Black History Month celebrates and honors Black organizers, leaders, artists, historical figures, community members, and loved ones; and their contributions, legacies, and lasting impacts. Often missing from these narratives is the stories, contributions, and rich histories of Black trans peoples.
This blog post is part of a series on what Black History Month means to us, where GJL staff reflect on some of these lives and stories which hold untold power—shaping and influencing us, our movements, and the world.
Black History Month is my Ancestry, Organizing, and Black Trans Excellence
by Laza Magdalene
Black History Month is a time when I reflect on my own ancestry and the privilege that’s come from being a white-passing person. I do what I can to support and uplift [community] voices, while also analyzing my own place within Black liberation movements and civil rights movements as someone coming from Black and Indigenous lineages several generations ago, which my own family tried to whitewash. I take a similar stance as I do when helping with cultural revitalization efforts in Indigenous movements: where I uplift [community] voices, but I feel like I occupy this liminal space between cultures.
I recently found a picture of my three-times great-grandmother, whom I had never seen before. She was Cherokee and Choctaw, and was “married” to my dad’s great-granddad, Josh Crenshaw, who was a freed slave. They weren’t allowed to legally marry because of the laws at the time. My family never talked about them—my grandmother told me it was because Josh Crenshaw wasn’t a “proper Christian man.” He also may have been a root doctor, so she could have been referencing that. My grandmother was also very racist.
I also do a lot of reflecting on the QTBIPOC who have paved the way for the civil liberties that we’ve enjoyed, that are being challenged now. The Black civil rights organizations where I grew up in South Carolina are the ones that are creating safe spaces for trans folks and queer folks to be. Even in a place as anti-trans and anti-queer as South Carolina, there are still little bastions of safety.
Black feminists like bell hooks and Angela Davis have also been so inspirational to me and helped shape the way I think and approach the world, the language I use, the way I constantly think about how the things I say will affect those around me, and my views on carceral systems and abolition.
About five years ago I got to see Laverne Cox speak. I didn’t get to meet her, but just being in the same room with her was amazing. I had recently begun to embrace the fact that, even though I considered myself non-binary, I also occupied trans spaces; I had been hesitant to embrace my feminine identity, and she really helped me to embrace that.
— Laza Magdalene (they/she), Programs Associate, Gender Justice League
On Anti-Blackness & Transphobia
Every issue and experience of transphobia is dramatically exacerbated by the additional intersection of anti-Blackness. Black trans and gender diverse communities experience higher rates of homelessness, poverty, violence, and mental health distress than white trans people and cisgender Black people nationwide—in addition to significantly higher rates of police harassment, violence, arrest, and incarceration, with Black trans women being four times more likely to be incarcerated than trans people generally (2015 U.S. Trans Survey).
Beyond affirming 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. These systems that we have inherited intergenerationally do not serve us as a community—individually or collectively—and they fail to achieve the missions that they espouse (safety, security, etc.). Police do not create safer communities for Black trans communities, but rather perpetuate state violence.
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 Black trans communities face, significantly contributing to the death toll of these communities—before we even begin to discuss interpersonal violence and the climbing murders of Black trans people every year.
For GJL, combatting anti-Black racism involves reducing state harm and violence, increasing sustainable employment, and engaging in policy and systems advocacy to create safer, more affirming, and affordable healthcare systems—while also interrogating and combatting the ways we interact with and uphold anti-Blackness as individuals and community members.
For more on combatting anti-Blackness:
- Anti-Blackness in the Movement (podcast series)
- Call It What It Is: Anti-Blackness by Dr. Kihana Miraya Ross (article)
- Me & White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (book)
- Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance by Moya Bailey (book)
- Recognizing & Dismantling Your Anti-Blackness by Janice Gassam Asare (article)
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (book)
- Authors: adrienne maree brown, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Ibram X. Kendi, Mariame Kaba
Black trans resources to explore:
- Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton (book)
- Black Trans Archive (archive)
- Black Trans Feminist Thought Can Set Us Free by George Yancy & Che Gossett (article)
- Black trans led & serving organizations and initiatives list by Raquel Willis (list)
- Black Trans Media (organization)
- Black Trans Men Inc. (organization)
- Lavender Rights Project (organization)
- Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen (film)
- TransGriot (blog)
- TransLash (organization; podcast; docuseries) & their guide to Black History Month through a Black trans lens
- The Black Trans Prayer Book by J. Mase III & Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi (book)
- The Demands of a Black Trans Feminism (video)
- People & their works to consider: Che Gossett; Kylar Brodus; Sandy James, PhD; Tourmaline