TRANSCRIPT: TransLash Podcast Episode 36, ‘A New Black Trans Civil Rights Agenda’

Imara Jones: Hey, Fam. It’s Imara. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast, a show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives.

Well, February is Black History Month, and starting just days after the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday is a time when our country looks back at the history of African-Americans here, including the fight for civil rights. The idea of Black civil rights has been reduced, however, to the idea of a change in specific laws during the 1960s, which prevented African-Americans equal access to everything, from bathrooms to education. Sound familiar? But it also included the ideas of what we now call Black Liberation, a specific re-visioning of what our society should look like, steeped in racial justice. Consequently, we can see that the Civil Rights Movement never totally succeeded and has a tremendous amount of unfinished business that we live out every single day.

That’s why we wanted to talk with Black trans leaders about what a new agenda for Black civil rights should look like, centering these struggles of both past and present in a much larger, less fragmented tapestry. The unmet needs of all Black people, cis and trans, remain great. That’s why this week, we’re going to bring you two critical Black trans voices, filling in the gaps.

First, we speak with Qween Jean, founder of Black Trans Liberation.

Qween Jean: Liberation is a daily affirmation. It is a declaration to the rest of the world that we are on a mission for our freedom.

Imara: Next, we speak to Kayla Gore, co-founder of My Sistah’s House.

Kayla Gore: A lot of organizations, a lot of individuals, they want to continue the work until they can say, “Oh, we’ve been doing this for 100 years,” and that’s not my plan. My plan is not to do this work for 100 years. My plan is to build up my community to a point where they are sufficient enough to stand on their own.

Imara: I’m so excited to share these powerful visions of Black Trans Liberation with you, but first, let’s celebrate some trans joy.

A vital piece of liberation is physical safety. Part of the work we need to do is making the world safer to move through for Black trans people. As that work continues, I wanted to highlight an organization we told you about before, THORN. THORN is an organization that provides free self-defense kits to trans people of color. Each kit includes self-defense tools and a guide for how to use them.

When we talked a little less than a year ago, THORN had sent over 300 of these kits. Since then, they’ve raised funds to send 100 more. Here’s THORN’s Founder, Wriply Bennet, who was also the lead 2021 illustrator for TransLash’s commemorations project, to tell us more about THORN.

Wriply Bennet: I think it’s important that the girls know that there’s someone out here who wants them to be safe. It’s like that moment when you’re leaving a party, and someone you are talking to who seems cool or whatnot says, “Hey, text me when you get home to let me know you’re safe,” and that feeling that you get of being looked after, you know, even though it’s such a small thing, it’s just, that feels like someone wants you taken care of. Someone wants to make sure that you’re okay. Like, someone will come looking for you if you don’t, you know- [chuckles] like, if you’re not okay, like-

Too often do I hear these stories or read these stories that sound a lot like, you know, something that could have happened to me when it comes to losing Black trans lives. Uhm, so it’s just like, just to be able to hand somebody something and say, “Hey, I don’t care if it’s the taser, the knife, or the pepper spray. You make sure you come home safe.”

Imara: Wriply, thank you again for the vital work you’re doing to make sure our community stay safe. You are trans joy.

Today, I’ve invited a very special guest on the show, whose voice is critical to the conversation around where Black trans people are going, where trans people are going, overall, and even America itself. Qween Jean is the Founder of Black Trans Liberation. She leads a life fully committed to advocating for marginalized communities and create space for the unsung heroes of our community. Qween burst on the scene during a critical moment for racial justice in the Summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd. She started with others daily, and then weekly protests, originating at the Stonewall Inn. These demonstration-centered trans people, especially Black trans people and the fight for racial equity, they hit the streets for over a year. Qween’s vision is expansive. Fueled by her work as an artist, an accomplished theater costume designer, Qween’s artistry has been featured in exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art’s PS1, and she has a degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Qween’s voice is strong, bold, and clear, and I’m thrilled that she could join us today to talk about Black trans’ civil rights.

Welcome to the show, Qween.

Qween: Hello, hello. Hi, Imara. [chuckles] Thank you for having me.

Imara: I’m so happy that you’re here. One of the words that you use a lot in your talks and in your speeches and in your singing, your voice is amazing, is the word “liberation”, and I’m wondering when you say the word, “liberation”, what does it mean?

