TRANSCRIPT: TransLash Podcast Episode 63, ‘Trans Politics 2023


Imara Jones: Hey fam, it’s me, Imara Jones. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast, a show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives. Well, we’re still in the beginning of 2023 and even though it’s a new year, we’re already seeing dozens of anti-trans bills introduced across the country. In addition to that, of course, we also have a new Congress, a new Republican House of Representatives, where members have already threatened to introduce anti-trans bills this year as well at the states. Among these dozens of bills are, of course, those that would restrict trans healthcare, and even the use of pronouns, the most Draconian of these, and Oklahoma would ban gender affirming care up to the age of 26, denying trans adults equal access to healthcare.

But despite all of this, and as they say in Star Wars, as the darkness spreads, the light comes up to meet it. We’ve had a record-breaking number of trans people run and win last year. They’re being sworn in as we speak. So, all of this means that politics is just a part of trans life right now. And that’s why we wanted to start off the Year by talking to these amazing people who are doing work at the state, and even the granular local level to drive change. First, I’m joined By Zooey Zephyr. The first trans woman to be elected to the Montana State Legislature.

Zooey Zephyr: You’re seeing a flash point in the Arc of History where the rainbow touches the ground for a second, and it’s like, okay, this fight has been going for a long time and this win means something. And yes, there’s a ton more work to do, but look at this win that we’ve gotten.

Imara: Then, for a completely different perspective, I’ll speak with Ciora Thomas about her work as co-Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Commission of LGBT Affairs, and also what it’s like to be a community advocate and a conservative part of that state.

Ciora Thomas: So, something I’ve also learned is Democrats and Republicans, they all have their agendas.

Imara: These thoughtful leaders pushing for change are our trans joy today. So, let’s just get to these conversations.


Imara: I’m so glad to be talking with Montana state representative Zooey Zephyr. Zooey was elected to represent District 100 of Montana in November. That makes her the first openly trans person to serve in that state’s legislature. Zooey began her journey towards politics not that long ago in 2021 when she worked to fight proposed legislation that would ban trans minors from receiving gender-affirming healthcare. In this last election, she ran on a progressive platform that focused in part on fighting anti-trans legislation, banning conversion therapy, and ending the gay and trans panic defense. She’s also pushing for more equitable approaches to housing, healthcare, and climate change.

Outside of politics, Zooey has been a community advocate for many years. She’s worked with the city of Missoula to draft human rights legislation and advocated for better diversity, equity, and inclusion practices at the University of Montana. Somehow, on top of all of that, she’s finding time to pursue a double masters degree in writing and literature. Zooey, thank you so much for joining me.

Zooey: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Imara: Excited to have you and to talk to you. I am wondering if a life in politics is something that you imagined when you were a kid. This is an extensive engagement and public discourse and activism that you have and I’m wondering if it’s something that you came into or did you always dream of it?

Zooey: It’s something I came into. Growing up, my mother always said to me like, find your passion, find your passion and, I think, in her mind that was often a capital P, passion, something that you could make a career off of and sort of settle into a life with. And I spent a lot of my twenties chasing what I think of as micro passions, just the things that brought my heart joy and, you know, jobs were some of that and hobbies were others. And then in my early 30s, a few years into transition, I was doing that activism work and suddenly it was like, oh this is the capital P passion. Like, I’ve been chasing all these things. I turn around. I built this skill set of a life and here’s what it was for. And so, I never dreamed of this growing up, but I feel like it was always waiting for me here, even without my knowing.

Imara: Yeah, that’s really powerful. It’s like your destiny was waiting on you, you know, like and then you arrive. There’s actually a quote from Franklin D Roosevelt which says, we have a rendezvous with destiny, right, which means that destiny is something that you have to go meet. It’s not something that just like, falls down on your head and that’s kind of the journey that you described here.

What’s fascinating is Montana is not the immediate go to for us to think of the election of a trans person to represent the state legislature and I’m wondering if you can talk to us a little bit about how you thought you were going to get elected and how it happened?

