When advocate Sayer Johnson co-founded the Metro Trans Umbrella Group in St. Louis in 2013, the organization came together out of “frustration and necessity.”
“We went from being an organization that serves predominantly white trans folks [who have] a certain amount of privilege to being a more inclusive organization,” said Johnson.
One of the matriarchs of the transgender community in St. Louis had passed away, and her community wasn’t able to raise enough money to bury her in the way she preferred. “We quickly realized that we had no social capital. We had no organizing power in the area,” said Johnson.
“There [were] just no systems in place for trans-expansive adults, and a group of four other transmasculine folks [and I] decided to use our privilege as white transmasculine humans and organize,” said Johnson.
Thus, the Metro Trans Umbrella Group was formed.
When the organization began, they were focused almost exclusively on support groups. Funds to support their work started coming in slowly, thanks to 101-style trainings that the group ran. It was when the Metro Trans Umbrella Group was able to move into a house about a year and a half ago that everything changed.
Now, Johnson and the organization he helped found are focused on making sure the St. Louis transgender community has its basic needs met. The house offers a food pantry, toiletries, a shower, a clothing closet, laundry and places to sleep for transgender and non-binary adults. Moving forward, Johnson and the organization will continue to focus on housing, as well as physical and mental health care.
Ensuring that basic needs are met is an essential starting point in making sure that transgender people can live their lives fully. Once those needs are in place, that’s when the support groups come into play. Having people in your life who care about you is also key.
“Then you can be in the best place where you have the chance to live the authentic life that you [are] supposed to live,” says Johnson.
It’s similar to the advice he would give to trans kids and young adults who are looking to get involved in advocacy.
“I think that having humans around you [who] love you and support your work is vital,” said Johnson. “Make sure that you really know your own compass and stick to that compass as close as you possibly can. When you know what you know and what you feel is right, do it, and any time you’re engaging in anything, make sure that you check in with that compass.”