Qween: For me, liberation is a daily affirmation. It is a declaration to the rest of the world that we are on a mission for our freedom. And our being Black people in totality, Black people in all of equity and antiquity, we often say Black lives matter. We say Black power, all of these things, but I have not felt that they included me, my siblings, people who are even further marginalized beyond their skin tone, their skin color. And so for me, liberation is just my daily reminder of what I need to be doing, and it’s actually a mission of love because I love when I feel happy and liberated, and completely unchained. And it’s not an easy thing. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but the transformation has to start within, has to start within the home, and then we will see that it actually will continue to carry out, and hopefully change what we know now, right? The current condition and climate of violence and oppression, all of the layers, right, of right supremacy that has kept us separated and disconnected from our path.

Imara: It’s really powerful, this idea that you just offered, that liberation is not a place, it’s a practice.

Qween: Yes.

Imara: Right. Because people often think of it as a state that we will journey towards and not something that we are creating and doing. I think that’s a really powerful notion. I’m wondering how you came to see liberation like that and how you came to embrace your own liberation. Because what I think is really powerful about what you offer is the idea of liberation as not something that is happening within the current constrictions that we have. That is, say, for you, liberation doesn’t look like being Black trans and continuing the same system that we have in succeeding within that structure, right? It doesn’t look like you at the top of a penthouse…

Qween: [chuckles]

Imara: … Within the current structure, right? You have a very different vision of what that means. And I’m wondering how you came to free your mind and then embrace the power around this idea of liberation that’s expansive, and as a practice.

Qween: For me, honestly, the day that I threw out all of my male-identified clothing was a huge day of liberation for me. That was a marker within my process. I had felt like I had been holding onto these things to somehow, I guess, balance and feel like I needed to. This is what, you know, society is expecting me to do. This is what my family inherently has told me that I needed to do, and I was not listening to me. What did Qween want to do? Honey, Qween despised men’s wear. [inaudible] look. I love it for everybody else, right? But for me, I did not feel connected to Qween. I did not feel empowered in a suit or in men’s wear, and I mean, it actually stifled me.

Imara: Mmm.

Qween: The second marker, I think, is when I really told my parents, “I will not allow you to misgender me anymore. You have to call me Qween or you just don’t have to call me at all.” I only knew love for my parents, and in that same time, I also felt the most disdain hatred also from them, in that same hand. The day that we had that conversation, I felt liberated because at that moment, I felt like, “Look, I didn’t have to hide anymore. I didn’t need to lie anymore,” because I was lying to myself, because every day, I kept [inaudible], “Okay. Well, maybe if I try this way or maybe if I do deepen my voice, maybe if I walk, sit- No, no, no, no, no. You are Queen, Honey. Walk away that you were designed and truly made to be.” It was uhm- from that moment, on I- I- I actually never stopped looking back.

Imara: The way that you embraced liberation was by liberating yourself and liberating yourself from everything that you thought that you had to be, and that act of liberation then set you on the path for a different vision for liberation, overall. And I think these are really important because so many times, people become stuck, like, “What can I do to change the world?” or, “What can I do to make things different?” And in your example, you referenced something that you said before, which is that it started with you liberating yourself within your house, within your mind, within your spirit. And that’s the way that it started for you.

Qween: And I would even add to that and say that, you know, I think it is queer folks, trans folks, non-binary folks, in-questioning folks, [inaudible] it’s complicated folks, we are often told that we’re wrong. We are deflated before we get any kind of air of love into our being, into our spirit. We are rejected by society. Uh, we’re told that were undesirable. We’re told that we’re ugly, that we’re invalid, and all that is- is false. I wish that I could have grew up in a household that embraced me playing with my dolls, desperately wanting to paint my nails, [laughs] desperately wanting to never have to go into a barbershop ever again…

Imara: Oh, my God.

