In the absence of infrastructure afforded to the support of white and straight communities, Black trans communities have been supporting one another historically. One example, “For the Gworls” has been raising money through rent parties since before “mutual aid” became a buzzword.
When Black trans organizer and founder, Asanni Armon, moved to New York three years ago, friends plugged them into the Black queer scene through organizing collectives like the Black Youth Project. It was through organizing and accessing Black party spaces that Armon, also an up and coming rapper, built community and launched For the Gworls. “Many venues in New York have said no to hosting us for fear there will be a low turnout” Armon says, but parties are busy and thriving with Black joy. Through the doors to For the Gworls, attendees are vogueing to hip hop, R&B, techno, house and afrobeats centered and geared toward Black people and Black trans people in particular. “For anyone who’s experienced New York City’s Black queer party culture, this is no exception.”
Money raised by For the Gworls goes towards paying for someone’s rent, another person’s gender-affirming surgery and any leftover funds are donated to similar mutual aids for Black communities. Their first party in August 2019, raised $1575 for two Black trans femmes. A month later, their rent party aimed to fundraise for three Black trans folks raised $2500 of the $3300 goal; $1500 of that at the door alone.
Whilst the closure of non-essential businesses and a lockdown in response to COVID-19 has meant an end to rent parties and in person fundraising, a new online medical fund has been created in response to the effects of the government lockdown on Black trans people. For the Gworls Medical Fund provides assistance to Black trans folks who need to travel via rideshare to and from medical facilities or are in need of co-pay assistance for prescriptions and (virtual) office visits.
Acts of community care as far back as the late 20th century have existed for Black trans people. For example, the Black house mothers who housed their children and built chosen families from scratch in response to a lack of role models and support systems for queer and trans people of colour. One of the most notable examples of mutual aid amongst Black communities came from the Black Panthers, who provided free breakfast and health programs for organizers.
Before COVID-19, trans people were already four times as likely to be out of work and right now 21.5 million people who are documented to work remain unemployed in the U.S. Job insecurity amongst Black trans people is likely to continue at high rates — funds and initiatives like For the Gworls demonstrate the resilience that Black and trans communities have now and have had historically in the face of a sheer lack of resources and access to resources. This denial of resources happens not only through transphobia, but through racism and colorism.
Job insecurity amongst Black trans people is likely to continue at high rates — funds and initiatives like For the Gworls demonstrate the resilience that Black and trans communities have.
Being an organizer who now has to fundraise online, doing so through social media can be a double-edged sword for Armon; “I try not to look at social media; I try not to see videos of protestors beat up; unplugging when I can helps me take care of myself.” Armon believes self-care is key; “I used to work out and go for walks, then the virus hit. I’m in touch with my spirituality and talking with my friends and my ancestors. I try to engage with them as much as possible because the community can be lifesaving.”
Anti-Blackness and transphobia have shown up in instances of police brutality, often ending in the loss of Black trans lives, amidst the nation’s outrage and “an epidemic of violence against trans women of color” – before and after the murder of George Floyd:
- Nina Pop, a 28-year-old Black trans woman found stabbed to death in her apartment in Missouri early last month.
- Tony McDade, a 38-year-old Black trans man fatally shot by police in Tallahassee, Florida.
- Iyanna Dior, a 21-year-old Black trans woman beaten by 20 men whilst all but one onlooker stood by and watched; Dior managed to escape further violence.
- Riah Milton, a 25-year-old Black trans woman shot and killed during a robbery attempt in Liberty Township, Ohio.
- Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, a 27-year-old Black trans woman whose dismembered body was found in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
McDade is the 12th documented case of trans people killed in the U.S. this year and since then, the number has risen to 15 documented cases. Last year, 26 trans people were killed in the U.S. and of those 26, 91% were Black women.
Black people, femmes especially, do a lot of the work behind the scenes within activism and organizing. It’s no secret that The Black Lives Matter movement was started by three Black women (Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi) in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman but there is still work to be done that accounts for all Black lives. Breonna Taylor’s murderers still remain free and names like Mya Hall, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Walter Scott and Sandra Bland are fundamentally important in our need for justice.
Justice for McDade, who was initially misgendered in coverage of the fatal shooting by police, remains left out of many people’s advocacy. The same night as the Stonewall protest, Black Trans Protestors Emergency Fund was launched. “There was a need to make this fund because everybody was talking about George Floyd, but before we had the murder of Nina Pop and recently the beating of Iyanna Dior.”
“There was a need to make this fund because everybody was talking about George Floyd, but before we had the murder of Nina Pop and recently the beating of Iyanna Dior.”
In response to Black Lives Matter protests, For the Gworls partnered with Black Trans Travel Fund, The Okra Project and The Black Trans Femmes in the Arts collective for “The Black Trans Protesters Emergency Fund.” This fund was born through a group chat between the four groups discussing what they each did; For the Gworls covered rent and gender affirming surgery, Okra covered food insecurity and now health resources and rent in response to COVID-19 and Black Trans Travel Fund covered travel for Black trans women to appointments.
Given that so much media featuring Black trans femmes is about trauma, there’s something to be said about For the Gworls cultivating Black trans joy, community and liberation through their initial rent parties. Yet, whilst there is hope for and work towards Black liberation, for Armon, full Black liberation does not seem possible in their lifetime. “When we finally eradicate white supremacy, we still have to do the work of local education to talk about how we need to work within Black communities and how Black people can respect each other.” Armon refers here to gender, sexuality and disability — these labels, layered with Blackness, create additional struggles that Black people can face under colonialist government, culture, society and institutions.
When asked what non-Black people can do for Black communities beyond donating to these funds; “Have conversations about this with other non-Black people in your community,” Armon suggests, “We get lost in different campaigns and issues and the idea of ‘if I just share it I’ve done my work for the day,’ but nothing is more effective than in person communication. Sharing is great, but messaging people directly about these stories and systemic issues as a means to donate to a cause like this is better.”