by Jasmine M. Pulido
Black trans women and nonbinary femmes are the most underserved population within the LGBTQIA+ community.
This is the reality that the Lavender Rights Project (LRP) knew but did not yet know how to effectively address after serving as a grassroots nonprofit law firm for the last five years. This September, on their five-year anniversary, after bringing Black trans women and femmes into new leadership to inform LRP’s strategy, they’re changing their mission to better hone in on this problem. While they still intend to be inclusive and serve the larger LGBTQIA+ community, they will center their work around Black trans women and nonbinary femmes moving forward.
“We are hoping to be inclusive of all LGBTQ in our services, but we see focusing in on Black trans women as a method to address all needs of the entire community. When we get it right for Black trans women, we get it right for everyone who reaches out to us for help,” Jaelynn Scott (she/her) said. As LRP’s executive director, Scott exuded a mix of fierce compassion that also somehow felt like a calming balm as she spoke about LRP’s future.
After having done mostly civil rights cases and, more recently, family law cases, the 14 members of this firm have also found that the law isn’t a cure-all for the community’s social problems. While the term “intersectionality” was coined 30 years ago by Kimberle Crenshaw, the law still fails to incorporate this concept into our legal system. Without properly acknowledging the nuances and complexities that exist within our multiple layers of intersecting identities, many laws discriminate against trans and nonbinary folks by default.
“There’s always going to be intersectionality, and that’s the one thing that gets missed,” LRP core member Nicole Lynn Perry (she/her) told the Emerald. Perry, a mix of practical tone and lighthearted air, informs the work from her own lived experience.
To address the law’s shortcomings, LRP is expanding twofold. They’ll extend the social impact within their currently existing law practice by moving into impact litigation, with the goal of creating new precedents they hope will reach a national level. They’ll also expand social and legal services for gender diverse people not just in Seattle but Washington State.
When thinking about how to adopt a more all-encompassing approach that would significantly uplift their clarified demographic, LRP decided to focus their work into three specific areas: housing, gender-based violence, and poverty law.
Why those three? Consider this: 71% of LGBTQ population have experienced homelessness for the first time as adults, and lack of housing is one of the leading causes of being vulnerable to gender-based violence. These statistics exemplify the interconnectedness of these systems of oppression — ones that target queer and trans Black and Brown folks — and highlight their combined impact on our community in stark terms. Addressing one of them addresses all of them, whether it be directly or indirectly.
“We felt like we were in a unique position, both with legal services and our connections with the community, to start doing some work to try to disrupt those rates of violence against our community, especially here,” Scott explained. LRP’s plans of disruption will start with housing — specifically, a housing project they’re calling “The House.”
With a strong background in public health and nonprofit work paired with their charismatic energy, Ebo Barton (they/he) will take the lead on LRP’s upcoming housing project. The esteemed initiative will procure emergency and permanent housing for 40–50 Black trans residents in Washington. Through the acquisition of a former hotel, nursing home property, or multifamily apartment complex, LRP doesn’t just aim to provide a house to live in but an authentic space for trans folks of color to connect and heal with their community. The housing project will offer long-term stability while also delivering wraparound services like mental health and medical care, fresh food access, employment assistance, and community-driven protection.
LRP will be submitting a Request For Proposal with King County with hopes that they will receive funding through the “Health Through Housing” initiative. LRP has also posted a Target registry that is available through their fundraising campaign, “Everyone Deserves A Home,” until the end of the month for community members who want to supply essential items like toiletries and furnishings for the future living space. Barton will also be networking with community-based organizations like Gay City and Cedar River Clinics to provide culturally relevant, evidence-based programming. On top of these organizations, LRP continues to link up with like-minded organizations such as Queer The Land, Chief Seattle Club, and Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network to share resources as well as to “address the gaps in service and treatment for Black transgender and nonbinary individuals experiencing homelessness.” Clearly, Barton means business.
While talking about a subject as demoralizing as “gender-based violence,” the second area of intended impact by LRP, Randy Ford (she/her/Goddess) manages to pull it off with a serious tone while still maintaining a generous warmth that percolates underneath all of her conversational exchanges. Ford elucidated that LRP will implement a “safe county model” to address gender-based violence against Black trans women and femmes specifically. This model would go beyond just providing money or a temporary living space for a vulnerable individual; it would seek a more expansive vision — one where housing is stable and personal trust built over time would ultimately fortify a pact of community-driven protection.
What strikes one most about this team isn’t just their rooted purpose or their impressive skill-sets. It isn’t their methodical approach or their thoughtful, in-depth understanding of problems as complex as housing, gender-based violence, and poverty. It isn’t their courage to pivot to do better, be more, or reach farther in an ongoing pandemic landscape. It isn’t the playful jubilance that emanates from their casual banter as they speak to each other. It isn’t their astute determination to stare in the face all of the heart-shattering statistics against them and their community nor is it the coordinated wielding of their collective power to devise a multipronged strategy to reverse them. Certainly they display all of these admirable qualities, but none of that would matter if the power to pursue these ambitions weren’t generated from a perspective imbued with and embodying a holistic sense of what community really means. “It’s not about what — it’s about who,” Barton said. “We do have to come at outreach a different way. We do have to come at our facility a different way so that it’s not this institutionalized version of what they know which they’re likely to avoid.”
LRP comes from a real and sustainable stronghold because their leadership is informed firsthand by the lived experiences of the communities they wish to serve. The Washington Black Trans Task Force, for instance, has assumed leadership positions within LRP. Beyond that, this crew is invested in positive outcomes for trans and nonbinary Communities of Color because these are outcomes that affect them personally, too. It’s in this tenet of operating from the lead of lived experiences, connecting directly to their community, and inviting people in that makes this nonprofit do right what so many other nonprofits do wrong. “It can’t be up to just Black trans people to liberate Black trans people,” Ford said. “We cannot do this work. We are not the oppressors. … dismantling the system is community-based protection.”
LRP’s emerging call is to create a space where Black trans women and femmes feel safe enough to exist as they are. Authentically. “We want to provide that high quality of life for this community because they deserve it,” Ford said.
Jasmine M. Pulido (she/her/siya) is a Filipina American writer-activist and small business owner living in Seattle. She’s currently pursuing her Master of Arts degree in Social Change.
📸 Featured Image: Lavender Rights Project members. (Photo: Chloe Collyer)
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