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.
Ganesha Gold Buffalo is a Disabled, Afroindigenous community healer and matriarch; educator; national organizer; transdisciplinary performance artist; and GJL Program Director leading our SafeHouse program, community and corporate training, and more. Hailing from Tennessee, currently residing in Florida, and operating out of Seattle, Ganesha centers radical care and hospitality in everything that she does from the stage, studio, classroom, street, and conference room. Ganesha’s drive stems from an ancestral calling to ignite the people with a hunger for reintegration from displacement and ethnocide, abolition of all colonial and neocolonial systems and systemic abuses, sex worker advocacy, food and land sovereignty, environmental justice, youth protections, by-and-for community security initiatives, and equitable resource building and redistribution via ceremony and ancestral communion.
How did you get involved with GJL, and how has your role shifted over time?
I was hired in June of 2022 as SafeHouse Advocate, and have recently stepped into a new role as Program Director. Currently, I manage all direct services through SafeHouse, working directly with trans and gender diverse survivors of gender-based and intimate partner violence and crime. We’re also hiring a new advocate for the program soon, which means I’ll be managing my own assistant and stepping into my first executive-level role. I can’t describe how special and life-affirming that is for me. This is not only the beginning of a new era for myself, but for the organization as a whole as we look to extend our services to a national framework.
Most of our services are based around housing: helping folks pay their rent and utilities, and getting them emergency hotel stays when they need to retreat from violence or harm. We can also help with getting people gift cards for transportation, groceries, and almost any other type of life expense. We take on clients on a case-by-case basis, always listening to people’s detailed life experiences. Our office is open four days a week, but our phone is always on, so we’re constantly hearing from people throughout the week.
I’m also a community organizer and educator of 10+ years, and that manifests through my role at GJL by helping with our outreach and community partnerships, particularly our educational and skilled teaching work. I do a lot of trans competency training, legislative state competency training and speaking gigs, and educating people about the current threats that our community is facing and what can be done about those threats. I do a lot of connection-building between the greater BI2STGD+ community and more marginalized subsets of the community, building bridges.
You’ve also been one of the key organizers for Trans Pride Seattle for the last 2 years!
Actually, my first experience with Trans Pride Seattle was performing in 2019. I performed alongside my friend, DJ Queermo (@brianisze), a DJ/rapper/performer based out of Seattle. They invited me to dance for them on stage, which was amazing and very successful. The crowd was really hyped. That experience really affirmed my presence at Trans Pride Seattle. Not only was it a place where I could belong, but it was purposely safe.
That year was probably the first and last year we had a by-and-for [BI2STGD+] community security initiative present, which dissolved shortly after that due to a death in the community. Having by-and-for community security there was amazing. It was amazing to know that we were protected at all times by other Black, Indigenous, Trans, TwoSpirit, Gender Nonconforming people. That singular focus alone was enough to make me want to continue to plug in and collaborate. So all of the pieces just kind of aligned over time, in and outside of my intention, for being part of GJL. I was hired in June  and it’s been history ever since.
Last year [in 2022], my role [with Trans Pride Seattle] was mainly as the tabling coordinator, but I also handled greeting for the entire event; managing volunteers on the front end for the entire event; setting up tables for the resource fair; and directing tablers where to go on the day-of.
We got the wrong setup lists last year, so I was all hands on deck making sure that, not only everybody coming into the event to work different positions as volunteers or paid roles, but also the performers and every organization tabling, knew exactly where to go and had help physically setting up. I was also responsible for reconciling all the spaces that were cut out or weren’t reserved prior to the event because that tabling list had been missing. So, I basically manually handled 50+ tablers and a crowd of volunteers for the entire event. It was fun.
This year, I took on more of a solidified role within those same responsibilities. It was not so circumstantial, but rather far more intentional. As the Front End Director, I was responsible for overseeing the resource fair, check-in, merchandise table, and more; and communicating anything to security that seemed or was off. I had the last say on who sets up where, how it works, and what it looks like; maintaining that order that was missing last year, and continuing to help manage the volunteers. Luckily this year I had an assistant, a larger team, and more security for me personally that could run back and forth and handle things on my behalf.
