We caught up with Programs Coordinator Mahkyra Gaines to ask some questions about how Mahkyra first connected with Gender Justice League, the meaning of gender justice, and why intersectionality and mutual aid matter in trans organizing.
What does gender justice mean to you?
Gender justice is a movement rooted deeply in my definition of liberation. To give some background, I go by the name Mahkyra, I am 21 years old. Currently I attend the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA—I’ll graduate in June. I major in multicultural studies, local economy, and education—a lot of which is hyper emphasized on Latinx Studies, migration stories, and working with an Indigenous perspective or Indigenous pedagogy. So, that’ll come up in all of the answers I'll be giving in terms of gender justice and what that means for me. It’s important to speak from a postcolonial theory when discoursing gender.
So this was definitely a question where I was like ‘wow...you could really go a lot of different ways in answering this.’ Like I said before, I'm really influenced by authors like Kelly Lytle Hernández, and she really speaks to settler colonial theory, a postcolonial framework that I was speaking of before. I like to think about gender under a settler colonial landscape that we currently live in and perform in. With colonialism and slavery in North America comes capitalism, and a theatrical way of capturing gender roles—which can lead to a feeling of captivity and ridgtry, and can cause a lot of sadness in people. However, while under immense pressure from society to be someone they are not, there have been powerful queer brown and Black women that I carry with me in resistance to gender oppression: Audrey Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Pine Leaf, who was a Crow warrior well known for living a life of bravery, strength, and love. I draw from the stories of those of past, present and future to influence the truth telling I speak into the world. My absolute favorite story is of Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman of color, iconic in her activism and fashion. Feminist theory is important to discuss too, so patriarchy is part of this narrative, too. Anzaldúa names masculine power as a key structure that is interwoven with contemporary society. We can’t separate gender from conversations on oppression and pathways towards liberation . So, gender justice to me is this interruption and redefining of contemporary performances of gender roles: it's equal pay; it's autonomy over bodily choices; it's health insurances covering gender affirming surgeries; and it's QTBIPOC (queer trans Black Indigenous people of color) regaining access to positions of power and leadership roles.
Why does Gender Justice League matter?
For me, Gender Justice League matters because it's an organization that directly challenges oppressive ideologies of what it means to exist, to be, and to thrive under captive environments—under settler colonial captive environments—that pressure us to perform in these very heterosexual, monogamous ways. You know what I mean? Gender Justice League advocates against higher types of oppressive structures, like the prison industrial complex, and we advocate for reproductive justice for labor unions, labor movement programs, addressing unemployment, racial justice, and leadership development. All of these come from this mutual aid framework that I really love, and that directly fills the gaps in the needs of communities.
GJL strives to meet all of these goals in this activist movement. We disrupt and challenge these dominant and toxic ideologies with what it means to just exist. We advocate for the liberation of marginalized and underserved communities that otherwise wouldn't have opportunities to be in leadership roles or to fight for our rights, or even know how to start doing that. We give people access to this form of power to change and reshape their own lives.
How has Gender Justice League impacted your personal life?
Gender Justice League has impacted trans communities by adding power, strength, funding and education to supporting trans people. GJL provides pathways towards housing, financial assistance, employment opportunities, and community.
Gender Justice League has impacted my personal life by connecting me to nutritional resources during COVID-19, through the HUGs Food Program—delivering food and coming through in a time of need. This experience occurred before I was employed by Gender Justice League, and I was actually referred to the program by my roommate at the time. I remember the experience with the whole thing was always pleasant. On a deeper level, GJL has pushed me to further my work in connecting theory to action. It’s reminiscent of bell hooks, digging further into political values as a way to navigate personal dynamics, putting in the work to interrupt oppression as it exists.
What is the future that trans people deserve?
Oh so much better, so much more, so so so much more. I recently went to this workshop—or, this online virtual lecture—that Evergreen [college] was hosting, called “What Lies Ahead.” They had a panelist named Ty Brown, a local trans activist, who does really great work for trans and Black people as a whole in the Olympia area. They shared with me a statistic that over 350 trans people were murdered in this past year, which to me was very devastating, shocking, and hurtful, because it really portrays how our society views and treats trans people, specifically trans women. So, when I imagine what the future looks like, it's those statistics going down dramatically, where 350 trans people aren't killed in a year with little to no justice received; to be desired and sought after with no shame or revengeful acts of violence because of trans misogyny and homophobia; and just complete liberation from captivity. And not being shunned, because I feel like since we live in this very heterosexual patriarchal society that values when you perform in those ways—if you decide to exist outside of that—you're either exiled or you're forced to adopt those similar social performances. I want liberation from that lack of autonomy, to live a life without fear, and to live a life of pleasure.
Can you unpack briefly what you mean when you use the word captivity?
