The HRC Foundation’s Transgender Justice Initiative is at the forefront of breaking down barriers that force so many transgender people to face higher rates of health disparities, discrimination, poverty, homelessness and violence. To amplify the work of the TJI, HRC Foundation launched “Trans Talks,” a platform to educate and elaborate on these issues and amplify the work of trans folks who are leading in this space.
As a video series that livestreams on HRC’s digital channels, “Trans Talks” widens the narrative about the transgender community — which often is centered on anti-trans violence and discriminatory state bills — to include history overviews and personal anecdotes directly from trans folks themselves, providing viewers with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the transgender community.
In today’s reality of myriad virtual events, “Trans Talks” might seem as just another addition. While the video series is informative and entertaining, what makes it truly unique is how raw and genuine the conversations are among TJI Director Tori Cooper and the participants.
“The transgender community was saying that they needed an outlet to share, learn and teach,” Cooper said. “Trans Talks” was born out of the voices of the community. It provides a platform for the entire community to discuss topics that are relevant to our daily lives. We have to think very intentionally about how to bring together a diverse group of people who hold a common thread so that folks who tune in can feel that community connection and get to be a part of it themselves.”
In an episode titled, “Welcome to the House of HRC,” Cooper and the participants candidly discussed the experience and importance of helping LGBTQ+ youth living in the streets by welcoming them into a “house,” or a chosen family living together who often participates in ballroom culture, a culture cultivated and fostered by the trans community in the 80s and 90s. Often, “houses” deal with addiction issues, unemployment and health issues. In the episode, there were both laughs and many tears.
Jevon Martin, executive director of Princess Janae Place Inc., participated in “House of HRC.” Martin hopes viewers “gained a more detailed firsthand understanding of what ballroom means to those that have paved the way. I hope they learned how the families we created made us who we are today. Also the importance of the need for family outside of blood relatives.”
Through TJI, Cooper and TJI Associate Director Lindsey Clark work with the transgender community, addressing political and policy issues that impact the trans community, particularly fatal violence facilitated through the lack of legal federal protections, fickle national gun laws and discriminatory legislation. Often, the coverage of such issues leaves little room for the general public to know more about the trans community.
For decades, the transgender community, and issues related to the community, were often siloed from the mainstream. Recently, however, thanks to popular TV shows like FX’s “Pose” and HBO Max’s “Euphoria,” that is no longer the case. Much like these shows, “Trans Talks” shines light on the many other issues the transgender community faces, but “Trans Talks” goes beyond that and insightfully unpacks and elaborates on other intersecting issues.
What “Trans Talks” also does is highlight the history and the work that many transgender folks did and continue to do to get to where we are today. The series is structured to be engaging yet also telling and communicative, all while being intentionally welcoming and forthright. In “Return To Paris,” which celebrated the iconic and cult classic documentary film “Paris Is Burning,” folks discussed how ravishing the AIDS epidemic was on the transgender community during the 80s and 90s ballroom scene, which the film documents. While the impact of AIDS & HIV on the LGBTQ+ community is well known, the participants in “Return To Paris” delved deeper into the emotional impact of watching loved ones succumb to the disease and having a community diminish.
In the same episode, participants — which included ballroom icon and D.C. activist Rayceen Pendarvis — encouraged a newer generation of trans and queer folks to break new ground to further trans visibility and continue the community’s activism, especially as an alarming number of trans people become victims to fatal violence.
“The ‘TransTalks’ series seeks to follow the moment we’re in and the conversation the community is having so that these conversations are as engaging and accessible to as many folks within our community as they can be,” Clark said. “Representation and connection are vitally important for our community, now more than ever. The “Trans Talks” series has become a big piece of how the Trans Justice Initiative has approached our responsibility to foster and uplift those representatives and relationships.”
Most of the participants in the episodes identify as transgender, non-binary or have close ties to the transgender community. GALAEI’s Operations Manager Mikah Thomas, who participated in an episode of “Trans Talks,” said they participated because they wanted audiences to “understand the intersecting, complex identities from folx who may not look like them.
“I hope viewers gained and retained information and remember the fight it took for each individual to get to where they are in their life and that the fight evolves into different journeys,” Thomas said.
Another participant was Naomi Green, program manager at Transparency, an organization that helps respond to social and health disparities within the Black community. Green believes the series is more than raising visibility, but also promotes inclusivity and coexistence.
She also believes that “Trans Talks” humanizes the word transgender, something that the entire fight for LGBTQ+ equality can benefit from. “Trans people are people. I hope viewers learn that we are all different and have different backgrounds, lived experiences, different issues we face, and different goals and objectives in life both personally and professionally, but we’re all human,” said Green. “I want people to know that I am human first, Black second, and trans third. Trans people don't want to be treated special or different. We want to enjoy the same rights and privileges as everyone else, including the right to live without fear of violence, discrimination, transphobia, and death.”
In ways, “Trans Talks” creates space for the personal and emotional level of the vast work that transgender people have invested in creating visibility for the community while advocating for an improved reality. “Trans Talks” showcases the power and uniqueness of the community, and that makes for an interesting viewing experience.