In celebration of Gender Justice League’s 10-year anniversary, this blog post is part of a series called Ten Years of Gender Justice, a commemoration of some of the key players throughout GJL’s history. Throughout this series, we’ll highlight a few of the collaborators, organizers, and activists who have worked within or alongside GJL to make strides in advancing gender justice in Washington State and beyond.
From GJL’s inception in 2012, Gwen Yeh has been bringing heart and graphic design skills to the movement for intersectional trans rights and our collective liberation. From the creation of the GJL and Trans Pride Seattle logos, Gwen has been instrumental in helping shape the organization into what it is now ten years later.
Note: this interview was conducted in December 2022.
How did you become involved with what became GJL?
GJL started in 2012 as a collective of 7-14 people. It was a privilege to be involved so early on. My assets to the group were in visual graphics and art, so we decided pretty quickly that I would be responsible for the visual content, including the logo, branding, and posters for GJL as well as for Trans Pride Seattle.
In the first year, the challenge was creating everything from scratch, but as the years went on, we had more and more materials to work with and it got easier. I made all the visual content up until 2018, when I’d left enough materials that everyone else could run things on their own, and they didn’t need me—which was my goal. I didn’t want to just continue doing logos and posters forever. It was always my intention that GJL wouldn’t need to constantly look for new posters or artists—that we could have enough of a library of artwork and materials to use.
What made you start organizing with the group?
My friends and I shared a goal of wanting to create a positive community for trans people not just centered around mutual group support. Mutual group support has its place—it’s very important for us to create an emotional support network for people in this community—but we’re not in the ‘80s or ‘90s anymore. We’re not just surviving, we need to thrive.
We needed an organization to create spaces to champion inclusivity, and celebrate our transness and the fact that we should express it in this world. Especially in 2012, this was a unique mission statement for any organization. [At the time] we were still coming out of an oppressive mentality where being trans meant hiding. We were done with that.
At that time, there were only one or maybe two support groups centered around trans issues, but nobody that was focused on [trans] activism. Now, we’re no longer the only gender activism group around, and that’s a good thing. We’re certainly not looking to be the only group. We’re looking to create a movement where others can light their own torch and join the fight. So far in that regard, I think we’ve made some ripple effects through Washington State and even the rest of the country—I’m seeing gender activist groups from the east coast to Nevada to California. It’s amazing.
It’s so cool how really incredible things can come out of hanging out with your friends sometimes.
Especially when you have amazing friends! I knew them for many years before [we started GJL in] 2012. Starting GJL gave us a challenge to express our best selves and exercise our skills [in order] to help others. GJL showed me the best of my friends—the friends I’d known for years, but didn’t know their potential. I think they saw that in me, too. That’s what happens when you get a group of people who feel disenfranchised, and you show them that they can work for themselves—that’s what GJL did for us, and what GJL can continue to do for newer generations.
What was your process for designing the logo: choosing colors, imagery, and fonts?
It took about two weeks. When we started, I came up with about two dozen logo ideas, and one of them was star-shaped—that was the one we liked best. From there, we tried it out in different colors. We chose red, orange, and yellow because they are energetic, vibrant, inspiring colors, signifying the fires/flames of justice.
There were two fonts that we used: proxima nova and century gothic. We wanted something [in the] sans serif [family], which looks more modern, as opposed to more traditional-looking fonts like Times New Roman.
What’s felt challenging in your time organizing with GJL?
Staying in touch with people. [When we started] people moved in and out of Seattle often, which made it hard. Our office space frequently changed: one time, it would be on 12th avenue, then a year later it was moved to the Central District, and then it moved back onto 12th avenue at a different location. It was always shifting, and as a consequence, I think it made it hard for people to join and stay in touch—at least until Zoom meetings made things easier.
There were also other challenges in our [individual] lives—like money and rent—that drew focus at times.
How did the group coordinate and keep everyone updated in the early days?
In the early days, we used an experimental Google communication platform that allowed us all to participate. I don’t remember what it was called—Google stopped supporting it.
