People of all genders experienced Hurricane Katrina in different ways (watch Katrina Babies on Max), including transgender New Orleanians. 18 years after the storm, TransLash Media is honoring the legacies, leadership, and healing modalities of transgender native and transplant New Orleanians who are making the world a better place with their art, activism, and community organizing.
Get to know Nathalie Nia Faulk (she/they), a Black trans femme from Louisiana who organizes with multiple networks in the South and across the country.
By Daniela “Dani” Capistrano
Capistrano: I’m so happy to reconnect with you today! Please share a little about yourself with the TransLash community.
Faulk: I’m Nathalie Nia Faulk, an Ebony Southern Belle! I’m from Lafayette, a place in South West Louisiana. I’m from people who ride horses, go grabbing, and who love two step and zydeco dance.
My passions and work are a mixture of history, gaming, anime life, stage performance, healing justice organizing, facilitation, and bringing sweetness into spaces I’m in. I’m typically a goofy but dedicated person who is a part of the BeyHive! I am a Black Trans Femme, and I’m lucky to be a part of the robust network in the South and across the country and to organize with brilliant people of Southern Organizer Academy, Last Call ( an oral history and artist collective), Southerners on New Ground, Alternate ROOTS, and so many more.
Capistrano: How long have you been organizing for trans rights and trans healing resources, and what was your first experience doing that like?
Faulk: I’ve been doing this work, probably before I even knew exactly what it was called. In middle school I was one of those kids who was starting Gay-Straight Alliance groups, directing World AIDS awareness day stage productions, and consistently finding ways to fuse culture and narratives in ways that introduce important conversations.
Over a decade ago, I was invited to an organization named BreakOUT! by my friend Derwin, and was immediately aware that while I didn’t have the language for it, I WAS gender expansive. This was in 2012, and it was here that I began my radicalization. It was also here that I was introduced to language around healing justice. Things I witnessed in Lafayette growing up such as using manglier leaves grown in our yards to make medicine were small instances of what I would associate with expansive world of healing practice.
At BreakOUT! (but mostly watching my family and organizers who had been doing this work long before me), I slowly was invited to be in study around Healing Justice. I still am in deep study today.
My coming to an understanding that we are able to create the worlds we desire when we build power through cultural and communal organizing, develop skills and leaders, and intertwine intentional ways of healing ourselves and communities, was foundational for every initiative, any art, and nearly all of the offerings I provide today.
Capistrano: How long have you been based in New Orleans and what is your relationship with the city in this moment, 18 years after Katrina?
Faulk: I’ve been in New Orleans for around twelve years now. I came here looking to expand my connection to trans and queer people, like a lot of folks throughout Louisiana do.
After over a decade of living and organizing here, I’ve come to recognize New Orleans as a second home—a place where I can spend my days and nights dreaming, be with the water and the magic of the Mississippi, and continue to deepen relationships with people who have shared experience and at the same time meet people who have been around the world.
Currently, I’ve been so thankful to witness the growth of trans leadership in the city after Katrina. When I came in 2011, the city felt like it was brand new to me, and the signs of recovery felt very present. It also felt very deeply spiritual. I didn’t grow up here, so my context and understanding of the situation is completely different from others.
When I first came in 2011, there were so many trans folks doing work who were not being supported, but there were still several trans-led initiatives and people working in solidarity with us that were causing rumblings that would lead to local policy changes in the city.
I remember in 2018 and 2019, when the Transgender Law Center supported four local leaders in hosting The Black Trans Circles gathering, it signified a moment when fifteen Black trans women came together to deepen their analysis, deepen their healing practice, and fortify each other.
During the pandemic and the increased call for the inherent value of Black lives, trans folks—led by Black trans women—increased the understanding of the barriers for trans folks in the city. The seeds planted then have grown into an ecosystem of initiatives for trans people.
Still, this growth has mostly been done by individuals and small communities, as opposed to the state or other entities with enough capital and power to make broad structural changes permanent.
This means there are still trans folks who are in need, who aren’t safe, and who are still targeted. We know that isn’t our only narrative though, and we show up in our power and tell our stories from positions of power.
Capistrano: What is your assessment of the current landscape of LGBTQ+ leadership in New Orleans?
Faulk: Currently, I’d say New Orleans—and Louisiana—has a robust and expansive community of individuals and formations that are led by innovative, cooperative, and powerful trans and queer leaders. Many of them inherited the work from the decades of trans and queer folks who came before them: from Sir Lady Java in the 1960s, to Kineen Mafa, who were doing this work before I even stepped into the city.
Capistrano: There is so much incredible New Orleans queer & trans activism history that everyone can learn from. What are some other events that come to mind for you?
