Transgender Day of Remembrance: Living into Solidarity

On the eve of Trans Day of Remembrance 2014, Standing on the Side of Love’s Campaign Coordinator Nora Rasman sat down with Lourdes Ashley Hunter, co-founder and National Director of Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC) to talk about action, solidarity, healing and more. To see resources as you reflect and take action for Transgender Day of Remembrance click here.

Tell us about yourself. Who is Lourdes Ashley Hunter?

Well, just a little.  I am originally from Detroit, MI and recently relocated to Washington D.C. from NYC where I spent 12 years working in grassroots community organizing and non-profit management.  I’m an orator, researcher, dismantler of oppressive systems.  I have a degree in Social Theory, Structure and Change with concentrations in Race, Class and Gender Studies and a MPA.   I also love to cook, watch science fiction movies and drink wine.

Tell us about Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC)

I see my role in the movement as a facilitator of revolutionary change, a  creator of braver spaces for trans and gender non-conforming people of color to leap into their leadership.   There is a scarcity of visibility in mainstream LGBT organizations that actively engage in elevating the narratives, leadership and voices of transgender and gender non-conforming People of Color.  TWOCC is in solidarity to fill that void.  

TWOCC is born out of a need for the trans community of color to heal from the physical and structural violence that we are faced with everyday.  Our formula to create the revolutionary change we seek to shift paradigms is to center healing, restoration, fellowship and action in our movement building.

On August 17, 2013, Islan Nettles, a trans woman of color was pummeled into a coma outside a police station in Harlem. She died three days later.  Even though the police pulled a young man off her bloodied body, her murderer still walks the streets.  Islan was 21 years old.  

The trans community was devastated by this brutal assault.

In response, thirteen of us came together to talk about how trans women of color are portrayed in the media, are treated in the public and how we respond to violence-both physical and structural- in our community. We gathered together with the understanding that we didn’t just need rallies and vigils and calls to action, we understood from the beginning the need for healing, restoration and fellowship and then we could move towards action.

In the past year,  we have traveled the country raising visibility for our lived experiences, connecting with our community and building our movement through rallies, workshops, keynotes, healing and leadership retreats. TWOCC is a grassroots collective and while we have a fiscal sponsor (Casa Ruby) we are grassroots funded.  Our fundraising efforts enable us to operate our leadership retreats (TWOCC Leadership Retreat in The Hamptons, #BTR14 in Pittsburgh and  #BTROhio in Columbus, Ohio)  where we funded over 40 trans people of color to come together to engage the processes needed to move our movement forward.

TWOCC is 100% volunteer led and funded.  Our goal is to continue to create pipelines and pathways for trans and gender non-conforming people of color to leap into their leadership, live unapologetically and sustain collective socio-economic growth and development.  We have established chapters in New Orleans, Ohio, New York/NJ and our national headquarters in Washington, DC.

How can people support the work of TWOCC?

There are many ways to join in solidarity with our movement.  Our goal is to create braver spaces for trans and gender non-conforming folk to live unapologetically.  We know that the government will not fund our movement.  We understand the limitations of the non-profit industrial complex that restricts organizations from really doing the work to transform the lives of the folk they hope to serve.  We have seen and experienced it.  We maintain the belief that people are NOT deliverables.

Solidarity means funding our movement.  Solidarity is also not just money.  Being in solidarity with our work is also developing an analysis that is aligned with restorative justice and a clear understanding of how structural and physical  violence in the trans community of color are inextricably linked to our socio-economic growth and development.  It’s extremely challenging to compete with large LGBT organizations for funding for our movements but we do every day. These organizations lack trans people of color in leadership roles (some have none on staff at all) and on their boards.   How can their work be informed or intentional without representation?

TWOCC cannot survive alone.  We encourage folk to divest from large LGBT organizations who lack representation and intentionality and invest their resources in businesses and organizations that represent and are actually doing the work in our community and are led by trans people of color such as TWOCC ( of course, Casa Ruby (Executive, Director Ruby Corado), Trans Tech Social Enterprises (CEO, Angelica Ross) and Black Star Media (Co-Founder, Dr. Kortney Zeigler). Solidarity and support shows up in many ways.  Visit our sites and get connected!

How do you define solidarity? Is there someone who has exemplified solidarity in your work?

Solidarity is not a retweet, a like or share on facebook.  Solidarity is re-occurring intentional sustainable acts of service. It is time that we have Courageous Conversations in our communities that acknowledges the complicity and lack of action and response for Black Trans Lives.  The same year that our nation celebrates the 45th anniversary of The Stonewall Rebellion, 11 Trans Women of Color were brutally murdered in a 5 month span in this country with no national outrage.  For our collective liberation, it is imperative that we acknowledge how structural violence manifests in all our lives.  It connects us. In order to begin to heal and work in tandem to dismantle these systems whose sole purpose is to destroy us and have us destroy each other, we must acknowledge and affirm our truths.  An Act of Violence against one of us is an Act of Violence against all of us.  Solidarity is not fighting this battle alone.  Solidarity is not having to fight at all.

There are so many people who have been instrumental and who stand in solidarity with our movement. My comrade Alok Vaid-Menon is a phenomenal model of what solidarity looks like for me personally and professionally. The way they articulate how structural oppression is rooted in every aspect of our lives causes my heart to leap! Alok has been instrumental in uplifting the narratives and work of TWOCC and all trans and gender non-conforming people of color.  Solidarity looks like- using your access to resources to create space for others to thrive unapologetically in their truth.  Leveraging your access to create and make space.  I want to take this moment to honor the leadership and presence of Alok Menon and DarkMatter.

What does it look and feel like to live unapologetically in one’s truth?

Living unapologetically is having vision beyond your current circumstances.  Black trans people live in extreme poverty with 34% reporting an income less than $10,000 a year.  41% of black trans people have experienced homelessness so simply waking up is a revolutionary act.  Living unapologetically is knowing that everyday something will try to kill you but you still have to push it through.

It is euphoric and majestic. It’s being aware of your surroundings and letting go of the things that would deter your destiny.  No matter what, knowing where your power comes from and where your strength comes from.   Knowing that your existence is greater than anything anyone can define. We all have power. There are so many types of power- power that we each have.  We must use our power everyday as we navigate systems of oppression.

How do you remember, honor and celebrate people who are with us- both in body and spirit?

Healing is at the center of my work. Every moment is an opportunity to heal. I meditate, I have several altars in my home. I was raised in and by the church, my mother is a pastor, and healing is part of my everyday ritual.

I tend to surround myself with other healers so even when I’m not practicing, I know someone is. I know when I acknowledge how oppression manifests itself, I am practicing healing. We are impacted by systems designed to crush us so its good to always be in a place of healing.

Click here to learn more about the pressing, healing and revolutionary work of Trans Women of Color Collective today!