What were some of the key events you were part of with GJL?
For the first four or five years [of its existence], I was part of setting up Trans Pride Seattle (TPS). When we started [TPS], each organizer had to cover four or five different responsibilities, but by 2016, we had more of a handle on things and I was comfortable with just attending. I still did the graphics and posters, but that was all handled at home on my computer. Once the assets were printed and made into posters, on the day of TPS, I would just show up, wave my trans flag, and enjoy the fun. It was great.
Do you have a favorite memory of your time with GJL?
My favorite memory is meeting Julia Serano (the author of the book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity) for the second time. I was privileged to meet her very briefly in San Francisco at a speaking conference in 2011. I didn’t get to speak with her very long, so I was a little disappointed by that missed opportunity to interact more with my hero, but in 2012, I was thrilled to hear that she was going to be the guest speaker at TPS. There, I got to meet and talk to her again, and tell her what a huge fan I was of her book. That made my day. My first TPS will always be special because of that.
Another memory from the first TPS: after all the hardship, the arguments, and the infighting [while organizing it], we finally came together and got it done. It was stressful the whole time until it was over, when we saw all the participants that were happy. It was a thrilling day. At the end of the day when it was winding down, one of my close friends, also a co-organizer, came up to me and said, ‘We did this. We did it.’ That was a simple statement, but I knew what she meant: it meant that all the months of hard work paid off, that this is what it was all about. That was a very significant moment for me. There were moments where we questioned whether Trans Pride was really going to happen at all. This was the first Trans Pride, so everything was up in the air. We weren’t sure anything was going to work. But when my friend said ‘We did it,’ it instilled a level of confidence in me—and to many others. There’s been nothing like it ever since: that we could get together in a room and a few months later, hold one of the largest Trans Pride events in the world. When you look at the fruit of your labor and you see happy faces, it makes it all worth it.
What are you most proud of in your work with GJL?
Just being part of GJL is something I’m proud of. GJL is not like any other organization I’ve joined: we brought an effort into the activist community that wasn’t there before, and it created a ripple effect more noticeable than anything else I’ve done. I could point to the posters, to Trans Pride Seattle, to the news articles and newspapers, and tell my family, ‘I was part of that.’ That was better than anything else I’ve done.
How do you think GJL has made an overall positive impact for trans people in the state?
I would say that the far-reaching effect we’ve had is that we reached the younger generations. Our ability to imagine a better future becomes limited by our memories of the past and our traumas. The younger generations are not exposed to that, thankfully. They see GJL as a part of the narrative, and trans people as part of the discourse.
Twenty or thirty years ago, there were so few of us who were out. That’s not the case anymore. That’s the impact I’m most proud of.
I remember struggling with gender in my 20s in the early 2000s: there were no trans activism groups here in Seattle. Nowadays there are trans activism groups all across the West coast, and I can’t help but feel like if we were not the starting point, then we were at least part of that growing movement. That alone is something to be proud of.
[I’m also proud of] GJL’s work in other venues besides gender—like prison reform, economic justice, and racial justice.
What would you like to see GJL do in the next 10 years?
The last 10 years [of GJL] is already beyond what I could have imagined. If you told me in 2012 that GJL was going to be thriving in 2022, I would have been blown out of my mind. In 2012, we just thought we’d throw one or two Trans Prides and see how it goes. The fact that it’s still going on now means so much. Just the presence of GJL has a huge impact.
I would definitely love to see GJL continue to be the group that is there for everyone, not just trans people, but all people in general. Transness is just one aspect of humanity. GJL is an activist group for people that includes trans people, not an activist group for trans people that includes [other] people.
Is there anything that you want other people to know about GJL?
GJL is a movement made by the people, for the people, and anyone can join. You don’t have to be trans to join GJL, this is a group for everyone. GJL is a great platform for people to join if they want to become more conscious of the politics that affect our lives as trans or gender non-conforming people. As a trans person or ally, we have to be aware of how to navigate that.