and uses gender-neutral pronouns, will make their first stop at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center Thursday, October 16 at 7 p.m. for a conversation about creativity facilitated by Ahmunet Jessica Jordan.

Gibson’s second stop is Nourse Theater for a California Institute of Integral Studies-sponsored event on Friday, October 17 at 8 p.m. As part of CIIS’ commitment to hosting conversations that address race, class, and gender, Gibson’s performance feature is expected to touch on issues of war, class, gender, bullying, white privilege, sexuality, love, and spirituality – all subjects, Gibson told the Bay Area Reporter, that inspire flurries of creative expression within them “the most quickly and the most often.”

Karim Baer, director of public programs at CIIS, told the B.A.R. why it’s important for the institute to provide a platform for artists and activists like Gibson.

“Our mission is to inspire personal and social transformation,” Baer said, “and Andrea Gibson’s work embodies not only deep sentiments of love and reverence, but also provokes critical thought on race, class, privilege, war and so many other injustices in our society. I can’t think of a better poet to feature as we work to use the arts as a catalyst for social change.”

And, Gibson said, they also intend to integrate “lots of love, lots of feminism, lots of crying, and lots of laughter” during the event, which costs between $27-$65 to attend.

Gibson, 39, was born into a working class Baptist family in Calais, Maine, a rural community with a current population of just over 3,000. In 1999, they moved to Colorado where they discovered spoken word as an art form, and ran with it. Gibson currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

“I love the energy of spoken word,” Gibson said, “the vulnerability and uncensored emotion. I love how much presence it asks of an audience, and how the audience in many ways pulls the poem out of the poet. Additionally, the spoken word movement is essentially a social justice movement and I discovered it during the same time I was getting really passionate about looking for ways to be of service in the world. Combine all of that with a ferocious terror of public speaking, and this is what I find myself doing.”

Gibson’s accomplishments include being a four-time Denver Grand Slam champion, a fourth place finish out of 350 poets at the 2004 National Poetry Slam, a third place finish at the 2006 and 2007 Individual World Poetry Slams, and a first place finish at the inaugural Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2008.

With five full-length albums and two books under their belt, Gibson’s works have been featured on the BBC, Air America, Free Speech TV and in 2010, was read aloud in place of a morning prayer at the Utah State Legislature, according to Gibson’s website.

Gibson creates art to make people feel, to provoke and elicit change that first starts in the heart. After the heart is touched, Gibson said, the mind eventually catches up, a one-two punch that’s impact cannot be unstated. Shifting normalized ideas grounded in bigotry and ignorance, after all, is central to Gibson’s work – and Gibson uses their own experience to do that.

“I think it’s incredibly healing to speak your truth,” Gibson said, “and to speak it out loud to a room full of open-hearted people. That is truly medicine to me, to my nervous system, to my spirit, to my sense of safety in the world. And to be part of a movement that’s rooted in speaking what’s true, and is also invested in speaking that truth in a way that is beautiful; it all feels like necessary goodness, necessary inspiration, and it honestly rallies me to feel and live in a way I’m not certain I would have learned how to live otherwise.”

It’s no doubt that Gibson is a reference point, an inspiration, a touchstone for many within the LGBTQ community, especially queer youth. And like every LGBTQ person, Gibson was once a fledgling version of themselves undergoing the often arduous process of settling into a self-determined identity. The three things, Gibson said, they would tell their younger self would be:

“One, feel into the scary feelings. They are worse the more you try to avoid them. Two, let yourself be awkward. In fact, let yourself be the most awkward. Three, remember, it will always be livable, even when it’s not.”

And for the queer artists seeking parity between creative output and financial security, Gibson offered this, inspirational knowledge they will build upon at both appearances this week:

“Keep constant faith in art and community,” Gibson said. “Register success by how open your heart feels. Listen more often than you speak. Remember the queer artists who came before you, who kept you alive when you were young and becoming and growing into your own light. Work hard at whatever it is you love.”

For Gibson’s October 16 event, tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. To purchase tickets to either event, visit http://www.ciis.edu/Public_Programs/Public_Programs_

Events/Gibson_FA14_(performance).html. The LGBT center is located at 1800 Market Street. The Nourse Theater is at 201-299 Hayes Street.

September 26, 2014

Trans women pen essays that explore transition

Letters for My Sisters contributors Gina White, left, and Mazikeen Wagner relax at the LGBT Community Center, where they will read from the book this Saturday. Photo: Elliot Owen

Letters for My Sisters contributors Gina White, left, and Mazikeen Wagner relax at the LGBT Community Center, where they will read from the book this Saturday. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

In celebration of this year’s release of Letters for My Sisters: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect, a book featuring the writing of 35 trans women from across the globe, the San Francisco LGBT Community Center will be holding a reading this weekend.

The publication’s co-editors, well-known media producer and writer Andrea James and Deanne Thornton, will be speaking along with two of the book’s Bay Area-based contributors, Gina White and Mazikeen Wagner. Published by Transgress Press, a publishing house centered around transgender and gender variant writing, Letters for My Sisters was released in July. It follows its notable predecessor, Letters For My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect, a compilation of essays by trans men reflecting on their experiences through various stages of their transitions, which was a Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2012.

The seed for Letters for My Sisters, Thornton told the Bay Area Reporter, was planted when she approached the co-editor of Letters for My Brothers, Zander Keig, in 2012.

“I’d met Zander and found him interesting because he was open to discussing his experiences around transitioning from female-to-male,” Thornton, who identifies as a woman of trans experience, said. “Zander shared Letters for My Brothers with me and then I started talking to him about doing something similar for trans women. And that’s when I contacted Andrea, who’s someone I’ve known in the community for years.”

Almost immediately the project took off. Leveraging a similar theme to Letters for My Brothers, Thornton and James narrowed down their book’s concept to a single premise and put out a call for submissions. They sought essays from trans women who answered or interpreted this question – if you could write a 1,000 word letter to your younger, pre/early-transition self, what would you say?

“We didn’t want writers to so much tell their stories,” Thornton said, “but to tell what their stories taught them, to give us the wisdom without the justification. Everybody did a phenomenal job distilling down their experiences to fit that limitation, so what’s really talked about is the stuff that’s really important.”

James and Thornton took submissions for a year and a half, which included some from outside the U.S., two of which were selected for the book; one from Canada, one from Australia.

When White came across the call for submissions, unlike many who wrote new pieces for the prompt, she’d already had something on hand.