I also made my return as a performer this year, doing a 15 minute set in 7-inch Syro heels to an avant-pop mix I made, with a grand finale of laser-lit body adornments. My entire outfit began falling apart at the literal seams the second I hit the stage. I wanted to die, but the show must go on. And on it went. I felt so much better after finishing, however, and received a lot of unexpected praise, and some bomb photos to boot. I sometimes forget that authenticity is the best entertainment.
How does your community organizing background translate into your work with GJL?
The work that we do as a community organization—and calling ourselves a community organization—is central to moving along community and grassroots organizing frameworks. There are a lot of organizations that can fall into the pitfalls of self-identifying as a community organization just because they are low(er) in funding, i.e., not a multimillion-dollar nonprofit. I feel like ‘community organization’ has become synonymous with being underfunded or disenfranchised, and that’s not the take. Community organizations are organizations that yes, many times are underfunded; [but also that] have principles and values that are directly and intentionally aligned with that of community leadership and what the community actually wants; and consist of individuals that come from community organizing backgrounds, i.e. people who listen to and communicate directly with community, understand community needs, and can translate that into action within the redirecting of resources to and for community.
How that translates and goes into my role at Trans Pride Seattle (TPS): Pride is and has always been a rebellion, an uprising. Especially now with the current legislation where we’re being asked essentially to re-closet our identities, the importance for maintaining the sense of uprising for Pride is more important than ever. I think that most people are going to respond to Pride in that way this year, within the context of just celebrating their lives.
What’s been most challenging about your time with GJL?
The most challenging thing within any long-standing nonprofit organization is white supremacy. White supremacy has roots in all of these organizations because it also gatekeeps money and funding, and the purpose of the nonprofit industrial complex (NIC) is to control the cash flow into certain marginalized communities by the federal government. What that looks like is this corporatization of charity. We have the federal reserve, and the social security administration regulating how we make our money. Institutions like the NIC are how they control how that money is spent.
For me, coming from a committee organizing and grassroots organizing background, that has probably been the most challenging aspect of coming into the NIC—and something I greatly expected to experience prior to coming into it.
I had resistance for about five years (or more) about going into nonprofit work. I started out with youth organizing as a youth myself around age 20-21, and did some stuff before that as well with Black Lives Matter. That set me up to face a lot of the institutional challenges that I have.
Thus far, with GJL, I find that my voice is actually heard and that I’m able to help inform decisions even at the executive level, even when I was an entirely new [non-executive level staff] member. For me, that’s been everything, because it indicates trust—which I believe is essential to building up anyone for success within an organization and building up the potential for success in where that person will go afterward—which I feel is not a primary focus of most workplaces.
How do we resist white supremacy in the NIC, knowing that that’s baked into its very foundation?
I think that what community organizations need to focus on is keeping their ear to the ground in terms of centering community voices within all of their decision-making as organizations—but particularly the decisions that most directly impact community. Most of the time, unfortunately, that looks like decisions around financial resources, not only for individuals but for other organizations that don’t fall under an incorporated nonprofit umbrella. Because, as we know within our own communities that are highly disenfranchised, the multiply marginalized communities—which are the communities that exist within the margins of the margins of community—those people do and have always existed within resistance for one another, and have their own initiatives and protocols for feeding their communities, for keeping their communities clothed, housed, and protected; and for ensuring that each individual has their own respective ability to care for themselves, maintaining a sense of autonomy and self determination. We need to center the amplification of those voices, and what feeds that resilience.
What are you most proud of in your work with GJL?