Qween: … Because that honestly felt like a form of punishment. You know, because it- not only, you know, I wanted to connect to my own personal care story, but also the environment. Oh, my gosh. I mean, it felt like- like a battle, right Having to go in there, having to put on this armor of masculinity so that (a) I would not be perceived as soft, I wouldn’t be perceived as less than, and so I desperately wanted to get out of that situation. And that is coming from a- a- a transfemme[?] perspective. And so when you show up, Honey, in your fullness, you show up with your nails, you show up with your lip gloss, you know, however way that manifests for you. But we’re all open-ended, we’re all fluid, and we all have different things that make us happy, but when you’re trying to access your joy and your happiness, and you’re constantly told that it’s wrong, that it’s inferior, right? Because somehow you’re not man enough, you’re not woman enough, well, I’m not trying to be that. I’m just trying to be me, you know? I think all of us are just trying to exist and just to be. But it seems to me that people don’t want that, right? Until now, I really think that there is a change in the tide, but a lot of that has been happening because of people who are fearless, people who have stuck up and fought back and said, “No. I’m going to embrace my child however way they are.” We have uh, parents and leaders, you know, like Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, who are literally showing us that, “No. There are different ways for us to raise our children. There are different ways for us to embrace people who look different from us, who do not conform to this idea of male versus female, who truly exist in a- a different lane,” and that is fabulous. We are not a problem. We are actually quite divine. That is my uh, understanding of who I am and where we are going.

Imara: It’s really funny that you mentioned Zaya Wade because I always say that it’s Zaya Wade’s world and we’re just all living in it. Literally, uh, we are living in her world.

I want to come to something that you just referenced, and I think it’s a really powerful metaphor and cultural space for Black people, which is the barbershop. And I am wondering what you think. What’s your vision for Black trans people to engage and be a part of the larger project in Black liberation, that is to, say, the shift that has to occur within Black communities to embrace, actually, all of us. I mean, all Black people, because right now, the idea of Black liberation is Black liberation within a very specific context and for very specific people, and that’s not
working and it’s not gonna work. But then, how do we begin to shift the consciousness of other people in our community to that fact?

Qween: This question is so important. I personally feel that the thing that is separating us from connecting with one another are byproducts of anti-Blackness, this idea that somehow we can exist and love on each other because of fear and stigma. There’s this othering that happens. People are quick to separate themselves out of this conversation. “Look, I support you all, but this ain’t for me. I don’t have any issues with y’all,” but clearly, you do because you’re removing yourself instead of actually putting yourself in it, in the conversation. And I feel what I often find is uh, Black people, Black men, Black cis folks, you are struggling to see yourself in me, and; therefore, you reject me. I don’t even need to open my mouth. My presence alone, it threatens you, somehow, because I am so comfortable in the skin that I’m in, the height that I’m in, the curve that I’m in, truly, all of me, somehow, is rattling your boots, is raising the hair on the back of your neck because you somehow feel that I am going to do what to you. Are we not your people? Are we not just siblings? Are we- am I not a woman? Right? Sojourner Truth. “Am I not a woman?” What do we need to prove? We have to constantly prove something, and that is a problem. We need to start there. I think Ts Madison said this so powerfully on a uh, interview. “I am Black and trans at the same time,” and I was like, “Yes, ma’am.” That is not a profound, new idea, but it is a truth that a lot of people are not ready to accept, are not ready to examine, to really uh, embrace. So I think that we find ourselves in a lot of contentious moments where people are challenged because this thing is happening now, this conversation is resurfacing. You can’t avoid it. You cannot literally remove yourself out of this conversation. We won’t to allow you to because we’re not going to get to our liberation if we’re separated. We are not going to get to our liberation if you think that, “Somehow, I’m not deserving of it,” that, “Somehow, my Black is not your Black. My story is not your story.” We’ve all had to navigate uh, trauma in the interior and the exterior. Racial trauma, racial Injustice, racial discrimination, that is something that unifies us, unfortunately, but we do not have to perpetuate it within our own community.

Imara: On this particular fret of the future for Black Trans Liberation and Black civil rights, I mean, for me, what I personally believe, is that if we have a world where Black trans people are centered and freed, then everybody is free, because we would have to radically remake our world and our society for that to happen, and if we did that, that would be a society that everybody would want to live in, [chuckles] right? Maybe that billionaires because they don’t need to make as much money, but for everybody else, it would be a really powerful place for us to live without the same ideas of hierarchy. And I’m wondering for you what that vision looks like, like when you are at the end of a protest or when you’re at home at night, lying in your bed, looking at the ceiling, and vision-dreaming, as [inaudible] says, like, seeing the world that you want to live in and that you’re trying to bring about, what does that look like?

Qween: You know, it is a very big canvas, [laughs] I’ll say that.

Imara: Not surprising.

Qween: It is a very big canvas, okay? It is a daily practice to once get into this masterpiece, right?

Imara: Mm-hmm.