Captivity is a psychological and/or physical restriction of authenticity, livelihood, and self-actualization. Captivity is a word of expression that I use to describe living under oppressive conditions that create dangerous or violent living environments. You can take this definition when understanding race, gender, documentation status, (dis)abilities, incarceration, or religion in landscapes that reject a diverse set of realities and create a caste system which suggests a top and bottom ranking for who gets what, and who gets left behind. I feel captive to cisgender ideologies when someone who knows my preferred pronouns misgenders me. I feel captive to racism when I live in a highly segregated town like Olympia, Washington. I feel captive to colonialism when a white lead government tells me what I can and cannot do with my body. I feel captive to capitalism when I have to spend 90% of my life committed to labor related activities, even during a global pandemic. I feel captive to ableism when there are no subtitles on zoom or when people get frustrated when I ask them to repeat what they said when I can’t hear them. Captivity is the opposite of liberty: complete freedom to exist and breathe without restriction.
How can Gender Justice League make an impact in the lives of Washingtonians?
GJL is already doing that. We are demanding and creating a space that prioritizes, empowers, and uplifts underserved Washingtonians and—if you think about it collectively—Washingtonians as a whole. The civil state of Washington benefits a lot from the activism and the work that GJL does. A lot of other states don't have organizations like GJL to lead and spearhead this work, so you see less progressive movements happening. Not that they don't exist, but the work that is being done is set back because of that. So, I think Washington as a whole benefits a lot from what GJL does, especially because GJL comes from this intersectional framework. I know there's this critique of the nonprofit industrial complex as well, and so there's this whole political conversation about nonprofits, but I think that GJL comes from this intersectional framework that seeks to uplift everybody, and we’re not in it just for like the grants and for the funding. We are really taking all of these oppressive structures at the root, critiquing them, and finding ways—whether it be in policy or community needs, like giving out food—and trying to fill those gaps. We are already doing that work.
Have you ever participated in Trans Pride? What did you think?
Yes, I have been to Trans Pride. I went with my ex-partner in 2019, and it was a sacred space that I valued deeply. To be seen, visibly, with other folks whose life journey through gender is reflected in mine was a powerful experience. Trans people have always existed, but rarely have our stories been shared in a honoring way, or have we been seen in ways that show the nuance in our communities. Trans Pride is a place to connect to resources, make friends and be within a safe place. I hope to attend again soon.
Why is intersectionality important in organizing and achieving trans liberation?
I think it's important as a whole when you're considering social justice and equity work, but specifically for trans liberation, going back to this postcolonial theory...when you think about the greatest impacts of patriarchy, heterosexuality, and cissexism, I really like to honor and uplift and speak about Indigenous people. Specifically, all of the queer, trans, and Two Spirit peoples who don't have a platform to speak on what they've been through and what they've experienced. So, you want to come from this intersectional framework where you're taking critical race theory and postcolonial theory, and even Marxist theory, to fight for liberation—as well as for everybody. Like Marsha P. Johnson said, there’s no liberation for some of us without liberation for all of us. When I think about the work that GJL does, we come from this intersectional framework of thinking about all oppressed people from all backgrounds, all document statuses, all racial and ethnic cultures. It's really important for equity and social justice work as a whole, especially with gender justice. Intersectionality is super important because when you think about dismantling and challenging these dominant oppressive ideologies that restrict us and hold us captive within our own bodies and within our own minds—coming from these multiple critiques, different perspectives and stories, and diverse testimonies—it’s super important to uplift, honor, highlight, and to advocate for, because if you get your own freedom or liberation, that's cool, but if somebody else is still struggling and being held captive, or being oppressed in certain ways, do you really have liberation? Is that really what liberation is?
So, trans people come from many different walks of life—we come from different geographical places, different document statuses, different families, different languages—you can't just fight for a specific type of trans person. You have to fight for all trans people. You need to uplift everybody. That's the point of mutual aid, that's the point of coming from this collective framework, that's the point of community building: even if you don't come from similar backgrounds, it's still important to hold, honor, and appreciate others’ life stories, because they’re just as important as your own. Patriarchy and capitalism want us to be separated. They want us to fight with one another. They want us to see our differences instead of our similarities. A part of challenging and dismantling these structures is to see ourselves in another person.
How do anti-racism and racial justice intersect with trans justice?
It’s a collective thing: oppression comes from interwoven structures, which serve to keep us all subjugated, to keep us all restricted within the ways in which we live our lives. It's all connected in these ways—capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism—all of these structures work together to keep those in power, in power (traditionally, that is, those who fit into the mold of a model citizen in the United States, which the idea of that has always been the “hard-working” white cisgender male). You can not pick and choose the oppression that you want to challenge or dismantle. It doesn’t work like that. If you want to be anti-racist you have to be inclsuive of all genders, if you want to be pro-trans justice you have to be inclusive of all races. Those intersections of race and gender will cross paths down the line in liberation work. Kimberly Crenshaw explained it best in her analysis of intersectionality. Check her out. The two can not be seperated, and if you do separate them, you are creating new avenues of discrimination.