Zooey: So, the first thing I think of there is part of that is the shift Montana’s had in the last few years where it’s gone from a true purple state. We had a Democratic governor for 16 years before 2020, and also part of that’s knowing your Montana history. Montana sent the first woman to Congress back in the early 1900s before women had the right to vote. Unions, AFL-CIO 1 and 2 out of Montana, fighting Copper Kings. Montana’s roots, are progressive and I know in today’s media and in the last few years, people may not think that when they look at Montana or think about Montana, but that progressive ideology is still present in much of the state and particularly in the city I live in, Missoula, Montana, which is a very blue bastion.

When I ran in house District 100, I felt confident both in the ability for a transwoman to get elected here and also in my ability to speak to my existence as a trans person and also speak beyond it, to people who may be wondering. Yeah, we support LGBTQ people, we support queer women in office, young women in office, but can she talk policy? And I was confident in my ability to get to those people as well, and I was able to do so through the primary and general election.

Imara: Did you ever have any doubts about whether or not you could get elected, and if your transness would be a factor in that?

Zooey: One of the first testimonies I gave was that the 2021 legislature on trans women and girls being able to play in sports. And I talked about growing up as a high-level athlete and what that meant to me, and what sports taught me. And one of the lessons I keep with me from sports, specifically competing at a very high level, is that you have to have the heart of a champion, and that means going into anything you go into believing fully that you can win. And so, I did not doubt once from the moment I signaled my intent to run for office that if I ran I would win because I knew that I would put in the work necessary to make it happen.

Imara: And how did you find the response to you as you were going about campaigning, knocking on doors, going to local grocery stores, and talking to people, doing kind of the hard retail work of politics especially at a local level? How did you find people responding to you as you did that?

Zooey: They were so welcoming and I- I thought, initially, that there was going to be a lot of convincing people to care about local elections, and let’s talk about why a house district raised for the state legislature matters, but it turns out when you’re knocking doors in a district, my district is two square miles, I’ve bust through it every day for the last six years on my way to work. I walk through it all weekend and all summer long. It turns out you’re knocking doors of people that you know or are at the most one to two connections away from. And so I found people were welcoming because they knew who I was, they knew I lived down the road, and they were engaged. They were engaged with Community politics and they were able to connect that to larger narratives that were happening at the national level. I was nervous at the start, but that quickly faded away and knocking on doors, and going that community meet and greets and all of that quickly became something I looked forward to every evening and every Saturday and Sunday.

Imara: I mean, one of the things is that you are representing a district and the state which has passed an anti-trans bill, an anti-trans law, your governor signed an anti- transports bill in 2021, as you mentioned, even though Montana has had this history as a purple state and progressive in some of the ways that you described for us, right now, is increasingly lurching to the right which means that more of these bills may be on the horizon. And I’m wondering what your reflection is of being an elected trans person who got there in this time where your state also is, in many ways, trying to marginalize trans people.

Zooey: One of the things that gives me hope when I think about a lot of the bad that’s happening and you talked about the bills that were signed last session, I think, SB 280, which limited trans people from updating their birth certificates without having gender-affirming surgery. And then, after a court case and an injunction, the Department of Public Health and Human Services ignored the injunction and said, we’re actually going to create an even worse law that says you can’t update your birth certificate at all. And when that hearing was brought before the public for comment, public comment came in from all across Montana and one person came out in support of the transphobic piece of policy and 100 people came in opposition to it before they were ultimately cut off by the end of the hearing.

To me, that is an indicator of what has been true in my life which is there’s, you know, conservative think tanks and, you know, conservative legislators that are pushing this anti-trans rhetoric and anti-trans policies and it festers online and leads to real violence in our daily lives, but at the community level, when you get down to the daily life, day in and day out, there’s a lot of support and love there. And to me,

I hold on to that as I move forward. So I acknowledge that there’s a lot of the anti-trans policies coming, but I have to figure out how do I get people on the right to realize that this isn’t what their constituents want. This isn’t what Montanans want, it’s not what conservatives in Montana generally want. And from a strategy point, it’s also losing the right elections like we saw in the 2022 midterms. And so figuring out how do you step into this arena trying to have those conversations and, for me, that starts with knowing that deep down my community and communities across the state and across this country, support their trans friends and support their trans family members.

Imara: How do you actually go about convincing, if you can, conservative politicians that this isn’t what their constituents want and it’s not in their interest because they’re part of a political party in a culture which says the opposite?

