• Lilianna Angel Reyes, executive director of the Trans Sistas of Color Project, Letoya Tinch with the Howard Brown Agency in Chicago, Jey’nce Poindexter Mizrahi, U.S. Rep. Rashida T’laib and Wayne County Chairwoman Alisha Bell post for a photo at the town hall on trans women of color issues July 22. (Photo courtesy of Jey’nce Poindexter Mizrahi.)

Community Leaders Hold Town Hall on Issues Facing Trans Women of Color

Jason A. Michael
By | 2019-08-09T16:21:05-04:00 August 7th, 2019|Michigan, News|

Jey’nce Poindexter Mizrahi has logged a lot of miles traveling across Michigan since starting as Equality Michigan’s transgender victim advocate in the fall of 2018. Poindexter Mizrahi, who also serves as the vice president of communications and organizing for the Trans Sistas of Color Project, has become one of the leading transgender activists in the state since joining the agency.

That means that she’s taken meetings with the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the state’s attorney general’s office and civil rights commission. She’s known to rub elbows with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and she was just tapped by presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker to do some outreach. Yes, Poindexter Mizrahi’s name is crossing state lines and she’s even becoming known on the national scene.

Since she’s been able to build so many connections, Poindexter Mizrahi put out a call to some of her friends asking them to come a special town hall meeting on transgender women of color issues. Those who responded to the call included U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D), former Wayne County Judge Vonda Evans, Wayne County Chairwoman Alisha Bell, Trans Sistas of Color Project Executive Director Lilianna Angel Reyes, Fair Michigan Justice Project Victim’s Advocate Julisa Abad, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project Staff Attorney Jay Kaplan, local media personality and HIV/AIDS activist Ka’Juan “Mr. Let’s Talk About It” Hill and Letoya Tinch with the Howard Brown Agency in Chicago.

The meeting, which took place July 22 at Focus Hope headquarters in Detroit, started with a dinner that was hosted by Tlaib. A crowd of about 100 was present for the town hall, which took on a very somber tone from the start.

“There is a national statistic that if a trans woman of color transitions young she only lives to be about 35 years old,” said Reyes. “The thought that my time is coming to an end is really scary. There’s not a lot of women who transitioned young that I can look to and say you did it. There are some, but not many. … Trans women of color are dying at alarming rates, specifically black trans women in the U.S. and Latina trans women internationally.”

Reyes had words of advice for those supporting trans rights agencies in Michigan.

“For the people who are supporting trans-led organizations, make sure that trans-led organization is working for trans people and doing work in the city of Detroit, because that’s where people are dying,” Reyes said. “And if you’re doing work for us, let us do the work for you because we’re really the only ones who know how to do it.”

Hill spoke of the recent string of murders of trans women of color.

“I’m tired of seeing these posts about my sisters dying,” he said. “I’m furious, but I’m not restless. And I want us to know today is to be inspired for us to keep the fire. We need people to know that our trans sisters do matter. It’s about educating people. It’s about knowledge.”

State Sen. Moss announced that he had recently introduced a bill to amend the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

“We need to call out the murders of our trans sisters of color as hate crimes,” said Moss. “That’s exactly what it is.”

For her part, Judge Evans spoke of the plight of the transgender woman of color.

“Having served this wonderful community for so many years first as a prosecutor and then as a judge, I know firsthand the fear that trans women of color feel,” she said. “I know how it has to feel to have to hide who you are because of your sexual orientation. You’re fearless in your walk and in your identity, but you’re afraid in your home. And you’re afraid in your community of people who look like you. And you become a prisoner of who you are. And that’s not fair to anyone.”

Abad shared with crowd about a little-known transgender inclusion policy in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“If you are trans and your name is not legally changed they are still going to address you by your preferred name and preferred pronouns,” Abad explained. “In the beginning, the report obviously will have to give what I call what your dead name is. But the remainder of you going to court, testifying, going to the precinct, we will address you as you want to be addressed, which, in turn, makes my community feel safer in coming forward to report crimes.”

Abad also told the crowd that Fair Michigan is offering free name change assistance at the Ruth Ellis Center and revealed that her name change had become official the week prior.

“I cried a lot today,” said Abad. “Not because my name was changed, but because I realized that in two months, supposedly, my life is supposed to be over. I’ll be 35 years old. That’s really, really sad for trans women.”

Poindexter Mizrahi said she only found out about the policy in recent weeks.

“I was really, really excited to kind of hear about it,” she said. “But to know that it’s been around and no one knows about it, that kind of shows you the plight of what’s really going on here. The fact that there is something that speaks to protections for and speaks to respect of our community and the fact that it’s kind of pushed up under the rug and no one knows about it. That was kind of shocking to me.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.