“I’d written this piece a long time ago and I didn’t have any plans for it,” said White, who identifies first as queer, then female, then transgender. “I’d literally written it to myself as a draft email and stuffed it away. It was before I knew I was transitioning, I found myself crying a lot, which was not something I’d do before. I spent a lot of time disassociating prior to transition as a way to keep my sanity. When I started transitioning, I was able to give that up and started to feel these emotions. At first I thought it was something that had to be fixed, then I realized I liked these feelings. That’s what my piece is about.”

When Wagner, a self-identified trans polyamorous asexual woman who is feminist, theoretically panromantic, agender, kinky, and a self-described slut, encountered the call for submissions, she knew she would submit, too. It was something, she said, she had wished she had for herself at a younger age.

“Through the writing process,” she said, “I was able to hone in on what I regretted about my coming out processes. During some of those times, I didn’t have enough faith in myself to stand up for who I was. A lot of what happens when you’re first coming out is you get so much blowback you start doubting yourself and trying to make it easier on other people, and other people often interpret that as ambivalence or insincerity of your gender identity. I was trying to be kind to other people not realizing I was compromising important parts of myself. That’s what this book addresses most of all, the advice from us to the next generation.”

And, Thornton said, Letters for My Sisters isn’t just a book for younger trans women, it’s a useful resource for trans women in all stages of their lives.

“There are lots of things in the stories I’ve read that help me and I’m way down the line,” Thornton said. “Sometimes other people had insights that really resonated with me, especially when talking about things like finding hope and gratitude, both things we all struggle with. This writing can really make your life fuller.”

The reading takes place Saturday, September 27 at 2 p.m. at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street. To read the B.A.R.’s previous coverage of Letters for My Brothers and Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves, click here.

September 18, 2014

From online to print: Book showcases queer podcasts

Nia King reads from her new book Queer & Trans Artists of Color: Some Stories of Our Lives, based off her podcast interview series, "We Want the Airwaves." (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Nia King reads from her new book Queer & Trans Artists of Color: Some Stories of Our Lives, based off her podcast interview series, “We Want the Airwaves.” (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

Google the phrase “queer and trans artists of color” and the first three search results turn up Nia King’s acclaimed podcast, “We Want the Airwaves,” a monthly series that features the stories of queer and trans artists of color who have found the sweet spot between making art and making a living.

It would be fitting, then, if King compiled those valuable interviews into one publication and titled it Queer & Trans Artists of Color: Some Stories of Our Lives – and that’s exactly what she’s done. The book, which King and co-editors Jessica Glennon-Zukoff and Terra Mikalson say is the first of its kind, will be available starting Friday, September 26 at 7 p.m. at the official book launch party hosted at downtown Oakland’s Show and Tell Concept Shop, a queer-owned retail business located at 1427 Broadway.

“All the energy spent on this has been worthwhile,” King, 27, a self-identified mixed-race queer woman of color, told the Bay Area Reporter. “Knowing the community believes in this is incredibly validating. One thing I hear a lot is that there are no books like this in the world. That’s part of why it’s so important.”

The book features King’s interviews with a broad array of differently-identified artists of color whose platforms and mediums are just as diverse. They span the globe in terms of hometowns, homelands, and home bases, and range in exposure from locally known to globally celebrated.

Readers can expect everything from juicy anecdotes to invaluable survival strategies from Janet Mock, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Virgie Tovar, Magnoliah Black, Ryka Aoki, Julio Salgado, Yosimar Reyes, Nick Mwaluko, Lovemme Corazón, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Fabian Romero, Van Binfa, Micia Mosely, Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Miss Persia, and Daddie$ Pla$tik.

“It was important for me to get a diverse group of artists both in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity,” King said. “And I have a broad definition of what art is and who’s an artist. It includes stand-up comedians, cartoonists, and people working in forms that are often devalued. If people don’t care about brown or queer people before they read this, I hope they do afterward. They’re really good stories.”

Co-editors Glennon-Zukoff and Mikalson agree. After combing through each interview countless times, they both find the stories just as engaging as upon first reading.

“There are still moments from different pieces that come back to me,” said Glennon-Zukoff, 23, a self-identified queer white working-class cisgender (identifying as the gender you’re born with) femme, “especially the ones with concrete advice. I’m thinking mainly of Virgie Tovar’s interview where she talks about surviving academia as a multiply marginalized person, what resources she sought out, the logistics of getting published, and shifting paradigms by paying artists for their work.”

In addition to concrete advice, the book is sprinkled with candid humor, dynamic storytelling, and inspiring resilience. A few teasers include Salgado’s recap of a date with a gay Republican Latino, Reyes’s rundown of having almost been deported on his way to perform for Carlos Santana and Harry Belafonte, Aoki’s memory of working as a forensic scientist and studying the flashpoints of human body oil, and Black’s reflection on learning to love her body through kink.

Black, 33, a self-identified Southern black queer femme, has been performing dance and spoken word in the Bay Area for almost six years. Black was honored when King asked her for a podcast interview and subsequent inclusion in the book. Visibility, Black said, is crucial for queer and trans people of color.

“Through visibility, we can find normalization, and move away from being tolerated to being accepted and celebrated,” Black said. “It feels great to get my voice recorded, my words written down in a permanent way. I’m being able to tell my own side of my story, and that’s empowering. For multiply marginalized people, those who live at the intersections, I hope this serves as a lighthouse. You are not alone. We’re strong and connected and we’re going to survive and further, thrive.”

King started the podcast in March 2013 and five months later discovered a demand for her interview content in non-audio form. After transcribing interviews, King approached Glennon-Zukoff and Mikalson about embarking on a book project together. Just over a year later, the book is done and King has big plans for it.

“I hope this book gives young queer and trans people of color the opportunity to see some aspect of their experiences reflected,” King said. “My other hope is to get it into the academy, that teachers will teach this book and it will reach people that way. I want to see this flourish as a field of study. When people learn about art history or the history of social movements, I want them to know it’s not all about white people or straight people, but that queer folks of color have been a force and their contributions are often overlooked or erased.”

Mikalson, 24, a self-identified white Jewish queer non-binary person, agrees and also mentioned the importance of the book circulating in non-queer and non-person of color artist spaces.

“I hope it reaches queer and trans people of color especially,” Mikalson said, “but I hope it enters other circles, too. My older sister is an artist in New York and I recommended the podcast to her even though she’s a white ally. Even though she shares some of the same artists’ struggles, others she’s not going through at all, and I wanted her to be aware of that fact. There are some things she doesn’t have to deal with.”

Aoki, Tovar, and Black, all artists featured in the book, will be performing at the book launch party. The entrance fee is $10-$20 (no one turned away for lack of funds) and includes vegan Palestinian food and brownies. Copies of the book are $10-$20 sliding scale. The location is wheelchair accessible and attendees are encouraged to arrive fragrance-free.