What does trans organizing look like in the next under the Biden administration, and as we center BIPOC lives?
Prioritizing the sanctity of Black lives and Indiginous sovereignty. Biden, Bush, Obama, whoever the fuck, always push against the status quo. When any president attempts to normalize violence and destruction, challenge your local politicians and federal representatives out of their comfort zones. Email them, call them, do what you need to do to communicate the tragedies that are occurring globally. Organize trans communities to be educated on national and global inequities. Do the work it takes to hold ourselves accountable to our humanitarian morals and aspirations for the future. Put Black and Indigenous people in leadership positions, keep them there, and help them navigate systems that were not created with them in mind. Put your money where your mouth is, provide housing for BIPOC, provide cash assistance and mental health therapy. Organize in such a way that the most impacted are highlighted and empowered.
Anything else you didn't get to speak on that you would like to share?
Please continue to support Gender Justice League and the work that we do! Keep a BIPOC employed and fed. Hahaha. Join our Advocacy Team or sign up to be a volunteer: we would love to have more folks be part of our team!
By Mahkyra Gaines, Programs Coordinator
In the 2021 legislative year, Gender Justice League has been hard at work advocating for policies that make WA State safer for trans and gender diverse people, especially BIPOC, with special focus on housing, healthcare, and police accountability.
While policy reform is a piece from a more extensive process in the liberation of oppressed people, stakeholders in our local governments hold responsibility in alleviating equity gaps for people of color, people with disabilities, low-income families, and trans communities now. Gender Justice League recognizes the importance and power in communities building relationships with state representatives and local journalist media, and engaging in collective calls to action for our underrepresented communities.
This year, GJL has convened and supported an advocacy team of strong trans and gender diverse advocates from diverse backgrounds, all with lived experience with houselessness, to help shape our policy agenda and advocate for our basic human need of housing. Our team members have created lasting connections with communities as leaders and active agents of change. In this past legislative session, the team has participated in GLAAD media trainings to hone skills around advocacy with media outlets; created a policy priority agenda; tracked and advocated for bills aligned with our values; and participated in dedicated weekly meetings to discuss updates and plans of action to ensure the victory of the policies our communities need to survive and thrive. Together, we saw 71% of our tracked bills pass through their chambers and make their way towards the governor's desk.
We are proud to share that SHB1070—which permits King County to use a 1% tax revenue increase towards purchasing buildings for housing programs—was successful this legislative session. Now, alongside WA Black Trans Task Force, Gender Justice League will be advocating for the Department of Commerce to allocate a portion of this funding to trans-specific housing, prioritizing Black trans communities.
In collaboration with other great leaders from our collective community, like Mattie Mooney and Catherine West, we have made great strides in empowering our state as a welcoming and inclusive landscape for all people. Notably, we achieved the passage of SB5313—The Gender Affirming Care Act—that cast away institutional barriers for trans and gender diverse people seeking gender affirming care. Historically, healthcare insurance companies have used terminology like "cosmetic" against trans people in our journeys to live fully and authentically. With the passage of SB5313, the Health Care Authority (HCA) can no longer deny coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming treatment.
We saw many more bills of broad range in political subjects pass through this year's legislative session, including Washington Coalition for Police Accountability bills HB1054, SHB1310, SB5051, and HB1267. HB1054 prohibits police from using life-threatening tactics such as choke-holds, no-knock warrants, bans police officers from acquiring specific military equipment, and establishes guidelines for the use of tear gas. SHB1310 sets a civil standard for peace officers and prioritizes de-escalation. SB5051 will strengthen community oversight of police activity. HB1267 creates an independent office of investigations that will conduct fair competent investigations in police use of force incidents. Together, these bills work as partners in prioritizing the sacredness of human life, and holding officers accountable to the community when tragedy transpires.
Gender Justice League is proud of the momentum created during this legislative session, getting us ever closer to our larger goals of decriminalization and building safer communities with and alongside trans communities of color, people with disabilities, sex workers, and other marginalized groups—allowing us to live authentically, safely, and freely.
We caught up with Co-Executive Director Tobi Hill-Meyer to ask some questions about her time with Gender Justice League, and the past and future of organizing for trans justice and liberation.
*This interview was conducted December 2020.
What does gender justice mean to you?