Qween: … Of liberation. And I think for me, the vision that I have in my- in my mind, in my being is that it is all inclusive space. We are not separate in this space. We are truly human and we desire love, we desire to be supported, and to feel love in a way that we have not ever had experienced, as of that. We haven’t had a history of this, like, communal love, of empowering love. That would exist here in [inaudible] or utopia. [laughs] I think that we would not be hung over the differences that people are quick to find, but not so quick to celebrate. Uh, we would not have to worry about people wanting to express themselves, and most importantly, I think that we would be in a space uh, void of police, void of white supremacy. I’m not saying void of White people, void of White supremacy…

Imara: Mm-hmm.

Qween: … Because there’s a difference.

Imara: Mm-hmm.

Qween: Void of Whiteness and fragility. We would not be operating out of scarcity. People would not uh, have to struggle, right? Uh, we wouldn’t have issues of uh, houselessness. We wouldn’t have issues of people who are experiencing food inequities. We would all be able to receive the very things that we need in order to survive, most importantly to sustain, and just might, we could see Black trans people thriving. That’s my Liberation.

Imara: I also think about the fact that the work that you’re doing, the work that we’re all engaged in is a long fight, and it’s a continuation of a long fight. One of the things I did when I was in Savannah last year was I went on a slave tour led by Black people, and it’s really powerful, led by Sister Patt. And one of things that we did was that we went to the First African Baptist Church there, and one of the things that happened as the enslaved people were building that church, because if you were enslaved in an urban environment, you have the ability to use the extra time after you have completed your task during the day, that at night, to either power yourself out or do whatever you might want to do to earn extra money. You were- weren’t free, but you could do- continue to do labor but just in service to something else. So, that church was built by enslaved people at night. [chuckles] And one of the things that they did was they built a secret tunnel from their church down to the Savannah River as a part- I mean, escape route for enslaved people…

Qween: Wow.

Imara: … For the Underground Railroad. And I constantly think about the fact that those Black people who were enslaved were building that tunnel that they, themselves, knew that they would likely never ever use.

Qween: Hmph.

Imara: They were building it for other people to be free.

Qween: Yup.

Imara: That’s one of the things that I see when you speak, is this vision of a changed society and the work for that, that we may never see completely, we’re building so that other people might be able to live in that, that, like, our work, as you described, is sacred in that way.

Qween: It is truly a- an ongoing fight, and most importantly, we’ve got to be able to light other people’s torches. We just can’t pass the torch back because then, we, ourselves, will be left in darkness. And part of the process of what we do as creatives, as artists, number one, as storytellers, is that we are not only reminded, but we are responsible for our history or responsible for these teachings, or responsible for the path to empower and to guide someone else that they will even reach further than we could have with tools even more innovative than what we have now, when- what we’ve conjured up, the things that we have engineered, truly, I mean, even within the last 60 years, 70 years, it is magical, but it’s still happening, right? What that feels like to me is a- is that we’re creating offerings for the next generation. I mean, we’ve been bestowed uh, gifts from, you know, the Audre Lordes, the Toni Morrisons, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Nella Larsen, I mean, all of the creatives, the thinkers, the philosophers, the way makers of the first 20th century, I mean, they have given us teachings and stories that have allowed us to, kind of, shape where we are now. And I- I just love what you were saying about how the uh, enslaved people in that time, they didn’t have a tunnel out of it, but they were going to literally create a tunnel for the next step, and th- that is a testament to Black power, to Black resiliency, that even in the midst of pain, of trauma, of crisis, we have the ability to heal ourselves. And that is through worship, that is through healing, that is through dance, it is through conversation like this. This feels very healing. It’s only that I- I guess I also struggle with, because I often think if we wanted change to happen, it could happen now. We wanted for uh, police brutality to end, it could end. [laughs] Police [inaudible] with an end, but we know that at this moment there, centuries of systems and policies put into place that keep us from attaining our truth.

I feel very honored and feel deeply seated in my purpose at this time, for[?] we can continue to do for the next generation, that we can actively work towards creating ways to get queer people, Black people out of a state of crisis, and hopefully, into a state of- of peace. There’s no rulebook for that, you know. [laughs] There’s no green book, right, for how to navigate those things, how to navigate the institutional roadblocks that Black people have to constantly face and have to constantly navigate, and then if you’re Black and trans, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, you know, trying to hold and maintain these positions of power and leadership, it is not easy, but it’s necessary and we have to do it.

Imara: It’s vital. It’s literally life or death for us, you know?

Qween: Yeah.

Imara: I so appreciate you and this conversation. This conversation has had me in tears over here.