September 4, 2014

New exhibit imagines a future from queer perspective

Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski, left, and Carrie Y. T. Kholi, are co-creators of AMEN: A Collaborative Meditation for Survival , opening Friday, September 5 at Oakland's Betti Ono Gallery. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski, left, and Carrie Y. T. Kholi, are co-creators of AMEN: A Collaborative Meditation for Survival , opening Friday, September 5 at Oakland’s Betti Ono Gallery. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

Amidst the changing cityscape of downtown Oakland, Betti Ono Gallery has become a steadfast reference point for unharnessed creativity since its establishment in 2010. To celebrate four years of art, culture, and community, the gallery is hosting an anniversary art party on Friday, September 5, which doubles as the highly anticipated exhibition opening of AMEN: A Collaborative Meditation for Survival.

Co-created by visual artist Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski and writer Carrie Y. T. Kholi, AMEN will prove nothing short of its description – “a supraliminal experimentation” that integrates history, myth, and magic to re-imagine a future grounded in the “affirmation and history of all people, and intentionally inclusive of marginalized queer people of color.”

DeJesus Moleski, 28, a Puerto Rican, Afro-Latina, queer, femme, unabashed art geek, and Kholi, 29, a self-identified goal-digger, dream-catcher, and black lesbian, have taken their combined prayers, visions, and spiritual emissions, and translated them into meditations for survival. The body of work is dream-like: some pictorial, some textual, all emanate a visual rhythm meant to invoke feelings of self-affirmation, curiosity, and resolve.

Gallery owner Anyka Barber, an Oakland native, is known for curating provocative and inspirational art shows – the kind grounded in experimentation, independent thinking, social justice commentary, and spirit. DeJesus Moleski and Kholi, friends for three years, had individually worked with Barber before and, on account of Betti Ono’s principles, Barber thought the two would be perfect for a collaboration show.

“Betti Ono is about presenting shows that unlock the gates to art and culture,” Barber said. “It’s about shifting the perception around who can participate. It’s about validating marginalized voices, othered identities, and showcasing work in an accessible way. Amaryllis’s work is about imagining the brown femme body as an ancient powerful figure, and Kholi is interested in how writers shape and push culture forward. Betti Ono is named for women who were futurists: Yoko Ono and Betty Davis. They’re also female archetypes. Both Amaryllis and Kholi understand what it means to be an archetype, and are interested in understanding how archetypes shape and give them power.”

DeJesus Moleski and Kholi started having conversations about the show’s concept in June. It quickly grew into something grounded in a shared experience they felt thematically symbolizes how marginalized people are forced to engage with the world, by means of survival.

“It started with surviving academia,” DeJesus Moleski said. “I’d just graduated from California College of the Arts and Kholi is in the process of getting her Ph.D. in English literature. We were having conversations about being working class queer women of color in academia, and what it means to survive an institution that was built to keep us out. Then it evolved into this larger idea of cultural, mythological, and spiritual survival.”

“Particularly in this moment,” Kholi said, “in being aware of what’s happening nationally and internationally, it feels necessary to present work that not only says the rest of the world gets to exist, we get to exist, too. The world we live in will, literally, kill us. There’ve been acts of survival that have gotten us here, and we want to make sure we’re contributing to tomorrow. I want to make sure we have a future.”

AMEN explores how marginalized people, particularly queer femme women of color, have been expunged from mainstream historical myths and imaginations of humankind’s future. In identifying the omissions, both artists reassert visibility in powerful, integral forms through time and space.

“I’m a huge sci-fi fantasy nerd,” DeJesus Moleski said. “One of the reasons I love the genre is because people are working out difficult things: themes of survival, apocalypse, cultural anxieties. Right now, I see a lot of apocalypse stories, but they’re filled with white, straight, middle-to-upper class people. In these futuristic stories we have the opportunity to create something new, but the same systems of oppression are being reinforced. I don’t think that’s by mistake. We’ve been written out of the past already. People of color have experienced cultural genocide. And now future stories are being created and we’re not there either. For me it feels urgent to contribute, to play around with future myths. We existed yesterday and we exist tomorrow. We’re integral to the integrity of our planet.”

Kholi said that she’s studied the works of several writers.

“I’ve studied writers like Amiri Baraka, Toni Cade Bambara, and Alice Walker,” Kholi explained. “Even in the academic world we don’t talk about these writers because they’re ‘crazy’ or ‘different.’ It’s actually because they’re people of color taking very seriously their future, magic, and talents. We get to have a future. We have a voice of authority. Not superiority, but authority, which is different. And our exhibition is also celebrating Betti Ono’s anniversary. That’s really important because for four years Betti Ono has been in the middle of downtown, a place not controlled by black women. That right there is survival. The work really locates where we are, where we’ve been, and how we get to tomorrow.”

And, Kholi and DeJesus Moleski emphasize, AMEN is for everyone. Both agree that the exhibit is a public conversation to be witnessed and experienced by viewers from wherever they exist.

Betti Ono Gallery is located at 1427 Broadway. The opening of AMEN, from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 5, coincides with Oakland Art Murmur’s First Friday event, a free monthly art walk in downtown Oakland.

August 29, 2014

LGBT groups respond to Ferguson

Protesters gathered in front of the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Courthouse in San Francisco Tuesday, August 26 to demand justice for Michael Brown and others killed by police. The rally was organized by handsupunited.org.  (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Protesters gathered in front of the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Courthouse in San Francisco Tuesday, August 26 to demand justice for Michael Brown and others killed by police. The rally was organized by handsupunited.org.
(Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has prompted LGBT organizations across the country to join others in raising questions around the circumstances of his death in the almost three weeks since the incident.

Brown, 18, was fatally shot by police Officer Darren Wilson around midday August 9. His bleeding body was left lying face-down, uncovered for a time, in the street for four hours while neighborhood residents, including children and Brown’s family members, looked on, horrified. According to news reports, at least six different bullets caused over a dozen different wounds including two through his head.

Police officials said Brown assaulted Wilson and a struggle for the officer’s gun ensued ending with Brown fatally shot. According to the Los Angeles Times, a handful of witnesses, including Dorian Johnson, who was walking alongside Brown when the incident began, negate Brown as the antagonizer and place Wilson as the aggressor, ultimately shooting and killing Brown while he was either surrendering or running from Wilson’s first shots.

In the subsequent days, protests to the shooting erupted in Ferguson, a working-class predominantly African American suburb of St. Louis. Fueled by the nature of the shooting, the treatment of Brown’s body, and the police department preserving Wilson’s anonymity until nine days after the shooting, Ferguson residents called attention back to one of America’s largest problems – racism.