Zooey: I think it’s easier at the state level than it is may be at higher levels. I know what I see is a lot of the Republicans in our state legislature have not known or knowingly known or worked with a trans person. And now, they will be working next to me, they’ll be working next to a trans non-binary person, SJ Howell, who is also just elected to the Montana State Legislature, and I think, in a lot of ways, you get rid of bigotry out of one degree at a time, and just being present with them and understanding that we’re working on similar things when it comes to taxation, when it comes to housing crisis.

And I believe I have to go into the legislature believing that Republicans on the right, regardless of the vileness of some of the legislation that is bringing forward or that they may have voted for in the past, that they came to the majority of their beliefs genuinely, that they believe deep down that they have nuanced opinions, and that they’re willing to change those opinions in the right circumstances. I have to believe that. I don’t think that’s true for everybody on every issue, but I know from my three-day orientation back in November that there are a good chunk of Republicans in that building who do not support anti-trans legislation, who came up to me in private to tell me that they would have my back, to let me know if anyone gave me trouble and to try to help stymie some of the more grotesque pieces of legislation that are being brought forward.

Imara: Well, first of all, you’re going in with the mind of champion that you sort of won your race with. So that is the first step and secondly, my Hope is that that expression of support holds, you know, and that that’s not something that they only say in private because, you know, many political leaders who’ll say things in private. I think of all of the politicians who off the record would trash Trump but when it came time to support him did the opposite, and so in a place as you’re describing Montana to be relationally based, where relationships are important between people, I really hope that that pans out.

Zooey: I hope that’s true, you know. Just last week, I met with my Republican opponent from my race and we sat down and we talked about things that we thought worked well on our races and didn’t, and then we spent a good chunk of time talking about what we’d heard in our campaigns. And part of that is because I know, just because I’m ran under the Democrat Banner, that I talked to more Democrats than I did Republicans and he talked to more Republicans than he did Democrats and making sure that I hear what those concerns were, make sure that they’re filtered through my, you know, moral compass. And then I can bring those for it and I understand not just the Democratic constituents I have but my constituency as a whole. To me, that’s part of the relational work.

I had an interview a couple weeks ago about a piece of anti-trans legislation filed, banning drag performances, drag queen story hours, refraining children from attending those and I had a republican who went on the record with the New York Times and say this isn’t what Montana should be focusing on. This is not what we should be doing. And to me, I’m seeing signals that people are willing to stand up and part of their willingness will be how effective am I, how effective is Howell, how effective are our allies and constituents and families across the state at communicating exactly why this is an issue, who it’s hurting and to the extent of the harm and how they can justify it when they, ultimately, vote down this legislation.

Imara: What is the thing that at the end of your first term is what you want to be known for as a legislator?

Zooey: In my heart, I want to be known for someone who fought for the things that matter, communicated the importance of them clearly both to the legislators across the aisle with in my party, to constituents, and to a broader public. I don’t want to be known for the person who went in and fought on one issue and clocked out. To me, there’s a litany of issues I want to be working on. We have a two billion dollar surplus in Montana, there’s a housing crisis, there’s a healthcare crisis. There’s a lot I want to focus my passions on and I am working on a lot of the anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ stuff. Feels like triage and it gets a lot of my energy and a lot of the attention in the media as well. And to me, that triage is integral, but at the end of a session or at the end of however many sessions I’ve had, I want to be known as someone who fought really hard for everything that they believed in and was able to communicate the importance of those fights effectively, both the people in politics, people in the legislature, people politically-adjacent, and people who may not be as invested in politics or maybe too young to vote. I want people to understand what this process is like and see that there can be goodness and kindness in that room.

Imara: What would you say to trans people who are actually cynical about elected politics? I mean, I find it interesting that we have a lot of trans people who ran for office and who are winning, but at the same time, there can also be political cynicism in our community for very obvious reasons. And I’m wondering if you were standing in front of an audience of trans people and people that care about trans people which, you know, basically is this podcast, what would you say to them about, no, this is- this is why it’s important and I understand what you’re saying, but this is why I’ve decided that this is something that’s important.