When I think about what gender justice means to me, I need to start by centering what justice means to me: it is a world where peoples’ basic needs are met, a world where exploitative systems are dismantled and taken away, and a world where we recognize all the different ways that individually, interpersonally, and institutionally, people are being held back and treated unjustly. Anger is a really important emotion in a lot of this, because anger shows up inside your body to tell you when something is unjust, and you should not accept it. When I look at all these things, it feels really important to me to have a space to focus on gender justice, and being able to address issues and concerns specific to the trans community; being able to look at gender based violence; and to pick apart all the different ways we are kept down, hurt, and harmed by the people in our lives and the institutions and the safety nets that are hypothetically there to support us, but we know have never really served that role. Being able to advocate for gender justice means looking at the whole picture and saying “This is unacceptable. We need to go in and do something to change this, and make things reflect our vision of a just world.”
Why does Gender Justice League (GJL) matter?
Gender Justice League was created at a time when there had been such a focus on marriage equality for so long, that a lot of LGBTQ+ organizations didn’t have much of a focus on trans rights. When we achieved marriage equality, suddenly all the funding for marriage disappeared, and there was a search to pivot to the next big topic. A lot of organizations decided that trans rights would be the next big topic. However, many of those organizations only had one or two trans employees. They were getting a lot of funding to do trans rights work, but trans people weren’t necessarily the ones doing the work. This created momentum for trans people to form our own organizations, and find ways we could support ourselves to do that work. When GJL first started, we got a big break with a $20k neighborhood grant in order to put on Trans Pride. That was an incredible experience that surpassed our expectations. We used the energy from that event, and all the people coming together, to advocate for policy change, specifically trans exclusion clauses, which were the norm in insurance policies. Even organizations that didn’t want those exclusion clauses would have to fight with their insurance company to get them taken out. One by one, GJL went through WA State making sure the public employees benefits board and Apple Health took out those exclusion clauses, before finally getting the insurance commissioner to put out a bulletin saying that exclusion clauses were illegal discrimination, and wouldn’t be accepted with any kind of insurance plan under Washington jurisdiction. That was a wake up moment for us, for me in particular, that we do have the power to make change. When we come together to push for what is right and just, we can see significant change—that’s what the vision of GJL has always been, and that’s why it’s so important.
What community needs do GJL meet?
From the beginning, GJL was founded on values of racial justice, disability justice, sex positivity, and supporting sex workers. A big part of that has been recognizing how much the deck is stacked against us in all these immediate ways, and how much that impacts peoples’ immediate needs. A lot of the needs we’ve been focusing on have been those immediate needs related to healthcare, housing, income, and employment discrimination. One of the key things we’re trying to do with this strategy is to build a community that is stronger, and has more capacity to support each other to survive and thrive; and to use that additional power that we have by supporting each other to see more change in this world, and to reflect what is just for trans people.
How has GJL impacted your personal life?
Before I was part of GJL, I’d been involved in a lot of activism, but so much of it was on my own, or trying to push a larger organization to do more work on trans rights. One of the things I really liked about the idea of GJL—taking that ‘justice league’ part of it—was the idea we were made up of dozens of individual activists who were superheroes on our own, but often isolated without support or backup. Through GJL, we could have each others’ backs. For example, we could call a local business to tell them that something they posted in their window is transphobic, and we could say “Gender Justice League has been receiving complaints about this” as opposed to saying “I think that’s messed up.” This lent us a lot of power. Further, being able to come together and learn more of what the expectations are in some of the more “professional” advocacy and nonprofit circles, in order to understand how to navigate these institutions, was huge as well.
How has GJL impacted trans communities?
I think it’s easiest sometimes to see the impact that GJL has had on trans communities when you look at Trans Pride. Trans Pride is an opportunity for people to celebrate and for artists to have their work showcased. We try to make sure every year that at least half of the dollars we’re spending on Trans Pride are going back into the pockets of trans people, and that at least half those dollars are going into the pockets of trans people of color. Seeing people coming together from all corners of the state who might be dealing with isolation, to share joy with each other, is incredible. One other moment that stands out to me was right after we got the trans exclusion clauses removed from all insurance policies under WA jurisdiction. I ended up getting a part time gig as a healthcare navigator, going around to all the queer bars and sitting in the corner at a table, with a tablet and a sign that said “Want to sign up for health care? I’ll tell you all about it and can sign you up on my tablet right here.” What was so amazing about that was not only did we have the affordable healthcare act, making insurance a financial possibility for people, but to be able to tell them this is the first year every single plan on the market was trans inclusive. Going to all of these events and shows and telling people that we have trans inclusive healthcare, and it is affordable, and I can sign you up in 15 minutes in this corner of the bar, I kind of felt like santa claus: going around giving out this amazing gift that people were so struck by and overjoyed that this was possible. It was such an important reflection for me that a core human need like healthcare has been unmet for so long in our community, that being able to have that accessible was just so incredible.
What has participating in GJL programming been like for you?