During the first week, demonstrators were met with police in riot gear, armored vehicles, K-9 units, assault rifles, smoke grenades, stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Scattered reports of looting and property damage surfaced, as did accounts of press censorship and police brutality.

Communities respond

But Ferguson hasn’t been alone. Expressions of solidarity have ranged far and wide. On August 15, Palestinian groups and individuals signed a letter expressing solidarity with Brown’s family and the people of Ferguson. The same day, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda publicly called for justice and extended condolences to Brown’s family. On August 19, OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates released a statement naming racial profiling as central to Brown’s death and denounced the state’s treatment of Ferguson demonstrators. The same week, the National Domestic Workers Alliance extended support to Brown’s family, condemned racialized state-sanctioned violence responsible for his death, and demanded justice.

On August 12, three days after Brown’s death, a letter signed by 17 social justice and LGBT organizations was released stating the “[LGBT] community cannot be silent at this moment … because all movements of equality are connected.” The letter called Brown’s death one of countless “racialized killings that have marred this nation since the beginning of its history.” The letter’s signatories has grown to 68, the San Francisco LGBT Community Center among the most recent.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights was among the first to sign the letter. And, as Executive Director Kate Kendell said, after signing, it still felt important for NCLR to draft an individual statement. But the words didn’t come from Kendell herself; her 18-year-old African American son, Julian Holmes, and mentor to both Holmes and Kendell, African American civil rights lawyer Eva Paterson, wrote them.

“Rather than me write something decrying the events in Ferguson,” Kendell said, “I thought the real power might come from an intergenerational piece by a longtime civil rights lawyer and my son who is coming-of-age in a country that still has deep, deep racism and racial tension.”

In his statement, Holmes reflects on the devaluation of black lives:

“It is obvious that the justice system is not set up to protect people that look like Michael and me,” he wrote. “There has been something rooted into the system, something rooted into our minds as human beings that makes this acceptable. Something that tells police officers with guns that they can fire them off at will just because they have a badge … They are perfectly fine with having another black boy’s blood on their hands … This story of Michael Brown’s death is tragic. Not only does it make me angry, it makes me sad. Because with every story like this I see my body lying in the street where Michael’s was.”

Growing up with same-sex parents, Holmes told the Bay Area Reporter that he “has one foot in the LGBT community and one foot in the black community,” and it’s especially important for marginalized communities to support each other.

“When people decide not to speak up about an issue, that’s how things get worse,” Holmes said. “Complacency is just as bad as supporting racism. If you assume we live in a colorblind society because it’s 2014, that’s when things get swept under the rug.”

Last weekend, Gay-Straight Alliance Network released a statement drawing the connection between systematic racism and the criminalization of young people like Brown, and called for GSAs across the country to commit to addressing the criminalization of young people in their communities.

The Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project has been the only explicitly local LGBT organization to release a public statement. On August 22, the organization expressed solidarity with the Brown family and the people of Ferguson in the face of “unspeakable human rights abuses at the hands of law enforcement.” While no other local LGBT organizations have released their own public statements, Norio Umezu of Community United Against Violence said the organization’s internal discussion about whether or not to do so was ongoing.

Rebecca Rolfe, executive director of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, said the center did not release its own letter citing public statements as “not a strategy we’ve had the resources to pursue on a regular basis.” Similarly, the executive director of the Pacific Center in Berkeley, Leslie Ewing, cited “lack of organizational bandwidth and capacity” as reason for the same. Brown Boi Project was also contacted but could not be reached for comment.

The weekend of August 16, San Francisco hosted the annual American Sociological Association meeting. A group of sociologists, many from San Francisco State University, drafted a statement titled: “Sociologists Issue Statement on Ferguson: 400 Sociologists Demand Justice and Change in Policing Communities of Color.” To date, over 1,400 sociologists have now signed the letter.

SFSU sociology Professor Andreana Clay, a self-identified queer woman of color and black feminist, was central to the statement’s making. Her participation, she said, was rooted in her work as a sociologist and her upbringing – Clay grew up in Missouri and spent her summers in St. Louis near Ferguson.

The statement addresses police brutality, racialized policing, institutional racism, and anti-blackness as an epidemic in this country and central to Brown’s death. It is timely, Clay emphasized, for allies to speak out, which should include the LGBT community.

“It’s a real opportunity for LGBT organizations to address the violence that continues to happen on marginalized bodies,” Clay said, “and link, not equate, but link the violence targeted upon black bodies to the violence targeted toward queer bodies, specifically trans women of color. It’s an opportunity to talk about how violence is used to surveil queer and racialized bodies; often times those are the same bodies. Just because the ongoing targeting of black bodies, both male and female, in society is what we see at this moment, the mainstream gay community is never far behind.”

The letter also endorses Black Lives Matter, a nonprofit initiative committed to using social engagement to end state sanctioned violence against black people. Currently, 16 states have Black Lives Matter contingents organizing rides to Ferguson to sustain ground-level action. Made up of various professionals, specialists, and organizers, the Bay Area has its own Black Life Matters Ride scheduled to depart August 28.

To donate to the Black Life Matters Bay Area contingent, visit http://www.gofundme.com/df9254. The campaign ends September 5.

June 26, 2014

Life of activism shaped transwoman’s compassion

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy at her Oakland home with her dog, Moose. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy at her Oakland home with her dog, Moose. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

Shifts in social climates require decades of contextual movement work, and there’s no better testament to that than Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a self-identified formerly incarcerated black transwoman whose lifelong activism has remained consistently central to the progression of trans rights and visibility.

In commemoration of her life’s work, the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee Board of Directors named Griffin-Gracy, widely known simply as Miss Major, one of this year’s Pride parade community grand marshals alongside other selections that communicate staunch support for the transgender community. Griffin-Gracy is currently the longtime executive director of the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, an organization that works to end human rights abuses committed against incarcerated transgender, gender variant/genderqueer and intersex people.

In company with Griffin-Gracy, 74, is celebrity grand marshal and bestselling author Janet Mock, who underlines Griffin-Gracy’s impact on her own life. Mock described Griffin-Gracy to the Bay Area Reporter as “brilliantly resourceful, resilient, and legendary,” and didn’t stop there.

“The mere fact that she chooses to be visible and vocal about the multilayered facets of her existence created a groundwork and foundation onto which I could move past survival and actually thrive as a young trans woman writer of color,” Mock told the B.A.R. “Without Miss Major’s contributions and work, I would not exist.”

Also being honored with Griffin-Gracy is 16-year-old community grand marshal Jewlyes Gutierrez, a transgender Hercules Middle/High School student who faced a misdemeanor battery charge last year after a fight related to long-term bullying broke out. (She participated in a restorative justice program and the charge was later dropped.) Griffin-Gracy, Gutierrez told the B.A.R., “is a pillar in the community,” a predecessor she’s “honored and blessed” to be celebrated with.