Zooey: With my backdrop being community activism, being mutual aid work, being de-escalation at protests, I have had a lot of conversations with folks who are disenchanted with the political process or are outright anarchists. And I think it’s important that folks understand that, individually, none of us should be required to do the work. You don’t have to explain to a co-worker a thing about what it means to be trans. You don’t have to do X, Y, or Z, but collectively, we need to be in the fight because if we’re not in that fight collectively we’re never going to win it. We’re going to just be – they’re going to continue to chop away at our rights. And for folks who get that but think mutually is the answer, this is the answer ,politics, you know, that room is no good, it’s poison.

I believe strongly you need people inside and outside of the systems. I remember sitting in the Provost office at the University of Montana and there was a big protest going on outside and there were people talking and folks inside the administration were saying, we’re doing the process on the inside. We’re following everything that we should be doing. And I remember saying, well, they’re important, they have an integral role in this system as well and I see folks who are doing work outside of the political wheel as doing important work and I think those of us on the inside are doing it as well. If I can be successful and mitigate anti-trans legislation, I will improve the quality of life for my community. If I can get some good housing laws brought forward, I will improve the lives of renters in tangible ways, and I will fight like hell for that. And if it turns out that I can’t make change, if it turns out that there is a room that is more valuable for me to be in, to do the kind of good I want to do, I will move to that room because it is always about, in my heart, being in the room where you can do the most good. And I believe given the fights at the state legislature and my skillset, politics is where- is where I belong right now.

Imara: And so, after your pitch of why it’s important to [inaudible] for office, what would you say to trans people who come up and say, okay, I want to run? What are the things you think I should know and think about as I go on this journey?

Zooey: Step one is to root yourself in your community. And I see that both as a- as a health thing, first and foremost. Are you rock solid in who you are and your ability to step for it because it is a different realm when you go out there and you say, here’s who I am and here’s what I stand for and you’re campaigning before thousands or tens of thousands of people. Making sure that you really understand if you want to be in service, in a specific area, that you understand the community that lives in that area in and out.

Step 2, in my mind, is finding the people who will open doors for you. For me, those folks were other trans people who had come before me and run for office and they were also, about a half a dozen political figures locally, who I had worked with doing drafting policy or who I had worked with doing activism work, and those folks were able to help open the doors so that when I went to meet with folks and say, hey I’m going to run for office, I would really appreciate your endorsement that they knew that X, Y, and Z had my back and that it was- I was serious and I was someone to be taken seriously.

Imara: My last question is, you know, everything that we do in life often is an expression of hope, you know, how we expend our time, and by running for office, you’ve expressed hope not only in your ability and what you can do in your state, but also in the very idea of democracy which is coming increasingly under threat. And so, what do you have hope about in terms of trans people and democracy writ large? The fact that we are such a small part of the population and are really sensitive to how the rest of the world is responding to us because it has such an outsized impact on our lives, what do you see as the hope for us in American democracy?

Zooey: We’re going to win. That’s the hope and that’s what I hold onto is we are going to win and we’re going to win on policy and we’re going to win on hearts and minds. And I was fortunate enough last week to be at the White House for the signing of the respect for Marriage Act, and being there in community with folks who taunt decades ago were fighting the fight, sometimes fighting to be heard during the AIDS epidemic, or fighting for their right to marry and bring in court cases before states, being in community with those folks and to see a moment in that signing, and yes, there are questions about did the bill do enough, how far is left to go in terms of legislation at the federal level, but to see a moment where, you know, you’re seeing a flash point in the arc of history where the rainbow touches the ground for a second and, it’s like, okay, this fight has been going for a long time, and this win means something. And yes, there’s a ton more work to do but look at this win that we’ve gotten.

And to me, I look at moments like that federally and then moments at the state, you know, every time you watch a piece of anti-trans legislation fail at the state level, you go, okay, here we go. There’s a victory here. There’s something to hold onto, there’s more work to be done. There’s always more work to be done. But if you lose sight of the winds that are happening and the power that comes from people who stand up and give testimony that changes hearts and changes minds, if you lose sight of the trans people and LGBTQ people more broadly who are getting into office and making a difference and who are being invited on shows like this or shows around the country to speak, if you lose sight of those little moments it is easy to lose faith in democracy, but also in the hope of being able to have the thing that trans people want, which is to live our lives, and live our lives without that specter behind us.