There were a couple years where my only role in Trans Pride was being a tabler and a participant, and I loved the energy in that space. Being at a table with my little 30 second elevator speech, I would go for 90 minutes straight saying that same thing again and again to different people and talking more with those who were interested, with barely a pause in between, until finally I needed to grab someone to give me a bathroom break. It was such a high energy. Everyone was excited and happy to be there, wanting to share with each other the different things we’re working on and the different things that are available. I loved being apart of that, and when I could get away from the table for a little bit and watch the performances, or stand in the crowd and take a moment to look around, and see all the different people there and how they were engaging with each other—a minute or two of people watching to take in the environment and what was going on—it was incredibly powerful to see people coming together, and especially so many trans people who experience isolation, and don’t necessarily have many spaces like this.
What has it felt like to be engaged in the policy work you’re doing through GJL?
Personally, I’ve been involved in sex work community for a very long time now, so when there was a moment for GJL and the Sex Worker Outreach Project to collaborate, it felt really natural. It was 4 or 5 years ago when there was a legislature that had a whole bunch of bills that would increase the criminality of sex work, and increase police involvement in sex work, and they had bipartisan support and were ready to sail through without anyone having any opposition to it. We worked together to get half a dozen sex workers down to Olympia to testify at a hearing. As far as I know, this was the first or one of the first times that sex workers were able to testify in that kind of a setting and have their voices heard. However, when we first got down there, the people running the hearing rearranged the agenda, put those bills at the very end of the meeting, waited until there was no more time, then let 3 of the supporters speak, and didn’t let any of us speak. That was so incredibly frustrating, but we did not stop there. We actually got involved with the media, and got a story out about how the legislature had denied sex workers the opportunity to speak about legislation about sex work. That got them to decide to hold a second hearing. So, we needed to get everyone in the car again, drive down to Olympia early in the morning again, but we finally got people the opportunity to testify, and to share how these bills, laws, and the criminalization of sex work is personally impacting people. That was such a powerful moment: it opened up legislators’ eyes to the fact that some criminalization can be a bad thing. To be able to hear from some of the people being impacted by these policies, and not just the people who ideologically wanted to stamp out sex work, that created a change. We spent that year on the defensive, desperately hoping that none of these half dozen bills would make it through. Since then we’ve been able to work together, even with some of the anti-trafficking people, to pass some common sense legislation that would make it easier for people involved in sex work to reach out and call 911 for support without having fear of being arrested and prosecuted if it was found out they are involved in sex work.
Can you speak to the current policy work you’re doing?
Right now one of the big areas we’re working on around policy is housing. A couple years ago, GJL got our own office for the first time, and when we got this office, it just happened to be rated for commercial and residential—full bath and shower, loft, laundry facilities on site, a kitchenette—and we realized that with so much need for housing in our community, we could not let that go to waste. So, we turned it into a 1 bed shelter, started putting people up in that space, and started getting connected to the city structures for housing and shelters, and gender based violence programs. We’ve always known the existing shelter system is inadequate, but to actually be in the middle of it advocating for people, going down to some of these shelters and talking with the administrators, has been really eye opening. There was one moment in particular where we were advocating for someone who had been experiencing anti-trans harassment in a shelter. The shelter staff initially did the right thing and said “that’s inappropriate, it’s not ok, you shouldn’t have to experience that” and they told the harasser that if it happened again they would be kicked out. But then the harasser did it again…and again…and again...and the staff didn’t do anything about it. So, we went and talked to the staff and the administration and asked them what was happening, why they were not following through, and they said they just didn’t have the capacity; they said they had a training on trans issues, but turnover was so high that after a year there are so many new staff who hadn’t been to that training, and that they had 20-something clients per staff person, they were overwhelmed, and it was just not possible for them to make sure anti-trans harassment didn’t happen in their spaces. That made me realize that no matter how much we work with these shelters, it is not going to work to try to make these shelters better spaces for trans people; we need to start completely fresh and have some programs, like our SafeHouse program, that are specifically for trans people. We received a housing advocacy grant with the WA Black Trans Task Force, and are doing a big advocacy push to try to get funding from the government at some level for trans specific housing programs. Our number one goal this year is to try to obtain some kind of funding for a transitional housing program that the WA BTTF is planning on putting together. That is something that would turn things around for so many people. Having people in our community who are not just in survival mode, have their basic needs met, and are able to be on track to have a better experience in the world, is a core building block of what makes our community powerful.
What compels you to give to GJL?
For me, it was when we actually saw the change happening around healthcare exclusions. That had been something I had been working on for years. I think the first time I did something around that was 2008: trying to get my partner’s health plan to be trans inclusive. Their workplace wanted it, but still couldn’t actually get the insurance company to give them a trans inclusive plan. I had been working on this for 6 or 7 years in different areas, and constantly running into this incredible injustice. Then seeing that moment when we could convene 30-40 people every 2 weeks to plan and follow through, and get people to show up to a hearing to explain how much this stuff was impacting people—then I realized there is so much more we can do together than we can do on our own. That’s when I became a monthly donor to GJL. It really felt important to be able to support this work. This is the strategy for how we can really be represented in these different arenas and make change.