Trans March is the organizational grand marshal, and Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier convicted last year of leaking classified content exposing American military follies, is an honorary grand marshal. Like never before, the transgender community is taking center stage at this year’s celebration, a precedent that, according to Pride board President Gary Virginia, runs parallel to larger cultural trends.

“The many nominations and votes related to the transgender community happened organically amid an increase in visibility on the national and local level,” Virginia said. “Transgender people are the most discriminated group within our LGBT civil rights movement. We work to make sure our annual celebration reflects the most pressing issues facing our LGBT family.”

While Griffin-Gracy is quick to redirect attention from her public accolades to community issues at hand, the honor, she said, brings her full-circle. But, it’s less about personal acknowledgement and more about witnessing the large-scale appreciation of transwomen, particularly transwomen of color.

“We’re finally getting some recognition,” she said. “I’m proud it finally happened and I’m alive to see it because a lot of my girlfriends haven’t made it this far. I’m trying to get as many girls as possible together at the parade so people can see we’re a force to be reckoned with; we’re not going anywhere.”

Griffin-Gracy has always been a “force.” She’s lived her life on the frontlines – not the frontlines of marches, parades, or lobbying initiatives – the frontlines of the 1969 Stonewall riots, the 1971 Attica State Prison uprising, the early AIDS epidemic, and every other survival front occupied by trans women of color to stay alive.


After being born and raised in Chicago, Griffin-Gracy moved to New York City where she established a supportive community that helped her grow into her identity. At the time, bars and clubs were the primary avenue through which LGBT people met each other. The Stonewall Inn, a working-class LGBT bar in Greenwich Village, was a particular favorite of Griffin-Gracy’s.

“Stonewall provided us transwomen with a nice place for social connection,” Griffin-Gracy said. “Then, only some gay bars let us in, others would chase us out. We could go to Stonewall and everything would be fine, we didn’t have to explain ourselves.”

During that period, anti-LGBT sentiment was supported by law; police raids on LGBT bars and clubs were commonplace. Griffin-Gracy was a regular patron of Stonewall, and was there “perking up with a girlfriend” the night of the police raid that subsequently triggered three days of riots in June 1969.

“The boys [police] were always targeting those with social stigma around them – gay men, lesbians, but not as much as us,” Griffin-Gracy said. “This one night, though, everybody decided this time we weren’t going to leave the bar. And shit just hit the fan.”

Widely credited as the catalyst for the modern LGBT civil rights movement, the Stonewall riots, like many movement initiatives, didn’t function without their own internal hierarchies. Griffin-Gracy distinctly remembers transwomen of color being excluded from the protests, a dynamic still perpetuated today.

“After the raid happened, I remember Sylvia Rivera and I going to a gay rally in Central Park,” Griffin-Gracy said, referring to the late trans activist who died in 2002. “Sylvia went up to speak and they booed her offstage. We were so heartbroken; I cried for days. There was this sea of white people and they had the audacity to do that. The thing is, this disconnect is still happening. I saw a movie last year about Stonewall and didn’t see one transwoman of color in the whole film.”

For Griffin-Gracy, it took participating in another act of resistance to truly claim her politicized self. In September 1971, a four-day uprising in New York’s Attica State Prison claimed the lives of 10 hostages and 29 inmates. Incarcerated there at the time for two felony convictions, Griffin-Gracy experienced the upheaval firsthand, as well as the inhumane living conditions and discriminatory treatment that served as precursors to the uprising.

“It was an awakening,” Griffin-Gracy said. “Trans or not, being considered a black male affected my relationship with everyone I met. And some of the atrocities I saw happen to my trans sisters were devastating. [The guards] would tell us they could take us off property, bury us, and no one would know. I got out and got my act together, started thinking about what I could do to help the girls so they don’t have to go through that.”

Since then, Griffin-Gracy’s intent has only been strengthened by the challenges she’s faced. She remembers a particularly painful event that solidified for her, as a sex worker at the time, the importance of support between transwomen engaged in the trade.

“One of my dear friends, a trans woman of color, was murdered in her apartment,” she said. “She had two dogs, neither of which would’ve let a stranger near her. After talking with the other girls we figured out someone she knew had done it. We told the police but they didn’t care. We decided that whenever one of us got into a car, another girl either saw the driver or the license plate. No one was going to help us but us.”

Coming to California

In 1978, Griffin-Gracy moved to San Diego where she began a decade of ground-level community building work. What began as working at a food bank grew into providing direct care services; supporting transwomen through incarceration, addiction, and homelessness. And then the AIDS epidemic hit. Attending two funerals per week was status quo, she said, and ensuring her sick friends were comfortable via proper home health care became a priority.

By the time Griffin-Gracy moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1990s, she’d worked with numerous HIV/AIDS organizations. Continuing along the direct care track, she worked with San Jose’s AIDS Project, San Francisco’s City of Refuge, Glide, and the now-defunct Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center where she created “drop-in” services that enabled more community members access to lifesaving resources. Then, in 2003, she found TGIJP.

“TGI is the one place that is my heart,” Griffin-Gracy said. “I work with TGI so incarcerated girls know someone cares about them, wants them to do better, and will do whatever it takes to help.”

In nearly every position she’s held, Griffin-Gracy is credited with spearheading direct service initiatives that emphasize interpersonal care and connection. Intersectional and complex, her story is currently being made into a documentary titled Major!, and slated for late summer release. Produced by Annalise Ophelian and StormMiguel Florez, the film also highlights LGBT elder care. Health challenges, medical costs, and budget cuts to TGIJP have recently left Griffin-Gracy without sustainable income. A donation circle has been created to facilitate her care through intergenerational support.

There’s a long way to go in the battle for LGBT equality, but Griffin-Gracy remains optimistic. The expanding freedoms she’s witnessed in her lifetime, particularly for trans women of color, keep her energized.

“When I see younger girls out shopping in the daytime in their attire,” she said, “it fills my heart with so much pride. Our increased visibility is marvelous. Who knew it would turn out like this?”

To donate to Griffin-Gracy’s monthly giving circle, visit http://www.gofundme.com/2ugjkg.

June 18, 2014

Dunye film explores transman’s identity

Black is Blue star Kingston Farady. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Black is Blue star Kingston Farady. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

It’s a well-known fact that the world’s best queer cinema is screened at the annual San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, a 38-year-old event produced by LGBT media arts nonprofit Frameline. That said, having a film selected from nearly 800 international submissions and receiving a coveted slot in the festival’s line-up is no small feat.