Qween: [laughs]

Imara: Luckily, I would- was able to put myself together before I had to talk, but it has been healing for me to talk to you today, and I think that your presence and leadership are a healing offering. And a part of leadership is trust, right? Trusting…

Qween: Yes.

Imara: … The person who is in front, who is set for in that moment to do certain things. And I so very trust and am grateful for your leadership, and look forward to its continuance and…

Qween: [chuckles]

Imara: … To building this future that we all want to live in. And so, thank you so, so, so very much for coming on today.

Qween: Thank you, Beloved. Oh, I uhm, am so grateful for being able to hold and touch base today. It is uh, not by accident that we’ve arrived here. I truly think that it is our destiny. And the last thing that’s really on my spirit right now is, you know, I think about where we’ve come from. I think about our past icons and I think of Rita Hester, uh, Ali Forney. I think of the Black, queer people who are truly living their lives in the time that did not see them, in a time that didn’t embrace them, but they didn’t stop living. We have a right to live and to celebrate in their name and their honor. We have arrived. You know, Ata- you know, Assata Shakur literally tells us, it is our duty to fight for our freedom, and we are not free until all Black trans people are free. And that’s a promise.

Imara: That is a promise. That is a promise. Thank you so much.

Qween: Thank you.

Imara: And just wishing you uhm, continued and ongoing liberation and grace and peace.

Qween: Thank you, Beloved.

Imara: That was Qween Jean, Founder of Black Trans Liberation.

I’m honored to be joined by Kayla Gore. Kayla is the Co-founder and Director of Programs at My Sistah’s House. My Sistah’s House provides emergency housing and other resources to trans people of color in Memphis, Tennessee. What started as an emergency shelter with eight beds quickly turned into a multi-faceted advocacy organization. Under the leadership of Kayla and her co-founder Ellyahnna Wattshall, My Sistah’s House has provided emergency housing for 35 trans and gender non-conforming individuals and transitioned them into permanent housing. It has now evolved also into a community land trust project for Black trans people through their Tiny House initiative, opening the doors of home ownership, which is seen as a model for the future of our community. It is a vision that is recognized as a point of leadership worldwide. That’s why it’s no surprise that Kayla has the feature of specials on the cable network, Nat Geo, and the streaming service, Hulu. Her work has been the focus of countless news organizations including CNBC and USA Today, and she has an upcoming conversation on the daily talk show, The Real. We simply cannot talk about the rights of Black trans people without focusing on economic opportunity, that’s why I’m thrilled that Kayla could join us today.

Kayla, thank you so much.

Kayla: Thank you for having me so much, Imara.

Imara: Where did you get the idea that providing Black trans women and Black trans people, overall, housing was essential to our rights and liberation as people?
And I say that because oftentimes, we look at the consequences of what it means to be highly marginalized in society, that is, say, we’re trying to fix violence or we’re trying to get people jobs, and don’t understand that when you look at the evidence, the biggest factor in whether Black trans women are going to live or die is whether or not they have economic opportunity and wealth. That’s literally the biggest thing. Uhm, and that’s not an approach that is often taken, but you do. So, can you talk a little bit about how you came to that realization, yourself?

Kayla: Absolutely. And I want to definitely, like, attribute a lot of what I do in my work today to my mother. My mother was a mother who took me everywhere with her, whether that was shopping for clothes and shoes or shopping for her first home. So I was introduced to the home-buying process when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old, and it was explained to my mother by her realtor, the importance and the significance of paying her mortgage and paying her home off so that there would be generational wealth within our family. The Tiny House Project, however, derived out of the rest. It was during the pandemic, it was during the Black uprising where a lot of Black trans people, especially in the South, were out of work and they were basically out of their housing because they didn’t have any means to pay their rent. We definitely want to provide Black trans people with the opportunity to have generational wealth in their lifetime, so we thought, “What are we going to do? How are we going to fix this problem that is not just happening now, but it’s been happening and it’ll continue to happen after the pandemic? How can we fix this?” And the only thing that we could think of, the only thing that kept coming to my mind was home ownership, because when I purchased the house that we do our shelter in, we didn’t have a landlord that we had to walk on eggshells around or sneak people in and out because we didn’t want it to seem like we were subletting, or we were having a lot of the traffic and not being extended new leases. So we thought about home ownership, but then, we also thought about the fact that we didn’t have a lot of money. We actually didn’t have any money [chuckles] at that time, like, and I do mean any money. Our budget that year was $37,000. We didn’t have any money to provide hotels or anything of that nature to keep people safe, because housing equals safety, especially for Black and Brown trans people. But we did have a vision of putting four small structures in our backyard, and that could increase our capacity of the house up to eight people. We thought about that, and then we were like, “You know what? How can we build these houses and build them in multitude with a lower cost?”, which brought us to our Tiny House Project. It’s nothing new. It’s very old. It’s been a- a- a traditional way for over a hundred years that people have been able to build generational wealth, and we decided to just push that out there into the universe, and the universe responded in- in such a magical way, and they provided so many different resources for us to be where we are today, where we’ve acquired a lot of land, and we have four homes that people are actually occupying now. We have two homes that are under uh, renovations. We’re actually under contract right now to purchase another piece of land on the street where we’re currently building.