How do intersectionality and anti-racism impact your work?
Earlier in my activism, I saw so many organizations that were focused around a single identity group, and really didn’t understand the value of intersectionality and looking at all the different kinds of oppression that affect people, including people in their own identity group. Trying to get LGBTQ+ organizations to address racism or to address transphobia…trans people were almost considered inherently an intersectional issue because it was always this secondary or tertiary concern with gay and lesbian rights, the movement for marriage being the primary concern. It really gave me this perspective, as an Indigenous and Latina trans woman, as someone who has been involved in sex work, to be able to see how different it looks when you focus on those intersections. If there is an organization that’s working for gays and lesbians, but not taking into account any of this, they will help out the wealthy white cis gay men and lesbians, but they’re not really going to impact anyone else. If you actually look at some of the people who are the most marginalized, if you focus and center Black and Indigenous trans people who are dealing with poverty and homelessness, then whatever you do to affect and support those communities are going to be there to take care of everyone. It is impossible to actually support our community unless you are supporting the most marginalized people in our community. Any attempt to do so without that is ultimately going to fail. That’s why intersectionality is not even a question to me—it’s where you have to start.
What does trans organizing look like in the next year, as we center BIPOC lives?
As one of the few trans people of color whose been involved with GJL throughout its entire existence—as one of the few people who have been involved with it throughout its existence—I think it’s really important to look at how we can address and center issues of racism, and center BIPOC lives. That’s one of the things that’s really becoming a priority, and I really appreciate the opportunity to take the helm of this organization. The past couple of years have been a lot about just getting our institutional structure up to where we need it to be, and now I want to see us prioritize that value of racial justice that has been there since the beginning. One of the things that’s different now than it was when we started, is there are a lot of other groups out there doing similar work. When we started, there really wasn’t much—or any—organizational work that was focusing on policy advocacy and trans justice. Now, we’ve seen Ingersoll grow and take on that role, and create a whole bunch of staff roles to be doing that work; we’ve seen other organizations shift their focus as well, like UTOPIA WA, and we’ve seen the WA BTTF come together in the past year or two. All these groups that are coming together to do this same kind of work from different perspectives, with so many different people and organizations, makes this an amazing time to be in. The opportunity for partnership and collaboration, and building upon each others’ strengths, is really incredible. One of the things I think about for this next year is that this country has spent a long time dealing with things at the federal level, so now that we are looking at a democratic administration with President Biden, a lot of people are breathing a deep sigh of relief—but we can’t let that keep us off guard. We know that we always have to push. There are a lot of ways that trying to advocate for trans rights under a Biden administration will look a lot different than it did under a Trump administration. But, we still need to advocate. We’re going to be seeing change at a federal level, and all the ways that’s going to affect us locally, but we need to continuously push for that; making sure that promises that were made actually get followed through with, and making sure that opportunities that now exist don’t get forgotten. We know how easy it is for our political allies to have our backs when it’s expedient, but forget about us as soon as things get difficult. We need to be constantly present and engaged in a way where it is never easy for them to do that.
What is the future that trans people deserve?
I love this question. What is the future that trans people deserve? I think so often we get caught up in what is realistic or what is possible, what negotiation or compromise we might get. Being able to take a moment to think about what is the future what we actually deserve and should have…I think some of the core things are: all our basic needs are met, ready access to housing, income, healthcare…but going beyond that, too, there are so many structural inequities that I think really need to be addressed. We look at policing as a huge issue, and accountability for police violence, as some of the really basic things that have to change before people can experience true justice. We want to involve some of these criticisms, theory, debates, and ideas around what it would look like if we could take apart different pieces of capitalism that are reproducing these problems. Some of the economic injustice that happens with workplace settings—how much power an employer has over your life, especially with healthcare being tied to employment—it can literally be a life or death dynamic with your employer. Having that kind of power imbalance is always going to make it harder to have a healthy experience and a balanced workplace. I want to be able to address all of these challenges, and talk about them, and make sure that when we are looking at different reforms that could actually fit into the next 6 months, that we don’t forget how deep some of these things go. If we really want to get to the future that trans people deserve, we need to be looking at and dismantling all of those injustices.
Gender Justice League has explicitly made racial justice one of our priority values since our founding in 2013, but there have been many times we failed to live that as strongly as we could or should have. Racism and anti-Blackness has existed within our organization for a long time, both in the past and present. While we acknowledge the strong leadership and lasting contributions of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of color) within our organization, our board and staff have largely remained white. As a result, our work, no matter how well-intentioned, is shaped by and complicit in white supremacy. Racism has influenced everything we do, including our staff, programs, and activities. For example, we have engaged in standard hiring practices that disadvantage BIPOC, and the experiences of BIPOC in our programming have been repeatedly considered only after programming was created. At times, these situations were appropriately addressed, but other times, they weren’t. We could and should have done more.