Award-winning black, queer masculine-of-center filmmaker Cheryl Dunye has done it over a half-dozen times, her well-known pieces beingThe Watermelon Woman in 1996, a “mockumentary” starring Dunye as herself; Stranger Inside in 2001, a story about an incarcerated black lesbian; The Owls in 2010, a film about the accidental murder of a young queer woman; and Mommy Is Coming in 2012, a risque lesbian rom-com.

This year, Black Is Blue is making a highly anticipated debut. Dunye’s short chronicles the complex identity-related feelings of Black, a black transman working as a security guard in Oakland, after he runs into an ex-lover. In just 21-minutes, Dunye is able to leverage one character study to explore experiences that many transmen of color regularly undergo.

“As prestigious and popular trans dialogues are emerging,” Dunye said, “there’s a message coming across – which rings true for every marginalized community – it’s not just about what we’re lacking or how we’re physically different, it’s about emotional experiences. This film represents the shift in that conversation. We’re not talking about Black’s physical transition, but more about his emotional landscape. It’s about how multiple identities function, being black, trans, and masculine, and what’s running through your head as you have your inside and outside to deal with as well as memories from past identities.”

Starring noteworthy actor Kingston Farady, 31, a queer black transman, defense-side investigator, and trans advocate, Black Is Blue premieres Friday, June 20 at 7 p.m. at the Roxie Theatre (3117 16th St., San Francisco) as part of “Realness and Revelations,” an 85-minute collection of shorts featuring queer and trans people of color, and again on Thursday, June 26 (7 p.m.), also at the Roxie as part of “In The City of Shy Hunters,” an 82-minute collection of shorts centered on the stories of transmen.

Black Is Blue is the first narrative of its kind. The film’s debut comes at a particularly poignant time, adding to the burgeoning wave of trans visibility led by Orange Is The New Black actress Laverne Cox and New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock, powerhouses that have quickly become queer community sweethearts, and the general public’s reference point for language around transgender identity.

But up until now, Farady pointed out, representations of transmen within popular culture have received significantly less limelight and been limited to white and Asian-Pacific Islander-identified transmen – never black.

“I’m excited to see transwomen of color receive the attention they deserve because it does trickle down to all trans people,” Farady said. “Due to patriarchy and the constant attack on femininity, there’s an urgency there that doesn’t necessarily exist for transmen. Not to erase attacks on transmen, but transwomen are murdered at a higher rate than any other person in the country. They need to be in front leading the movement. Then there’s the flipside of wanting to see my brothers at the table at some point, too. People still believe someone like me or Black doesn’t exist. Black Is Blue is about building a consciousness around black transmen, filling the void and stepping into that space.”

As Dunye detailed it, the seed of Black Is Blue was planted a year ago as she was meeting more queer and trans-identified people of color in Oakland. She wrote the script leaving room for Black’s character development, an intentional decision meant to provide collaboration space for her and whoever would eventually step into the role.

“When I put the call out to find a lead I was given Kingston’s information,” Dunye said. “I knew when we first sat down the character would be shaped by his experiences. I talked to a few other people about the role but Kingston came along and that was it. He exudes a sense of dimension, a sort of a royalty; it’s wonderful.”

Initially, Farady had reservations about joining the project which, he said, had nothing to do with Dunye, and everything to do with his own awareness around the misrepresentation and exploitation of trans people. But he wanted to hear from Dunye first before making a decision.

“I knew her prior pieces of work,” Farady said. “I love the way she holds complexity and creates pieces that allow the audience to be curious. A story centered around a black transman in Oakland was compelling to me. Also, Cheryl wanted to focus not on the physical aspects of transition, but the ways someone emotionally and socially transitions. After three or four full conversations, I knew the film was something I could do with her.”

There’s also something to be said, Farady added, about Dunye’s intentional decision to cast a black transman to play a black transman.

“When I see characters with certain identities,” Farady said, “whether it’s race, gender, or even sexual orientation, played by people that aren’t that identity, it feels like a parody to me. Without even saying it, Cheryl’s choice to cast a black transman to play a black transman expresses that she knows black transmen are worthy. Not only is this film about non-erasure, Cheryl is backing that up by filling the lead role with someone from the community.”

Shot exclusively in Oakland, festivalgoers can expect to experience the film’s provocative storyline set afront skillful cinematography that captures Oakland’s charming familiarity, urban grit, juxtaposing socioeconomic environments, and natural landscapes.

To purchase tickets, visit www.ticketing.frameline.org/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=3292&FID=51.

June 5, 2014

Hayward’s gay prom turns 20

Project Eden program director Rochelle Collins, left, joined with Lambda Youth Project members and gay prom organizers Jennifer Heastan, Kalli Jacobs, Arianna Rodgers, Mathew Quarless, Brendon Birky, and Haley Barth. Photo: Elliot Owen

Project Eden program director Rochelle Collins, left, joined with Lambda Youth Project members and gay prom organizers Jennifer Heastan, Kalli Jacobs, Arianna Rodgers, Mathew Quarless, Brendon Birky, and Haley Barth. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

It’s that time of year again – gay prom season – and this year’s Bay Area event is looking to shine in the usual festive manner. But one thing sets this prom apart from past proms – it’s the 20th anniversary celebration of what’s now become a progressive tradition, the Hayward Gay Prom.

Hosted at Chabot College on Saturday, June 7 from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m., the dance is for youth ages 20 and under. This year’s theme is “Rainbow Over Wonderland.”

Project Eden, a substance abuse prevention and intervention treatment center in Hayward, overseas the Lambda Youth Project, a program designed specifically to support LGBTQ youth. In 1995, the Lambda Youth Project approached the City of Hayward about funding a gay prom. After a tense city council meeting attended by both dance supporters and religious protesters, the city council gave about $7,000 to the Lambda Youth Project but the money could not be used for the prom. The nonprofit used other funding sources and the event was held on city property and included a mandated police presence to de-escalate potential conflict between attendees, supporters, and protesters.

Today, Lambda receives $30,000 in city funding, $2,000 of which is used for staff time associated with the prom.

The “receiving line” outside gay prom is no longer a buffer between attending youth and protestors but now, rather, a welcoming crowd comprised of the Lesbian and Gay Freedom Band, supportive parents, clergy people, teachers, and other allies. Supporters said that the need for gay prom, despite advancements in LGBTQ equality, indicates there’s more work to be done, said Rochelle Collins, program director of Project Eden.

“As a straight ally, I’m always profoundly moved after every single prom,” Collins said. “When you’re there, you realize there’s still a need for acceptance. Harassment, homophobia, and bullying are a prevailing problem to this day. It still exists.”