Imara: Can you explain how this project and these homes will work in terms of building wealth? I think that that’s important, and if you can tie into that the idea of what a community land trust is so that people understand what that is, as well, like, how all these things work together to help build wealth.

Kayla: So the community land trust works like this. The organization, My Sistah’s House, the community, our members, we own the land that the houses are sitting on, and the inhabitants of the homes, they own the actual houses, themselves. They can pull equity out of these homes. They can sell these homes that they would like to, but the way the community land trust is set up, it protects the community in ways in which when they get ready to sell their house, they have to sell it for below market value rate, and we would have to have the first option to purchase the house back to keep it within the community land trust and that would also keep the price where it needs to be, versus where the market says it should be.

Example, now, there’s a seller’s market and a lot of homes that were worth, let’s say, $50,000 maybe a year ago are now worth $350,000. What that does is it boxes out of a lot of people who are minorities, who are getting loans that don’t really reach those numbers. We’re taking down that barrier of people actually having to get a home loan.

Imara: Yeah. I mean, I think that the essential thing is that a community land trust allows for economic opportunity by not centering profit in the home buying process. So, you’re able to build wealth and take out the money, but you don’t own the land, the community owns the land. So, you’re selling the house, not the land, and it allows you to set all these rules in which profit isn’t the main driver so that you are able to expand economic opportunity to more and more people. And I think that that’s a really important idea because everything with related to housing and so many things in our society, we think of them as individual, and that’s what allows for profit maximization, but a community land trust is actually a collective and has a different vision for how we create economic opportunity. And I just wanted to touch upon that, in case people weren’t familiar with that, and encourage you to look up what community land trusts are because there’s been a lot of experimentation in Baltimore and other places with this vision. so I think it’s important. But what’s different here is that you actually applied it to the most marginalized of marginalized people, and that’s Black trans people, which isn’t done farly[?] enough. I think it’s just you and- and probably House of Tulip, and that’s it.

Kayla: Yeah, there are a lot of initiatives that are happening around housing, but we are two of the uh, unique organizations that are focused on building wealth within the community.

Imara: Mm-hmm.

Kayla: When thinking about the endgame, we’re not trying to put Band-Aids, because that’s what our emergency shelter is. It’s a Band-Aid on a serious, serious problem, and our Tiny House Project is the solution. And uh, as you said, like, it’s something that can be done here, near and far.

Imara: You’ve worked a lot in terms of activism for trans people and Black trans people before this. Kind of a lot of different roles, but I wanted to have a sense from you with your work locally and with Transgender Law Center and other places, why do you think there’s not this emphasis on wealth-building economic opportunity for Black trans people? Like, why isn’t that or a really important center of gravity for people’s understanding and conversation about how to make sure that we can live and thrive?

Kayla: I think it’s really simple, is that that people, they don’t want us to live and thrive, and they want us to have the bare minimum. They don’t have an end goal, and always expecting there to be a need to feel. I’ve been asked the question, “What’s your 10-year plan?” I’m like, “Hopefully, we’re not around in 10 years.” You know, like, it’s just the land trust and the community taking care of the land, and the homes that sit on the land, like, that’s our idea. It’s not in 10 years, we want to be a national organization. That’s not our endgame. A lot of organizations, a lot of individuals, they want to continue the work until they can say, “Oh, we’ve been doing this for 100 years,” and that’s not my plan. My plan is not to do this work for 100 years. My plan is to build up my community to a point where they are sufficient enough to stand on their own.