And seeing the winds that I see, and seeing the way in which transphobia, yes, it is rising and we’re seeing more of it prefile for ’23, but seeing the way that it failed on the national stage in the midterms and seeing and hearing the cracks in the Republican Party about it right now, I step into the 2023 session hopeful that I can have the kind of impact I want and I believe that I can stop a lot of these anti-trans bills from going forward, but I know full well that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, we’ll have one on policy and on hearts and minds.

Imara: Well, you’ve already won [chuckles] and that fact is a symbol of hope actually that trans people in places of the country can run and win for office and when based upon the strength of who we are. And so I know that I speak for everyone, when we wish you all the success and once that success because it

will possibly be a sign that we can go in a different direction in the nation overall. So, I want to thank you for taking the time to come on and hope that you come back.

Zooey: Thank you so much. I am grateful to have won and earned the right to stand at the starting line. The hard work begins now and I’m grateful for you to have me on here, and I look forward to talking again with you in the future.

Imara: Same here. Your 2023 elections started the [inaudible] [laughter] so that’s the way it works. Success just requires more success. That was Montana representative, Zooey Zephyr.


Imara: I’m now joined by activist, CioraThomas. Ciora is the founder and director of Sisters PGH, a black and trans-led nonprofit that serves trans, non-binary, and people of color in Southwestern Pennsylvania. She founded the organization back in 2013 as a response to her own experiences with youth homelessness, drug addiction, and sex trafficking. Under her leadership. Sisters PGH open Pittsburgh’s only trans owned community center. Among a wide variety programs, the center provides medical resources, support groups, and affordable housing for black and brown trans people.

In addition to her work at Sisters PGH, Ciora is the first black Trans woman to become chair of the LGBTQIA Advisory Council of Pittsburgh. She also serves as co-Vice Chair of the governor of Pennsylvania’s Commission of LGBT Affairs, where she focuses on issues of voter engagement, homelessness, and equal and affordable housing policy. And if that wasn’t already enough work for just one person, Ciora also founded the People’s Pride PGH, an alternative Pride event to protest the historic racial segregation of Pittsburgh Pride. Ciora, thank you so much for joining me today.

Ciora: Of course, glad to be here.

Imara: That is a lot and I am just thrilled that you took the time to talk to us today. Understanding that as a person who is in a particular state that faces lots of challenges when it comes to us, that you’re able to carve out a little time to talk to us. Thank you so much.

Ciora: Of course. Thank you for having me.

Imara: First of all, I’m wondering if you can just paint a picture for us of life in southwestern Pennsylvania for black and brown trans people. You know, people often think that Pennsylvania is democratic and think of it as, basically, Philadelphia and its suburbs, but not understanding that the Western part of the state is very different, which means that the challenge is that black and brown people face there, who are trans are very different. So can you just talk to us a little bit about that?

Ciora: Yes. So those who live up this way, we often call Pittsburgh’s the self of where we live. I know with a lot of this to work, we continue to run into extreme racism. I mean, the good old boys live right outside the city in the woods of Pittsburgh. So we are experiencing heightened levels of racism and transphobia and homophobia. To be able to gain any type of equity or inclusion in the spaces the spaces that we live in has been deemed impossible for some, especially for us, and for us to even get where we are now has been a mix of a miracle and another mix of just the strength and resilience that black and brown trans people do have here and around the world. It’s been an experience, especially someone who’s born and raised here, navigating these murky waters as they are.

Imara: Thank you for that. I think the phrase I heard is Western Pennsylvania is like Northern Alabama. [laughter]

Ciora: Yes. Yes.

Imara: in terms of like, it’s perspective so I think it’s important for people to understand that contextually. When you founded Sisters PGH, it was a result of you having experienced extreme marginalization in every single way and I’m wondering if you could just unpack for us the ways in which that marginalization was fed by the racism that you experience. Like, what’s the intersection between for you being black and trans and then living in a place like Pittsburgh and its immediate environments? What impact did that have on like your early life?

Ciora: Yes, uh as a young person, you know, like a lot of our stories unfortunately, um, I’m I was a homeless sex worker. So, you know, I was navigating the streets while also navigating the nonprofits in Pittsburgh that was directed and ran by majority of white queer LGBTQ people and what I’ve seen over the years is that there has been this gatekeeping behavior, this savior syndrome, if you will, of non black folks who are sometimes and most of the time have the best intentions, but are also replicating white supremacy through their services. And what this does is not put us in a position to demarginalize.