All the people that I’ve been able to help not fall through the cracks that clearly, at least to me, fall through the cracks with every other nonprofit organization that they seek help with. GJL gives me the ability to help out the people that need it the most when they need it, and [GJL] has given me the full authority to take on what that looks like. [That] has been so important for me as a community organizer, because I’m able to speak to the deepest, most silent needs of those in my community—because they entrusted me with that information—and I’m able to take action, mitigating any harm that could come from those things when I have that autonomy over how the resources are directed. I think that’s true for any Black and Indigenous community organizer that falls into a role within a nonprofit. To have that executive decision-making ability within that space that, just by default, is going to be majority white or white adjacent, is a reclamation of power in and of itself. That’s what I enjoy the most about this position—just getting to do that for my people. Even not my people—just everybody that can and does fall through the cracks, especially Disabled people.
What are you most proud of that GJL has done overall?
I think the work in the legislature by our executive director, Danni Askini, is huge. The work she’s doing out in DC—advocating for gender-affirming care for people of all ages—is amazing.
Trans Pride Seattle (TPS) is also something to be very proud of. [Trans Pride] is so important, particularly now, given our current political climate. We need each other, and organizations that celebrate Trans Pride. Trans Pride [events are] so rare across the U.S.
Trans Pride is an uprising and celebration of our lives. It’s [a place to] show up and show out with our full identities—not just segments of our identities, not just the parts of ourselves that are most palatable for the general public. [That] is why you see people coming back to TPS every year.
Producing TPS is the biggest feat. The fact that this is the longest consecutively running Trans Pride event in the area and that we’re able to—year by year—offer the accommodations and entertainment level that we do, is nothing short of phenomenal. We have everyone in the community to thank for that because they are who we do this for, but also they show up and show out and make Trans Pride what it is every year. We take great pride in hosting TPS every year for those reasons, and to give the community a safe place to be.
How do you think GJL has positively impacted trans and gender diverse people?
GJL has made considerable strides in advocating for the trans and gender diverse community in our legislative advocacy, in keeping them safe, and in the laws that were successfully passed in our favor: My Health, My Data Act (HB 1155 / SB 5351), Making Name Changes Private & Free (SB 5028), Shield Law for Abortion & Gender-Affirming Care (HB 1469 / SB 5489), and Supporting Youth and Young Adults Healthcare Services (SB 5599).
I’m excited about our national expansion, which initially drew me into working with GJL as a national organizer myself. We’ve been pulling together community action initiatives, reaching out to people outside of the Pacific Northwest and forming intentional partnerships, and increasing solidarity with other organizations that are doing similar work in our communities in places that are more highly disenfranchised, in states that are far more conservative or less progressive in nature. We want those communities to know that they’re not alone and that we can help strengthen the movement work that they’re doing.
What would you like to see GJL do in the next 10 years?
I would like to see us be able to provide direct services on a national level, or at least support national initiatives that effectively and adequately redirect the distribution of financial and health-related resources to disparate trans and gender diverse peoples. I would like to see us do that in a way that centers Black, Indigenous, and Disabled people in those communities the most.
I would also like to see us support or evolve into housing services more effectively as well for our community, and getting our houseless siblings off the streets more effectively.
I would like to see us have more funding to do all of these things, and for funders to take notice of the work that trans organizations are doing the way that they did during the racial uprisings when money was being just thrown at various organizations. I would like to see that happen more frequently, and far more sustainably than before—not just for different historical events, holidays, or giving days—[but rather] on a ritual basis.
What is your vision for more effective housing services? What does that look like?
I go back and forth in debate with myself around whether or not it would be effective to have a physical shelter for people [again] that we’re able to operate and maintain as an organization. There is a lot of nuance to that. However, I would love for us to have the funding to put our full weight behind other housing initiatives that actually get people off the street and into physical locations that are safer for them. I want us to help make housing free for certain populations or groups within the general population. I want us to play a pivotal role in increasing housing voucher access within the area, or even nationally.
I want us to help make housing services more accessible for Disabled people in general and increase Disabled people’s access to accessible housing and other physical locations. I want us to help make housing services more effective for people who have service animals particularly because that is non-existent within Washington and most other states. People who have service animals literally can’t find a place to sleep, and most shelters don’t take them.