Imara: One of the things that the FBI came up with a while ago, and I actually wrote about this, is the fact that one of the single biggest determinant of whether or not you’ll be exposed to violence is the degree of economic opportunity you’ve had in your life; therefore, one of the key things is that there’s not going to be Black Trans Liberation without economic opportunity, like, it’s- it’s not going to happen. But for some reason, we decoupled this again from the conversation, and I’m thinking about the fact that you’re sitting in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m thinking about the fact that in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King was assassinated at the time that he began to put economic opportunity for Black people at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, understanding that there can’t be Black liberation, that there couldn’t be Black civil rights as we talk about it, without there being, like,
economic justice and Black economic opportunity. Like, those things weren’t going to happen. And so, I’m just wondering that a way in which that history plays out in your thinking around what you’re doing and the potential for what you’re doing.

Kayla: You’re right. There is a rich history of the Black and the Civil Rights Movement here in Memphis. Dr. King was assassinated here, and he was here on behalf of the sanitation workers. We recently just lost one of the sanitation workers who actually marched with Dr. King. One thing that has always stood out with me when touring civil rights museums, and I’ve been to a plethora of them, is that our leaders had homes that once became museums and shrines of who they were. Economic justice has always been something that I have always fought for because I remember 10 years ago, I would always hear my older leaders mention that trans people only made $12,000 a year. I wasn’t able to purchase a home until I started working outside of the South because the living wages outside the South are- are extremely higher, like, I was making double what I was making doing local work versus doing national work, which put me in a different category to be able to actually even qualify for a home loan.

Imara: What is your greatest hope in doing this, in creating a community trust and allowing people to buy these homes and allowing them to be sold in a way where they can make money, but still affordable to other people who may want to buy them? What is the main mission that you see that is something in the future, looking back, you wanted to think, “This is what I am most proud of and this is what we did”?

Kayla: The ideal is to provide safety for Black and Brown trans women of color. Unintentionally, it’s been to revitalize our historic Black neighborhood on a street that I actually grew up on. I- I feel like it’s divine intervention because we bought a lot of land. We had maybe seven or eight different lots of land for our architects to decide which plot was going to be our pilot. And they picked the lot on the street that I grew up on. They had no knowledge that I grew up on this street. My mom didn’t own a house on that street. So intentionally, safety for people experiencing homelessness, unintentionally, revitalizing a historic Black community.

Imara: Thank you so much for joining us today and for your vision, and for your work to bring about this innovative economic approach to opportunity for us, this shifting idea of the importance of that in our civil rights and in our liberation, and not only as a vision for Black trans people, but also as a vision for- for Black people in the United States and worldwide. So appreciative for you and your work, Kayla. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Kayla: Absolutely. And thank you for having me and thank you for uh, sharing your platform with other people uhm, to share the good news.

Imara: The good news. That was Kayla Gore, Co-Founder of My Sisah’s House in Memphis, Tennessee.

Thank you for joining me on the TransLash Podcast. Now, listen all the way through to the end of the show for something extra.

If you like what you heard, please go to Apple Podcast to rate and review us. You can listen to TransLash wherever you get your podcast. Check us out on the web at to sign up for our weekly newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at TransLash Media. Like us on Facebook and tell your friends. As a matter of fact, tell everybody.

The TransLash Podcast is produced by TransLash Media. The TransLash Team includes Oliver-Ash Kleine, Callie Wright, Montana Thomas, and Yannick Eike Mirko. Our intern is Mirana Munson-Burke. Alexander Charles Adams does the sound editing for our show. Our digital strategy is handled by Daniela Capistrano. The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi, and also courtesy of ZZK Records.

The TransLash Podcast is made possible by the support of the Ford Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundations, among others.

All right, TransLash Fam. What am I looking forward to? I am looking forward to… Oh, my voice went up there. I’m excited by the fact that this week, I have premiering in Fast Company what will be a monthly series of articles about the impact of social media and digital media on historically marginalized communities. The way that we are experiencing them, the way that we use them, and also the way in which it is potentially setting us up for a tremendous harm. I think that we often don’t have a sustained conversation about this and not in a forum in a way, where the people making the decisions about all of these things will actually be reading and digesting some of it. So, I’m super happy about that. And my first one talks about the impact of these platforms on trans people. So make sure that you check that out in Fast Company and we’ll be sure to link to it across all of our social media platforms.

All right. Wishing you the best as you close out the month of February, and we’re going into March, and March sets us up for Spring. So, enjoy the last of February.

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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.



TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.


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