Faulk: Wendi Cooper, who serves as executive director of TRANScending Women, founded the organization CANScantSTAND in 2018, to continue the work that she had already begun toward abolishing the CANS (Crime Against Nature by Solicitation) law. CANS, which passed in 1982 and persists over 40 years later, makes merely offering oral or anal sex in exchange for money a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison with hard labor.
This law is inherently anti-trans and anti-Black, as it ignores the factors that inform why a person does sex work to survive systems of oppression that they face.
Another significant event was the founding of House of Tulip in 2020, one of the first housing initiatives for trans folks in the city (watch TransLash Media’s #LivesAtStake interview with House of Tulip co-founder Mariah Moore here).
Faulk: Most recently, Last Call Oral History Project launched a Creative Fellowship that centers the artistic and professional development of Black trans organizers and artist in the city, a model we hope to see more of that directly invests in strengthening local trans communities.
Additionally, Home is Here and BreakOUT! Have been doing radical healing and power building with folks who are in detention centers due to citizenship status and doing work at the border.
Bringing it to today, New Orleans is in the position of having collectively developed strong freedom fighters, and in turn, they’ve built out programs, offerings, and services that are directly benefiting trans folks. There’s just so much interconnected work happening and we all depend on each other.
Of course, there is always a need for more investment in the development and social mobility of trans people. In 2023 there are trans and queer folks advising the municipal government and fighting to end antiquated laws that target LGBTQ+ folks (Wendi Cooper), leading health care initiatives (Jasmine Davis, Kyra Kincaid), educational programs for trans individuals (BreakOUT!), running for local office (Mariah Moore, Peal Ricks), literally shifting how courts legally respect trans people (Real Name Campaign), and in so many other ways!
Capistrano: What is recent example of local coalition building?
Faulk: LocALL; the Legislative Organizing Coalition for All LGBTQ+ Louisianans. It is a a coalition of organizations and advocates unified with the mission of protecting and empowering LGBTQ+ individuals and communities across the state.
Capistrano: As with the civil rights movement, it seems our greatest chance at succeeding at anything tied to LGBTQ+ rights is intentionally collaborating both locally and across state lines.
Faulk: Yes. Long before Katrina, our queer and trans communities have been utilizing multiple strategies that call for collective action; not only for trans rights, but for the rights of everyone. We understand that all the issues we see in our communities are intertwined and we are working cooperatively alongside—and often leading—campaigns that involve more than gender justice.
Trans people were here in New Orleans in the midst of Katrina’s destruction and devastation, and trans people have been key to the city’s healing and renewal, which is an ongoing process 18 years after the storm.
Capistrano: While honoring the lives lost and loved ones impacted by Katrina, who are some more trans and gender nonconforming people in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana with public platforms who you’d like to give flowers to this week?
Faulk: There are way too many to list! Here are just some people:
- Arely Westley, a trans-Latinx woman who moved to Louisiana with her mother many years ago and began working in Louisiana as a youth organizer, engaging young people to end the criminalization of LGBTQ+ youth. Arely is dedicated to ensuring her state’s Latinx and immigrant communities have a voice.
- Juicebox P. Burton, a Black, trans-fem multi-disciplinary artist living in New Orleans.
- Sultana Isham, an award-winning film composer, violinist, writer and scholar based in New Orleans, LA, merging minimalist pedagogy with the electronic.
- Xeena Ellison, a poet, DJ, and performing/visual artist.
- Milan Nicole Sherry, a New Orleans native and founding member of BreakOUT!, where she first became a youth organizer. In direct response to killings of Black transgender women, Sherry created the #BlackTransLivesMatter campaign, which became a national movement. Sherry also organized the first New Orleans Trans March, led by transgender and gender nonconforming youth of color, and founded NOLA’s Trans March of Resilience. She now is the Co-Director of House of Tulip.
- Sy’ria Sinclaire, entertainer, ballroom figure, and LGBTQ+ activist.
- Kenisha Harris, Follow The Light Advocacy and LGBTQ Resource Center
- indee Mitchell, Co-Director of Last Call and a New Orleans based performance artist, cultural organizer and Queer Black feminist interested in creating experimental and community centered work rooted in collective liberation and healing.
- Dietz, the Health Coordinator for the Louisiana Coalition on the Criminalization of Health, who is actively involved in local and regional legislative action related to LGBTQIA+ health and allied social justice movements. They also organize with TIDAL, a trans-led collective in New Orleans of community members, healthcare providers, students, and educators in the Gulf South, “united in our commitment to trans liberation through equitable healthcare and healing.”
- Jai Celestial, founder of Train To Geaux Consulting (TTGC), a Black, Southern-led consulting firm created in an effort to increase the capacity of individuals, communities and organizations to invest in strategic leadership. This mission is rooted and sustained in Black Feminism and Radical Queer politics.
Capistrano: You’ve already mentioned several amazing trans-led organizations and initiatives in New Orleans right now. Are there a few more that you want to give love to?