Within the last five years, reports of prom-related discrimination have surfaced in Pennsylvania, Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, and even California. Mostly recently, LGBTQ-identified students at a San Bernardino County high school were told last year by the school’s administration to abide by “gender-specific” standards when choosing prom attire. The American Civil Liberties Union quickly approached the school district in support of the students.

National Center for Lesbian Rights staff attorney Asaf Orr specializes in issues related to family and youth, and strongly agrees with the need for gay prom. Despite a changing social climate that’s becoming more LGBTQ-inclusive, he said, discrimination is still rampant and most of it goes unreported.

“As you get into more rural areas of California, it’s just as conservative and scary as it is in traditionally conservative states,” Orr said. “The ACLU’s case is an example that it happens here in California. One of the issues with prom is that it’s very imbued with tradition. There’s a way it’s supposed to happen and whenever you get those heavy social restrictions, you’re going to marginalize a lot of LGBT kids.”

Much of the time, Orr said, LGBTQ kids forgo attending prom to avoid the same harassment they experienced in the classrooms from their fellow students and teachers, harassment that keeps them from attending their classes, too.

“If prom is an automatic safe space, a place where they can feel comfortable and meet other people like them, that’s incredibly powerful particularly for youth that feel isolated,” Orr said. “What’s really important for kids is that they get to be kids, and have a space to do that while society is in this process of changing.”

And the changes are happening. Support from community churches and schools has increased, Kaiser Permanente is continuing its fiscal sponsorship of the event for the seventh year in a row, this year providing $2,500. Kohl’s department store provided $2,000 in funding and is sending volunteers for the first time this year. Southwest donated the drinks. The total cost to put on the prom is between $7,000 and $10,000 annually, according to organizers.

Collins said that more than 300 LGBTQ and allied youth are expected to attend the dance.

With the help of Gay-Straight Alliance Network, every year Lambda Youth Project puts out a gay prom bulletin to GSAs across the state. Students from as far south as Los Angeles, east to Las Vegas, and north to Santa Rosa make the trip to attend. Youth and LGBTQ-related organizations come from all over the Bay Area to conduct outreach and facilitate activities at the event, too. There is no dress code and parents are welcome to attend or volunteer in support of their children.

“It’s a regular dance with food, a photo booth, souvenirs, games with prizes, and adults supporting the youth,” Collins said. “Everybody comes together on that day and it’s a celebration of acceptance.”

Zohal Abdi, 19, a genderqueer lesbian from Union City, underlined the importance of acceptance. This is her second year attending gay prom and won’t be her last, she said.

“Gay prom allows individuals to show their true colors and express themselves without fear of judgment or exclusion,” she said. “It’s a safe space for LGBTQ and allies to experience the full ‘prom experience’ they weren’t given in their high schools. It’s still important because across the country there are couples and individuals facing prejudice and choose not to go to their proms. Everyone should have a fun prom experience.”

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at Project Eden’s office, 22646 2nd Street, or at the door. Chabot College is located 25555 Hesperian Boulevard, Hayward.

To donate to or volunteer for gay prom, visit www.gayprom.org.

May 21, 2014

Oakland’s vibrant cultural scene now on film

Oakland's Grand Lake Theatre will host a new series of short films, Oakland Originals, next week. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre will host a new series of short films, Oakland Originals, next week. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

Oakland Originals, a highly-anticipated new set of short documentaries intended to highlight Oakland’s cultural scene through compelling vignettes of the city’s residents, is set to premiere next week at the historic Grand Lake Theater.

The first four “originals” of the series are people the local filmmakers, Jim McSilver and Erin Palmquist, feel are “pushing boundaries, countering stereotypes, and exploring territories singular to this dynamic city,” according to the project’s mission.

“Anyone can be an Oakland Original,” Palmquist told the Bay Area Reporter. “It’s more a state of mind rather than a resume of accomplishments or regional affiliation. Selection was hard. There are thousands of people in Oakland doing amazing things but we had to stick with four people due to a limited budget. All of the first four had, of course, some strong connection to Oakland.”

Both filmmakers feel a strong connection to Oakland, too. McSilver has lived there for 22 years and Palmquist for 15 years, and when McSilver approached Palmquist about joining the project, she was thrilled.

“He’s an amazing filmmaker and very passionate about the Oakland Originals project,” Palmquist, 37, said. “Like him, I too am constantly in awe of this amazing city we live in.”

Palmquist, who rejects categories by identifying as “human,” has previously worked on projects with LGBTQ undertones. In 2008, Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, screened her film, BDSM: It’s Not What You Think!, a documentary designed to counter misconceptions around BDSM culture. That same year, another film she shot called Out on the Dance Floor , which explores healing in gay country culture, was also screened at the festival.

Additionally, for the past six years Palmquist has been chronicling the journey of Ghazwan Alsharif, an Iraqi man who worked as a translator for the U.S. military during the Iraq War.

“While working as a translator,” Palmquist said, “Alsharif was wrongfully accused of being a double agent, arrested, and tortured for 75 days in an American-run Iraqi prison. In 2008, he came to the U.S. as a refugee, and he is also gay. While the film, From Baghdad to the Bay, is not a comprehensive look at the cultural dilemmas that Arab and Muslim LGBTQ people face, it does expose some of those struggles.”

While the first four Originals represent diversity in different ways, none of them are LGBTQ. But, Palmquist said, that doesn’t mean the next round of Originals won’t include someone who is.

McSilver and Palmquist found the first batch of Originals through online research and community networking. The compelling group – Asiya Wadud, Michael Christian, Vanessa Solari Espinoza, and Tim Monroe – will be present at the premiere for a question and answer session.

Wadud is the founder of Forage Oakland, a fruit barter network founded in 2008 that organizes the harvesting and redistribution of fruit growing in the yards of North Oakland residents.

Christian creates large sculptures out of metal. Using large vacant warehouse spaces, he erects pieces designed to be transportable. While his sculptures seldom stay put for very long, they’re distinct, the most recent of which can be found in Oakland’s Uptown Art Park.

Espinoza, also known as Agana, is a graffiti artist. She’s also a deejay, jewelry maker, educator, clothing designer, and 3D animator, a “true Renaissance woman” and “Jane-of-all-trades” as Palmquist called her. Nurtured by an Oakland culture that fosters community engagement through art initiatives, Espinoza uses her graffiti art to transform public spaces into sites of transformation.

Monroe, the oldest of the four Originals , is an inline skater who may or may not have, according to the Oakland Originalswebsite, skated all 837 miles of Oakland’s city streets. A software engineer during the day, Monroe explores each district on skates in his free time.

