Winter 2023 • Jose Soto He/Him
For Keisha Michaels, a Black parent of a Black trangender teenager, the lack of existing resources made exclusively for Black LGBTQ+ families was not surprising. Like many other Black parents of Black LGBTQ+ children, the Michaels found themselves navigating the complexities of raising a Black child in a potentially racist and unjust society compounded with those of supporting a transgender child. That is why the Human Right Campaign Foundation released “A Resource for Black Families, Family Members, and Caregivers of Black Transgender, Non Binary, and LGB Youth,” a digital resource designed to support Black parents of transgender and non-binary children.
The resource, created in partnership with Kamela Heyward-Rotimi, a cultural anthropologist, policy strategist and member of HRC Foundation’s Parents for Transgender Equality National Council, a coalition of some of the the nation's leading parent-advocates working for equality and fairness for transgender people, not only provides helpful information to Black parents of Black LGBTQ+ children, with a focus on Black trans and non-binary youth experiences, it also looks at the racial biases and discrimination families experience while supporting their Black LGBTQ+ children. It does so while ‘highlighting Black LGBTQ+ historical and current figures' brilliance, ingenuity, and place-making in society to help drive a narrative of inclusion and affirmation,’ as stated in the resource.
"I was pleased when HRC asked me to partner with them to create a resource for parents of Black LGBTQI+ children, highlighting the experiences of parents of Black transgender and non-binary children," said Heyward-Rotimi. "This resource is HRC’s concrete response to the parents of Black children’s call for resources to support their efforts to gain equitable treatment for their children.”
Black parents like Michaels, like Heyward-Rotimi alludes, were looking for resources which also connected them to others living similar experiences.
“What this resource will do, in addition to connecting Black parents of Black transgender and non-binary kids to helpful resources, is create a sense of community - one which affirms that they are not alone on their journeys,” said Michaels.
As part of the Human Right Campaign Foundation’s Parents for Transgender Equality National Council, Michaels, along with many other parents of transgender children, has found support and resources through PTEC, but few of the resources looked at the esoteric experiences of Black families and family members and their transgender and non-binary children.
In my family, we went from a child that we would raise to be a Black man, which already comes with its own set of challenges, to raising a Black transgender woman,” said Michaels.
All parents want to protect their children from the forces that may mistreat them, but those forces are heightened with transgender children, and even more so a Black transgender child. The rate of violence against this population is so very high. Having a resource like this one to learn from would have had great benefits, including on how to navigate those concerns while talking about our experiences with others."
For Michaels, whose daughter relayed her identity to her parents at a very young age, at “two, three years old,” and for many other Black parents of trans and non-binary children, “A Resource For Black Families” provides support by looking at the racial biases and discrimination families experience while supporting their Black trans and gender non-conforming children.
What the resource also does, and arguably its most important effort, is reframe the narrative and center it on supportive families that advocate for their Black trans and non-binary children, contrary to mainstream media and reports.
“Public narrative often allows for misinterpretation, misinformation and misunderstanding of LGBTQ+ topics, including the false narrative that Black parents do not ‘allow’ their children to be trans or gender non-conforming. For Black parents of LGBTQ+ children, this can complicate their parenting decisions, especially as they relate to raising trans and non-binary children,” said Ellen Kahn, senior director of programs and partnerships at HRC Foundation.
“Through this resource, we’re aiming to reconstruct the way that we interpret the experiences of Black LGBTQ+ families and focus on positive outcomes for Black trans kids, which are plenty. Black queer culture has always been part of Black culture. This resource helps us to elevate this truth so that Black parents know that there is a rich history and a strong community to help their children thrive and live authentically. That’s such an important message for all parents, not just Black parents, to acknowledge.”
Community helps foster visibility, something that is essential to the well being of both Black parents and Black LGBTQ+ children.
“Parents clearly express that their lived experiences, which are rarely depicted in mainstream media or supportive policies, must be recognized,” said Heyward-Rotimi. “Equitable representation and resources must be one of the solutions to limited visibility. It was important to capture Black parents and their children’s lived experiences with systemic racism, discrimination against sexual orientation, and anti-transgender actions. The joy and accomplishments within the Black LGBTQI+ communities are also celebrated. The resource narrative is written in recognition of parents who refuse to allow any systems of discrimination to deter their support of their child. And in gratitude to their children that advocate for the right to be treated as multidimensional human beings and not harmful stereotypes.”