That’s why I founded Sisters PGH just because I was noticing these things. There were things I didn’t even notice, right, when I was complacent to a system that I was born into until I began to further my education and understand that my experiences were actually valid. They were actually real. Racism was actually happening around me even within the LGBTQ community. So there was a few eye-opening moments where I was able to understand fully of what I was dealing with uh, you know, as a black trans woman in this area.

Even today, we’re experiencing that myself, our leadership team. It’s as if black trans leadership is an anomaly here, and not to mention, still being an organization that is still standing on its own essentially, to provide resources intangible resources that doesn’t keep our community marginalized or have them becoming a number within our organization. Our core values is to push them to thrive beyond the white supremacy that we’re experiencing, ultimately, the slavery that we’re experiencing.

Imara: You founded this organization in 2013. Several years later, President Trump was elected, in part, because of the strength of his appeal to people in Western Pennsylvania. And I’m wondering what we saw across the nation during that time was rolling out additional anti-trans policies at the federal government through his administration at that time as well as record levels of violence against trans people, specifically, black and brown trans people every year during that administration which sadly has continued. I’m wondering in terms of what you felt in Western Pennsylvania at all these intersections that were describing, is that something that you felt on the ground that is to say did- did something shift and become even more difficult for you during that time?

Ciora: Yeah, I- I mean again, we were already dealing with this. We were protesting. We were in the streets as well and, you know, the Trumpers, they would definitely come out as well and try to protest the protest, right, and essentially they were battles that were fought, not uh, physical, thank God, but battles that were fought on the ground from them, from turfs and our service provision. A lot of the girls were scared to come out or scared to engage, not to mention funding, uh, funding was also and it is extremely very scarce and one of those reasons we’re not being I counted on their census, you know, within our federal government. That within itself was also something we were battling during this Trump era to try to get prepared for the next era.

Imara: That’s a lot to navigate. In terms of what you’re seeing now in Pennsylvania, I mean, you’re co-Chair of this Statewide gubernatorial commission and, at the same time, despite the fact that the governor is Democratic, the state legislature is not, and that there are anti-trans bills that are being passed and that have been passed. They’ve been vetoed, but they’ve been passed. And I’m wondering how you as a commission member balance discharge of like on the one hand, trying to figure out a way to move things forward and swimming in the reality of a state legislature that if the governor changes this year, you know, you’re going to be in a very difficult and different position.

Ciora: If I can just be frank?

Imara: Please.

Ciora: [chuckles] So something I’ve also learned is Democrats and Republicans, they all have their agendas and they are still in a phase of learning about trans liberation, learning about inclusivity. We have a billion inclusivity meetings a year to talk about how to include trans people in legislation, how to include, you know, trans people in employment, how to include trans people in the homeless system, the shelter systems. So, we are still very much in a phase of learning and what I find, with a lot of folks, they look at Pittsburgh and even Pennsylvania um, as this progressive space and it’s really not that right now.

I think, you know, steps are being made to do that, but I don’t think those steps have been strong enough to actually uh, move the marker on what we’ve been talking about, again, since I was a kid. Still having these same conversations and what I’m noticing is that this seems to be some type of systemic illness, if you will, like, they are unwilling or it’s only important around Pride, you know, to have these kind of conversations. So while we have had some advances that particularly benefited white LGBTQ people versus black and brown LGBTQ people. They are still very much in this lens of learning.

Imara: One of the things you’re describing is the fact that, you know, transphobia doesn’t know party.

Ciora: Yeah.

Imara: Like, you know, that we still are in a transphobic society regardless of party and that what you’re describing is the need to try to find a way to make the best choices within that at the same time that you’re trying to fight and move forward, and it is exhausting. What you’re describing is an exhausting process. On this note of what you’re seeing and doing and envisioning to move things forward, on this commission, if Governor Wolf called you into his office one-on-one and said in this one-on-one meeting, Ciora, what are the things that you would want me to do? The two or three top things to make your life and those of your community easier and to foster black Trans Liberation in this state, what would those things be? What would you say here’s the two or three things I would tell you, Governor, that you need to do right now?