I also want us to be instrumental in passing legislation that prevents shelters from discriminating against trans people so that we don’t have to buy our clients wigs; or ask them to shave, alter their voices, or otherwise alter parts of their identities in order to simply access a bed to sleep in at night.
I also want to see more real rent initiatives as part of sustaining land sovereignty movement work amongst Indigenous communities, or on behalf of Indigenous communities. And more land back initiatives.
Do you have a favorite or funny memory from your time with GJL so far?
I think the funniest thing is how we’re always laughing, even though we’re dealing with horrific stuff. I’ve found the funniest moments happen when there’s a major upset or an organizational failure that comes up to the surface, and we’re able to sit around and joke about it. I think that is always symbolic of resilience and resistance. [I enjoy] any group’s ability to laugh in the face of their oppression, and simultaneously to approach it seriously in the context of resolving it for themselves and their people.
What do you want other people to know about GJL?
I want people to know that we’re a team of three people—and I want them to know that, as a team of three people, we’re taking on the operations of a fully staffed, multi-million dollar organization, with only a fraction of that budget and net value. We are already extending into a national operating level even within that. We’re constantly maintaining solidarity with other organizations out of the [Washington State] area.
Collectively, we’re the only organizations that are holding up the entirety of our TwoSpirit, trans, and gender diverse (2STGD) community. There’s no other community in which the people that represent that community directly are the only ones caretaking that community like it is for the 2STGD community.
I also want people to know that GJL came out of an organizing collective. GJL’s founders were not a wealthy friend group that decided to get together and form an organization, functioning on a dream. These people actually understood the direct needs of their community and decided to take strides in developing an organizational framework and methodology that would sustain it by addressing those needs directly.
What other organizing work or projects are you currently working on?
I’m on two different equity committees right now for two different organizations: one’s based around housing, and one’s based around gender-affirming and abortion care as well as preventative work.
I am [also] part of a birth/life work collective, and on their council. I’m helping that organization to grow right now by being on the planning committee for a fundraising party that we’re organizing. I had just attended a retreat on behalf of that organization, as well for council members, where we were discussing its future—which is under the lineage of an Afro-Indigenous community organizer that we’ve lost recently.
I’m helping write and build out structures of accountability, community education, and value keeping for two different groups.
I’m helping build out and maintain a national mutual-aid network alongside other 2STGD folx.
I’m also supporting youth-led initiatives for continued access to gender affirming care and abortion services. The latter is something that people don’t realize that youth need, too.
Along with the increase in pay that comes with my new role, I’ll be investing in a home studio to finally soft-launch a self-produced music project that will continue for the next two years before being released on all public platforms. This has been years in the making. I never felt like I could fully explore it because of financial restraints keeping me from manifesting the complete vision. I knew if it was going to be possible, I’d have to maintain a high-level full time position. And with no forseeable way there, I simply didn’t pursue a career in music at all for the past ten years. There’s a lot of repressed creativity there that is trying to rip its way out of me, that doesn’t give a fuck about capitalism or its constraints on me as a person. I want to make music now for people to know that there’s no perfect age, status, or time to fully realize their vision. You may have many lifetimes, but you only get one shot with a life’s purpose, and with the vision that drives that purpose. You can follow me @divinemerger for more developments around that project, and to view my first independent film coming out later this year in tandem with my website.
I know you’ve historically done work in the environmental sphere, are you still doing that?
I mostly do that collaboratively these days. I don’t take anything on myself anymore because it’s too much work, and the environmental justice scene is extremely racist and transmisogynist. So, I find myself only supporting the actions of others these days from that scene, supporting actions that are already in the works that just need that final push, and advising other environmental justice activists in meetings with lawmakers and council members across the country who are passing harmful legislation.
I’m continuing to show up for the Indigenous community wherever I am, as our efforts are always tied to food sovereignty, land sovereignty, or environmental justice of some kind.
Please go support the great work that For The People are doing in this field. They are an extremely progressive and hardworking think tank of an organization that strives for community action and paying organizers.