The premiere is also serving as the kickoff to the Grand Lake Theatre’s plan to screen the short documentaries before showing feature films. The event’s after party will be at nearby Ordinaire Wine Shop and Bar and Panorama Framing at 7 p.m.

The first four shorts were made possible by the city of Oakland’s Cultural Funding Program ($5,000 in 2010) and independent contributions. Palmquist and McSilver hope to continue expanding the Oakland Original series and are already looking at who to feature next.

“We’re always looking for eye-catching people but with the release we’re hoping that people will be inspired to suggest their friends, family, and colleagues,” Palmquist said.

People can send their suggestions to contact@oaklandoriginals.com.

Oakland Originals premieres Thursday, May 29 at 6 p.m. the Grand Lake Theatre, 3200 Grand Avenue. Tickets are $10.

May 15, 2014

Funding campaign under way for Oakland trans shelter

Queens Cottage Shelter CEO Elizabeth Howard, left, and founder Brianna “Breezy” Golden-Farr anticipate a successful crowdfunding effort for their project, which would provide shelter to transwomen. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Queens Cottage Shelter CEO Elizabeth Howard, left, and founder Brianna “Breezy” Golden-Farr anticipate a successful crowdfunding effort for their project, which would provide shelter to transwomen. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter

Brianna “Breezy” Golden-Farr and Elizabeth Howard are spearheading an unprecedented project that addresses the absence of emergency shelter housing for transgender women in Oakland. Called Queens Cottage Shelter, or QCS, the housing initiative, while still in its beginning stages, is quickly establishing a foundation that the project’s team, supporters, and community are hopeful about.

In partnership with Transitions House, a local transgender housing advocacy group, QCS created an Indiegogo campaign last month to raise start-up funds. Clair Farley, Transitions House co-founder and associate director of economic development at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, was able to leverage her social media aptitude for the project and within one week of going live, the campaign had surpassed the $5,000 goal.

“The need for Queens Cottage has been demonstrated by the over 350 individual donors that have come together thus far to support this campaign,” Farley, 31, a longtime trans advocate, said. “By starting in Oakland, we’re starting with the folks most impacted by violence and discrimination. Trans women of color are six times more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. Queens Cottage speaks to why housing our community is important, to get people out of the street economy and provide access to other employment and education.”

At press time, the campaign had raised $9,475 with 22 days left to fundraise and there’s one thing Golden-Farr, Howard, and Farley are sure about – QCS is going to need more.

“We set the initial goal low to make sure we’d reach it,” Golden-Farr, 48, an African American transwoman and QCS founder, said. “We have an idea about what our start-up and operating costs will be and our priority right now is to raise as much money as possible. Our next steps depend on how much we’ve raised.”

Howard, QCS chief executive officer, agreed, saying they’ve applied for tax-exempt status, started developing a board for the organization, and are looking into a business license for the shelter’s future residence.

“It’s all very expensive just to open the doors and get people off the streets,” said Howard, 50, a mixed-race transgender woman. “You wouldn’t think it would be so hard but it is, so we’re really trying to broaden the campaign’s reach.”

Scratching the surface

While QCS isn’t the be-all, end-all solution to homelessness among transwomen in Oakland, it scratches the surface of a larger issue. To date, there are no trans-specific housing shelters in the Bay Area. While a few organizations in San Francisco work to be trans-inclusive, gender-affirming shelter spaces created exclusively for trans people in the Bay Area don’t exist.

“Walden House has a program for folks in recovery and Larkin Street Youth Services has some accessibility for LGBTQ youth but those systems aren’t specifically tailored to the trans community,” Farley said. “There’s nothing else.”

Golden-Farr can speak firsthand to the immediate need for trans-specific housing. When, at the end of last year, she found herself homeless after an unsteady living situation collapsed, she went to Bay Area Community Services, an Oakland-based vulnerable adult services agency, to seek transitional housing.

“When I walked in,” Golden-Farr said, “they didn’t know what to do with me. Luckily, I had other options but if I didn’t, which many girls don’t, I would’ve been in a world of trouble. There would’ve been no place for me to feel safe and comfortable because they couldn’t figure out where to put me, on the men’s or women’s side.”

But two months later, after “resorting to the oldest profession in the world” to pay her weekly rent at a downtown Oakland hotel, Golden-Farr approached BACS a second time. After explaining to the agency that she was experiencing panic attacks caused by anxiety around entering the shelter system, BACS moved her to a separated space away from other shelter residents.

“If it wasn’t for that program,” Golden-Farr said, “I don’t know what would’ve happened to me. That moment, I vowed to do everything in my power to ensure that the next trans woman wouldn’t have to go through that because it’s not right. There’s no reason a girl like me shouldn’t have a safe and comfortable place to lay her head at night.

“And,” she added, “if I was going through this I can’t imagine what other girls are going through, who may be strung out on drugs, HIV-positive, have no family, absolutely nothing.”

BACS Executive Director Jamie Almanza agreed that trans-specific housing in both Alameda County and the broader San Francisco Bay Area is urgent.

“I know Breezy well,” Almanza said, “and I fully support her mission both personally and professionally to create a transgender-safe environment for the homeless. There is a huge need amidst all social services to create safe, discrimination-free environments that are welcoming across genders. We’re supportive of Breezy and hope to collaborate with her organization to get it off the ground and do whatever we can to help her be successful in meeting the needs of that specific population.”

The QCS team intends for the shelter to be a starting point for transwomen to gain stability and access to skills, resources, and health care in a safe and affirming environment. Golden-Farr and Howard foresee space for 10 residents initially, each with case workers, and a van to provide transportation to the shelter.

“The girls working out on MLK [Jr. Way in Oakland] are already talking about it,” Golden-Farr said. “Some are 13, 14 years old, others barely 20, 21. They’re saying, ‘QCS is coming and we’re going to have a place to go,’ which means no more sleeping in the doorway of a church.”

When asked why something like QCS hasn’t existed before, Golden-Farr and Howard, friends for 31 years, explained that transwomen, especially transwomen of color, exist on society’s periphery.

“It seems to me,” Howard said, “there are certain categories or subgroups that are in a queue waiting for their cause to be pushed forward. The homeless transgender is at the bottom of the list, if on the list at all.”

The QCS team plans to continue increasing visibility around the project. Video vignettes of transwomen sharing their stories will be posted on the QCS Indiegogo page and Transitions: A Residence for the Trans Community Facebook page within the next week. Additionally, Golden-Farr and Howard will be featured on a KOFY TV20-Cable 713 segment (airing Sunday, May 25 at 9:30 p.m.) during which radio personality Michelle Meow interviews them about the importance of QCS.

To donate to Queens Cottage Shelter, visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trans-housing-now-queens-cottage-shelter. The campaign ends June 5.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.