Heyward-Rotimi said that through research, focus groups and interviews, she was able to draw topics for sources like videos, reports, advocacy organizations and books. Categories from these sources were then created, categories such as parent advocacy medical and mental health care of Black transgender and non-binary youth, faith, and Black LGBTQI+ figures through time. As time passes, one of the goals of the resource is for it to be an “evolving and interactive resource.”
“My hope is that Black parents adopt this resource as their own and suggest other sources for the resource,” said Heyward-Rotimi. “It would be wonderful for the resource to encourage Black parents to continue to partner with HRC to support efforts to create a more responsive and equitable world for their children.”
“A Resource For Black Families” also helps Black parents better understand and advocate for their children’s mental and physical health, especially as trans and non-binary children continue to experience legislative attacks on their very own well-being. In 2022, 42 state bills were introduced attempting to ban access to gender-affirming care. So far this year, _____ similar bills have been introduced. Such bills have a greater impact far beyond state politics. They can also help stoke discrimination and hate.
“My most immediate concern for how my child was going to encounter the world was primarily around their safety,” said Stephen Chukumba, another member of HRC Foundation’s PTEC who is raising a Black trans child. “Not necessarily just from physical harm, but from the various interactions they would have - with schools, employers, medical professionals - who would need to acknowledge my child as they saw themselves, and not by their gender assignment at birth. Compound their gender identity, with their Blackness, and therein lay a recipe for them to be further marginalized, specifically because of the intersection of gender identity and race.
“Trans people have been under increasing attack in this country,” said Chukumba. “My mind immediately went to whether my child was going to be physically safe. As a Black man in this country, I also realized the intersectional issue regarding his safety as a trans man, as both Black and trans people are often treated with excessive and often fatal violence. I also worried about his mental health because of the way society has demonized trans and non-binary people.”
For Chukumba, his son’s emotional and spiritual safety was also a concern.
“I was also concerned about whether or not, as a cisgender man, I could provide the emotional support my child would need navigating the world as a Black transgender man when I didn’t have the experiential background to relate to the life issues and challenges he would face,” said Chukumba. “Where would I find the resources or networks to ensure that his emotional and spiritual needs were being met?”
This concern, Chukumka says, is one that “A Resource For Black Families” and similar resources can help ease for Black parents like himself.
“This resource is invaluable to helping to improve the lives experiences of Black LGBTQ+ families because it provides answers to some of the most basic and pressing issues that these families face,” said Chukumba. “From something as simple as a dictionary or glossary of terms, to more nuanced needs like finding gender-affirming practitioners of color or practitioners in your state, the resource helps to remove the veil of confusion from families’ eyes, and gives them access to life-saving and life-changing information.”
Ultimately, the resource also serves an even greater and impactful purpose: to bring Black LGBTQ+ families together, in part through the work that PTEC accomplishes.
“One of the best things that ever happened to me was being linked to other Black families whose children were going through the same things that my son was experiencing,” said Chukumba. “This is what makes this resource so powerful and invaluable. It helps to connect people together, who otherwise feel like they are isolated or alone. It puts necessary information and resources within reach.”
Michaels agrees and says that the resource can also be “handed off to people that want to be supportive but don’t know how to be.” This, according to Michaels, is also incredibly resourceful in helping others understand that transgender and non-binary people aren’t new identities, which is misinformation often permeated by mainstream media.
“This is also a powerful resource for people who want to understand the language and the concepts. It helps us as people to learn that gender minorities aren’t a fad as is promoted in popular media. They’ve existed since the beginning of time. It’s helpful to talk about that somehow. To say ‘we’ve known that there are more than two genders forever.’ That fact alone can go a long way. It can be used as a tool to help people understand that trans folks are simply part of the human fabric.”
For more information, visit “A Resource for Black Families, Family Members, and Caregivers of Black Transgender, Non Binary, and LGB Youth.”