I’m in awe of all the things you work on and the energy you bring to all of it!
When I’m in a space, I give my full undivided attention to that space, and nothing else exists. Then, I go to the other space and the same thing applies. I just have to segment my experience in that way.
I feel like it can be a useful skill in organizing work to be able to compartmentalize, especially for people who experience transmisogyny, racism, and other oppressions.
Absolutely; although it’s important for me to not rely on the compartmentalization of trauma specifically, because that degrades the mind over time. I have family that has dementia and I’m not trying to get early onset dementia or anything like that. I think a lot of people don’t realize that too much compartmentalization without the processing of trauma turns into disorders and the early degradation of the mind.
How do you process, in order to avoid that? How can we hold these things in ways that are healthy?
First and foremost, I prioritize my connection to the land, and to going to water. It’s why I did everything in my power to move out to South Florida because my focus was, as someone from the South, to be at the furthermost point of the South within Turtle Island and also have access to the water and sunlight, which are major ancestral healing powers.
Second of all, now that I have a job that has adequate insurance, pursuing therapy and committing to that is really important for me. [That can mean] having two therapists if I need two therapists, right? Whatever works best for my mental state. I carry a lot of things, and a lot of people’s struggles become my own. A lot of people’s issues are my own issues. That happens when you’re in a care role within your own community.
I always try to voice this to everybody—this is elder wisdom that I’ve received that says: if you’re not actively healing yourself, you’re actively hurting those around you. In the context of mental health, when the scales tip more toward the aid of other people and communities outside of yourself, and away from self-care (which isn’t just bubble baths, it’s everything we do to sustain ourselves as people), then you have a problem, and likely a scarcity mentality, and need to reassess your role within all of those spaces: workspaces, organizing spaces, community spaces, familial spaces, friendships, and all other interpersonal relationships.
As soon as we fall outside of the lines of how the work is also feeding us, some part of us begins to starve. If we allow that part of us to starve for too long, it will turn malicious. I just try to maintain that elder wisdom within myself and pass it on whenever I’m able.
On a personal level, that elder wisdom feels so different from messages I’ve received as a white (trans) man around what it means to be a ‘good’ man (whatever that means): i.e. caring more for others than for myself.
That is a lie that is fed to you by liberal media, which has long been infiltrated by far-right instigators and foreign intelligence. What they want is to alter the ways in which we’re communicating with each other and ourselves to poison the well. They want us to literally destroy ourselves and one another.
So, what I would say is the redirection of that intentionality: when it comes to money and finances, and major resources, white men do need to be serving more people aside from themselves. White men need to be giving away anything that grants them power or puts them at the top of a system of power, because they’re already on top of them all and have been since our nation’s inception. They need to be reassessing at all times what that looks like and how they’re going to redirect the resources that keep them at the top of those power structures back into communities that need those things the most; those that are most at the margins.
But anything that looks like self-care on a personal level needs to be centered at all times within white people, within allies of all kinds, and within anyone wanting to be in solidarity with multiply-marginalized communities. You need balance. [If you don’t] what is going to happen is that you’re going to end up hurting the community more than you’re helping them. You’re going to end up doing exactly what you’re fighting against if you don’t have everything at all times to meet your basest needs as an individual. I do not want people to martyr or sacrifice themselves to make the work happen. This ain’t Sparta.
What other advice or wisdom do you have for (especially trans) people who want to get into community organizing or advocacy work?
I say [this to] anybody wanting to get into any area of community organizing: Don’t do it if you’re hoping to get anything out of it that will personally sustain you, including accolades, outside of the sense of accomplishment that comes from helping others sustain themselves.
In addition to that, I would say: Never lose sight of the people that exist on the margins within the margins of the communities that you’re advocating for, and ensure that you’re not advocating for any community without directly conferring with those very multiply-marginalized peoples on appropriate matters first.
Never go into organizing expecting to be anything more than just an extension of the voice of the community in which you advocate for.