In the Fall of 2020, we formally committed ourselves to identifying problems and changes related to anti-racism and anti-Blackness that we can put into place. Since then, Gender Justice League staff has met weekly to discuss racial justice within and outside our organization, and created a detailed work plan to address internal white supremacy moving forward. As of the date of this statement, we are now committed to making this work public.
We believe that centering the lives of trans and gender diverse BIPOC is the only way to achieve our collective liberation. At the core of this belief lies our commitments to racial and economic justice, intersectionality, accessibility, inclusion, and sex positivity. For us, this work is about reducing state harm and violence, increasing sustainable employment, and engaging in advocacy and education work with service providers to create safer, affirming, and affordable care for all trans and gender diverse people. Achieving these goals is not possible without an explicit anti-racism lens that closely examines and resists anti-Blackness and uplifts Indigenous sovereignty.
No Pride for Some of Us Without Liberation for All of Us
We recognize that in order to move the trans community towards liberation, we must address the violence and oppression that targets trans BIPOC, and especially Black trans women and femmes. If we can solve these injustices for trans BIPOC, it will solve things for us all. Because our work must dream of a world where all trans people have what we need to survive and thrive, we need to explicitly center the dismantling of anti-Blackness in all of our work. Gender Justice League affirms that Black trans and gender diverse Lives Matter. We call for the abolition of police, prisons, and other structures that uphold racism and colonial systems of power. GJL is committed to leveraging our power and resources to topple the structures that uphold white supremacy and lead to grave disparities and death for our BIPOC community members.
The Numbers Are In
Every issue and experience with transphobia is dramatically exacerbated by the additional intersections of racism and anti-Blackness. These experiences are compounded further for those with additional intersections, including queer and disabled people, women, immigrants, and sex workers, among others.
The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey highlights these disparities. Black trans and gender diverse respondents reported experiencing homelessness, poverty, violence, and mental health distress at significantly higher rates than white trans people and cisgender Black communities nationwide. They also experience significantly higher rates of police harassment, violence, arrest, and incarceration among Black respondents, with Black trans women being four times more likely to be incarcerated than trans people generally. Since the COVID pandemic, it has only gotten worse for our beloved communities.
We acknowledge that the deprioritization of secure and affordable housing, policing and the prison industrial complex, medical racism and healthcare access issues, and increasing gentrification and generational wealth disparities, among other issues, contribute to the systemic violence that trans and gender diverse BIPOC communities face, significantly contributing to the death toll of our community. Systemic and structural racism and oppression exist alongside interpersonal violence, and both severely impact BIPOC, especially women. In 2020, 44 trans people were murdered in the US, an all time high, the majority of whom were Black and brown trans women. GJL mourns these valuable lives lost, and celebrates the trans and gender diverse communities across WA State that tenaciously survive, and fight for our collective liberation from these structures that seek to destroy us.
Prioritizing anti-racism and resisting anti-Blackness requires thoughtfulness, intention, resources, transparency, and accountability: this is why we have set in motion an expansive anti-racism action plan to infuse and prioritize anti-racism throughout our organization and all of our programming; and we have engaged with a racial justice consultant as part of this work. We commit to:
- Partnering with and supporting POC-led and serving, and especially BIPOC-led and serving organizations
- Following the lead of trans POC-led and serving, and especially trans BIPOC-led and serving organizations, leveraging our power through partnerships to direct funding to these organizations
- Executing initiatives, programs, and services that specifically prioritize trans BIPOC, allotting at least 50% of financial assistance dollars and resources for trans BIPOC
- Finding ways to compensate trans BIPOC who are doing labor that would usually be unpaid
- Creating an organizational culture that acknowledges and resists a culture of white supremacy, and supports BIPOC and POC staff, interns, and volunteers so that we can bring our full selves to the work
Because we recognize that we do not have all the answers, Gender Justice League remains open and responsive to community feedback and to this continuous learning process, alongside our communities. This is the work which will get us to a world where all people can live safely, true to themselves, and free from discrimination.
Grateful to be in community with you,
Gender Justice League
It is with mixed emotions that I am writing to announce my departure from my position as the Co-Executive Director of Gender Justice League to pursue new ways of fighting for our communities.
Working with Gender Justice League has been a life changing experience for me. Together we have significantly changed things in Washington State. Banning trans exclusion clauses in healthcare, fighting off anti-trans ballot initiatives, pushing back legislation that would harm people in the sex industry and working in coalition to pass legislation around healthcare, trans panic, and more.