Faulk: Yes! Here are a few others:
- LOUD Queer Youth Theater: a group of outspoken, unapologetic Black queer and trans* youth and their allies coming together in solidarity to build community and tell their stories.
- Tres Cher, Take Charge: a guide to transgender women’s sexual health and well-being, was produced by the T’Cher NOLA team at CrescentCare, in partnership with the T’Cher community advisory board made up of stakeholders and leaders from the New Orleans transgender community. T’Cher stands for “Trans Community Health Education and Research.”
- Mapping Trans Joy Project: with original funding from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the project initially focused on Louisiana. Mapping Trans Joy is a direct response to the onslaught of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation many of us are facing around the country. Mapping Trans Joy celebrates trans life, trans joy, and trans resistance to erasure and elimination. “Trans joy is beautiful. Trans joy is meaningful. Trans joy is necessary. Trans joy is resistance.”
- Imagine Water Works: place-based with a global vision. Since 2012, this trans-led org has helped lead the changes we’ve seen in how people in Louisiana think about living with water, working at the intersection of reducing risk from flooding, pollution, and natural hazards. Imagine Water Works knew that the best solutions were multidisciplinary, and so they integrated science, history, identity, and art into their work.
Capistrano: What can you share about the TRANScend Retreat: how did you get involved and why are they sponsoring 10 Black trans folks from the South to come to California for the retreat this year?
Faulk: TRANScend Retreat was manifested by a group of trans and gender nonconforming folks in the Bay Area, who were seeking to create a healing space for trans and gender nonconforming people away from the intensity of the world. The first retreat happened in 2017, and the event brings together a 100+ trans people who exchange wisdom, love, and simply curate a space for exclusive trans Joy and being.
The folks at TRANScend understand the importance of building connections and sharing collective healing strategies rooted across geographies. This understanding took the form of a travel fund, named in honor of Muhlaysia Booker, a Black trans woman who experienced multiple instances of the specific violence that many Black trans women face, leading to her death in 2019.
That very year, I was referred by Spirit McIntyre and later invited by the Directors Janelle and Spring, through the Muhlaysa Booker Travel Fund. The space was such a rich experience, just getting a chance to let down my guard and be as happy or as sad as I wanted. I was immediately aligned with this little piece of trans utopia. I was honored this year to be asked to continue to support the Travel Fund initiative. The essence here is exchanging and sharing these experiences, and making connections that deepen and act as support systems—even when we aren’t physically near each other.
Capistrano: What is the role of trans-led healing resources for trans people?
Faulk: Wholeness is something all people are seeking and something everyone deserves. We need to affirm that the attacks on us trans folks are not only physical, but spiritual as well. When trans people are allowed to participate in healing offerings created by them, with them in mind, they are able to move through the world in ways that benefit the entire community, and more importantly, themselves.
When we talk about healing led resources, we are talking about dealing with both the hard things we can see, and the ones we can’t see; resources that are meant to keep our minds, bodies, and spirits well are needed for anyone, but particularly for trans people.
When we use healing alongside other ways of securing our rights, we create room for imagining solutions to our problems. We sustain the people in our movements, and we shift how we are in relationship to ourselves and each other.
Capistrano: What are the top three ways that someone who isn’t from New Orleans and not in Louisiana can still support the fight for trans rights in the Deep South?
Faulk: Here are some ideas:
- Build personal relationships with trans people and invest in them: coins, opportunities, connections. There are trans film makers, teachers, health care workers, etc.
- Take the time to support their growth and passions. Trans folks often return that investment tenfold within the community. We take care of each other, so even supporting one or two people you’re in relationship, yields so much for us.
- Take the time to be in spaces where you actively use any privileges to educate, disrupt, or mobilize people on behalf of trans folks.
Capistrano: You’ve given us a wealth of information about trans organizing in New Orleans and the Deep South, thank you so much.
What are some projects in the works right now for you that you would like our audience to know about, and how can people support you?
Faulk: I’ve mentioned a few things I’m involved in already such as locALL, Last Call Oral History Project, Southern Organizer Academy, and Mapping Trans Joy Project, but here are a few more:
- Mais Jamais: a limited series podcast uplifting the strength of trans organizers in Louisiana and their fight against anti-trans Legislation
- Third Gender around the World: A project with Timeless Tate (details coming soon!)
I think the support I personally need is for institutions, individuals, and organizations to continue to support my dreams and initiatives and those of my trans siblings.
I desire for there to be an era of trans investment initiatives that not only cover the things we all deserve, but also give us a space to dream, be in radical experimentation, and for us to build out formations that will provide more than a one-time offering of support, but will create pathways for trans folks to sustain and creative full lives.
Outside of that, providing myself and my trans siblings with chances to remain well and to always be in practice of reaching for wholeness.
Capistrano: Thank you so much for all that you do.
Learn more about #BlackTransArtisticLegacies.
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