Ciora: Yeah, oh my gosh. First of all, we’re still going through a housing crisis here and around Pennsylvania. So we would need about 500,000 or more affordable, housing locations, you know, built around the state to be able, to be accessed by black and brown folks, and that includes, because we have to say this, unfortunately, black and brown trans folks and LGBQ folks uh, that need this type of housing and making sure that this housing just wasn’t some slumlord situation, but actual housing, where folks can be homeowners, learn how to be homeowners, and create generational wealth.

I would also jump into the hate crimes that are not being called hate crimes in Pennsylvania. We’re losing so many universities around the country, but uh, in Pennsylvania, as well. And these things are not being addressed how they need to be addressed. Panic defense for trans folks, and that needs to be abolished completely when we’re talking about hate crimes, when we’re talking about protecting vulnerable marginalized communities within our area.

Imara: Yeah, it’s interesting because a lot of the things that you kind of cite, there is a proposal actually and the Congress for a trans Bill of Rights and a lot of the things that you’re talking about are in there, you know, equal access to housing. Having the justice department, with respect to violence, take these crime seriously and have a special division of focusing, on trans issues of trans violence and a whole host of other things. So, it’s interesting that kind of the things that you cite are the most urgent needs that people are talking about, but as you said, like, the biggest thing is having the will to do it, right? And so far, that- that, that hasn’t happened.

I’m wondering if you can just talk to us a little bit about where you see things going in terms of what you are hoping for, what black trans liberation looks for you as you are expressing it through Sisters PGH, that is to say like, what is the world that you’re hoping to model by what you’re doing that is the example of how to create that space for everybody?

Ciora: Yes. So, I remember like yesterday when I was laying in front of one of our Rivers, one night after working, and looking up in my phone like what a non-profit was and finding that definition of a non-profit to come in and it may not happen in my lifetime, but eradicate the marginalization, your target marginalization, which for us, uh, trans folks and provide an avenue that is not being provided by where we live. And then eventually, this need will no longer be a need because this need has been addressed.

So what I hope, even after my lifetime, that Sisters PGH continues being a vessel for liberation for our trans people and, especially, black and brown trans people in our areas and continuing to provide housing, rent, and utilities, support, providing health and wellness, and trainings and conferences, and trans people have not been able to holistically experience in our area and have it ran and directed by black trans people. It’s super, super important just that our values stays strong, but then this work so when these folks and hey, I’ve wanted to show we’ve been hollering at the governor’s office, the uh, state legislators office., we’ve been doing the work for so many years and I-I was glad to also read these protections are going to be rolling out.

However, continuing to be here, when those actions are not put in action, you know, for our communities that we’ll always be here. We’ll always be here when you feel as though you’re falling through the gaps or you’re not supported in this and using our platforms and voices, and bodies to stand up, speak out, and protect our trans folks, especially, our babies, especially, our trans youth growing up in this world with no idea what’s going on around them. Like a lot of us did, is youth, no outlet, no support. So continuing to be in that space where we see us at the table. We see us leading these roles and providing a future, a tangible future for our black trans youth.

Imara: Well, Ciora, I thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us for everything that you do for our community and taking us into a snapshot of a part of the country where we might normally not think about the needs of black trans people or trans people overall and giving us a greater understanding of what’s happening and what’s needed. Thank you so much.

Ciora: Of course.

Imara: That was activist and co-Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Commission of LGBT Affairs, Ciora Thomas.

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, @translashmedia, like us on Facebook and tell your friends.

The TransLash podcast is produced by TransLash media. The transLash team includes Oliver-Ash Kleine and Aubrey Calaway. Sandra Adams is a contributing producer to the show and our sound engineer. Digital strategy is handled by Daniella Capistrano. The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of CZK Records. The TransLash Podcast is made possible by the support of foundations and listeners like you.


Imara: So this week, I’m looking forward to what starts next week and that’s Black History Month. It’s always so powerful to see just the array of contributions that African Americans have made in this country, but specifically black trans people and just the number of things that black trans people continue to work on an advanced for our community and it’s actually going to be a focus of our year. We have some really exciting projects that we’ll talk about later, which underscore and highlight that. We’ll also be putting out content across social and, of course, this podcast which highlights everything that I’m talking about. But, yeah, black trans, I’m sorry, I was gonna call it black thread History Month, what a- Black Trans History Month starts next week and that’s what I’m looking forward to.



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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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