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Five days a week I pass a building whose facade is marred by a bullet hole. The reality of gun violence in our community sends chills down my spine. The fact that this bullet hole came from a gun aimed at someone I know haunts me.
I still remember watching the news clip Nov. 17 showing a transgender woman being shot during a robbery on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. It happened right before we memorialized those lives lost at the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony.
For me, it’s a haunting feeling, a sadness, but for members of the transgender community it’s a reminder of the trauma of living with the reality that just living your authentic life can mark you as a victim for hatred, violence and even death.
“I don’t think people realize how traumatizing it is to just exist right.” Bre Anne Campbell, one of the co-founders and Executive Director of Trans Sistas of Color Project (TSOCP), told me in a recent interview.
Bre had lost her driver’s license and went to the Secretary of State to replace it. She recalled.
“They printed my copy and it had the wrong gender. I wanted them to correct it. And then it turned out to be this whole big thing that I wasn’t expecting. I just remember at some point just standing there and like wanting to disappear or pass out and just leave,” she said. “And I said to myself you can’t do any of that. You have to get this. You have to get this driver’s license.”
She had her passport with the correct gender, that was all they needed. After some inappropriate questions and whispers, her driver’s license was corrected. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t.
Campbell added, “I know what I went through is not the process. So, I would never tell a girl it’s easy. I would tell her, ‘Hey take your passport. They’re going to push back and it’s probably going to make you uncomfortable, but just know that they can’t tell you no.”
It’s that trauma, living in the shadow of transphobia that binds many in the transgender community and builds family/friendships that otherwise might not have occurred. It can manifest itself in every aspect of a girl’s life from getting driver’s license, to getting a job, to just surviving.
The larger organizations locally and nationally deal with the political issues, the legal barriers, but to handle day-to-day issues, the Trans Sistas of Color Project steps in filling the gap between political activism/advocacy and the day-to-day realities of living.
Founded in 2015 by Campbell and a group of concerned Detroit community activists in direct response to the growing number of murders of trans women and gender non-conforming people, the Trans Sistas of Color Project (TSOCP) works to uplift, influence and impact the lives and wellbeing of trans women of color in Metro Detroit.
Initially, TSOCP had planned to do programs like resume-building, name changes, legislative issues, HIV work, etc., but life took the organization in another direction. The organization is truly representative of the community and is led completely by Trans women of color.
What evolved was a response to life issues filling in the gaps that organizations are not addressing – programming based on life experiences this can include trouble paying their bills, with housing, getting medication, transportation and even including burial of members of LGBTQ community – anything keeping a girl out of the system.
According to Campbell, TSOCP’s priority is the day-to-day existence that keeps Trans women of color alive, so they can use/benefit from programs that other organizations offer.
“We had a plan when we started TSOCP. We just thought about life in this community and said this is what’s not happening,” Campbell said. “We wanted to do programming. We were thinking about a kind of holistic, year-long thing that women would go through and graduate at the end. We were going to respond to political issues.”
But it went in a different direction.
“When we had a meeting with some of our members they said no. They said they were going to use whatever bathroom they wanted to, and fight for the right to do so. What they wanted from TSOCP was to know that we would come, help even get them out of jail if they were incarcerated for standing for their rights,” Campbell said. “Creating this space was necessary for the women in Detroit to start feeling like their narratives matter.”
Just founding and funding TSOCP has required an almost unyielding devotion to the project. “It been a labor of love that came with some sacrifice,” Campbell admits.
Through trans centric programming, services, resources and community building efforts, TSOCP is a safe space where trans advocacy and activism lives and trans sisterhood thrives.
What would help the lives of trans people, especially trans women, includes companies hiring trans people, or advocating to make sure that people are hiring trans people.
Politically, she said there are several things that can be done. One, is to decriminalize sex work.
Campbell added, “I’m only saying that because I think it’s just really asinine to live in a state that can prevent trans people from working, and then criminalizing the only source of income that they have access to,” Campbell said.
“We’re working on expunging the girls’ records if they have any type of sex work tickets, and making sure that trans people have the right to work, the right to housing and advocating for some type of legislation that holds people accountable for harming us,” she said.
TSOCP’s future plans are to acquire a physical location that would provide a 24 hour drop-in center for trans women but at the top of the list each and every day is protection for members of the transgender community from violence.
Contributions to support TSOCP programs can be made in care of the Ruth Ellis Center (Be sure to write TSCOP on the memo line) 77 Victor Street, Highland Park.