After 3 years serving as co-executive director of Gender Justice League, I am transitioning to a new role where I will continue to fight for trans and gender diverse BIPOC, sex workers, people with disabilities and other marginalized groups in new and important ways. My last day in my role as co-executive director of Gender Justice League will be this Friday, April 2nd. I have been a part of Gender Justice League since it was started back in 2012, so I am sure I’ll continue to be involved in one way or another.
Moving forward, I will be working for the City of Olympia as Equity and Inclusion Coordinator. That means that I’ll be designing a training program for all city employees, addressing hiring processes to remove barriers that have prevented BIPOC, disabled, queer, trans people and other marginalized people from getting jobs, and putting together other workplace initiatives for the city.
Gender Justice League is currently at a strong, stable point. In the past year, we have hired on three new and effective staff, who are prepared to continue creating a Washington State where all people can live their lives safely, true to themselves, and free from discrimination. Gender Justice League will also soon be releasing details about a 6 month candidate search and hiring process for a new Co-Executive Director. I am confident in the continuity of strong work by my team at Gender Justice League.
You are invited to my virtual going away party, on Thursday April 8th. Drop in anytime between 4:30 and 7pm to help me celebrate the end of this chapter and the beginning of a new one. Register at: tiny.cc/WeHeartTobi
Gender Justice League trusts, believes, and supports BIPOC when they share their experiences of racism and harm. We stand in solidarity with the Ingersoll Staff and Former Staff Collective (the Collective) and support the demands for accountability and improvement from Ingersoll Gender Center.
We urge Ingersoll Gender Center’s leadership to take to heart the experiences shared by the Collective in their petition, acknowledge their pain and the ways Ingersoll Gender Center has caused and exacerbated it, and to take accountability. We urge Ingersoll Gender Center to meet the Collective’s clear demands, taking the necessary steps to address their patterns of anti-Blackness, racism, ableism, sexism, and misogyny. We support the Collective’s demands for:
- The immediate resignation or firing of the Directors: Karter Booher, Jonathan (Lee) Williams, and Louis Mitchell
- A complete re-envisioning of the Board to reflect community
- A solid accountability process to address recent harms and prevent future ones
We also acknowledge the structural and systemic roots underneath these issues. The nonprofit industrial complex as a whole creates, perpetuates, and survives on systemic anti-Blackness and racism, which must be addressed. In their petition, the Ingersoll Staff and Former Staff Collective write,
“The non-profit industrial complex is a system that frequently siphons labor (both physical and emotional) talent, vision, and social capital from BIPOC folks and leaves them exploited & disillusioned from the stated mission and values of an organization.”
Gender Justice League acknowledges our place and role within these same systems. We know how challenging it can be to identify, acknowledge, and address the influence of anti-Blackness, racism, ableism, sexism, and misogyny in our work. Yet it is vitally important if we want to truly support the trans community.
Ingersoll Gender Center has a decades-long history of being an important resource for the trans community that is incredibly valuable. We expect Ingersoll Gender Center to do the right thing and take on the necessary work to change their internal structures which have created and perpetuated significant harm, and negatively impacted our community. This work must be done in order for Ingersoll Gender Center to continue to be a powerful resource for the trans community for decades to come.
For more information, or to contact the Collective, visit ingersollcollectiveaction.carrd.co
We don’t have to tell you how trying the year 2020 was. However, through it all, many of us have found or reconnected with our purpose. At Gender Justice League, ours is creating a Washington state where all people can live safely, truly, and freely.
Through all the ups and downs of the past year, GJL has continued to stay on the front lines of resilience and resistance. Thanks to the ongoing support of givers, volunteers, and supporters, here is a little taste of what we accomplished in 2020:
- Passed the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act, a bill outlawing the use of "trans panic" defense in a court of law, working with Justice 4 Nikki, the Washington State Legislature, and other community leaders
- Hosted Trans Pride completely virtually, creating an online performance and workshop extravaganza for trans and gender diverse people alongside our friends at TRACTION, WA Black Trans Task Force, and Heartspark Press
- Co-hosted a second town hall for trans women and femmes, bringing together community members in Thurston County to talk about real life issues and collectively organize to show up for one another
- In collaboration with the City of Olympia, passed a resolution protecting trans and gender diverse BIPOC, and established a seat for our community in the city’s social justice work
- Delivered food and toiletries to 60+ trans and gender diverse families in Thurston County during the first wave of COVID
- Served 37 clients through Safe House, a GJL program that provides shelter and direct service to survivors of gender-based violence in (primarily) King County
- Provided more than $18,000 in direct cash assistance to community members
Whether you’re just joining us or have stuck by us through this tumultuous year: thank you. We cannot do it without each other. Support the continued work towards the communities we deserve by giving today.
We are wishing you a new year filled with healing, warmth, and joy.