On the Frontlines: Serving and Advocating for my Local Black Trans Community

by Ciora Thomas

Article written by Ciora Thomas, Founder and Executive Director of SisTers PGH

As the Founder and Director of the groundbreaking organization, SisTers PGH, a BLACK and TRANS-led nonprofit organization that serves the Transgender community of Southwestern Pennsylvania, I have a front-row seat to the issues that trans people of color deal with on a daily basis. These are things that many non-trans individuals take for granted, such as access to safe, affordable housing or transportation.

Through programs like HRC’s ACTIVATE fellowship and the Trans Justice Initiative Lyft Grants, my team and I can build skills and provide the services that our local Black and Brown trans community urgently needs.

As an ACTIVATE fellow, I was among like-minded individuals who believe in a future in which Trans people are providing essential care for Trans people, so they will no longer need the nonprofit industrial complex that feeds off of their marginalization. The program also created space for us to empty our cups and realize our needs as individuals. It allowed me to really look at my leadership and evaluate what methods are working and which aren't to better serve those in need of my leadership.

A personal highlight of the program was the portion focused on elevator pitches. Engaging the support of community leaders and decision-makers is vital to the success of SisTers PGH. Being a part of a cohort of individuals who work in the transgender support space, and understanding the challenges we face, helped me to execute a pitch that best represents who we are, what we do and why it matters.

Trans and non-binary people of color face many barriers to accessing the resources they need for success. One of them is transportation, which is why I was overjoyed that SisTers PGH was chosen as a Lyft grant recipient. It was a great feeling to be able to provide much-needed rides for the trans folks we serve, especially those who find it unsafe to take public transportation. To provide that net of safety was a blessing.

Ciora Thomas

One person who was a direct beneficiary of this grant that really sticks out in my memory is a Black trans woman who had recently moved to Pittsburgh from Kenya. She only spoke French and the language barrier was causing her to have a hard time navigating our public transportation system. We were able to use the Lyfts to get her to job interviews, housing interviews, and English classes. To this day, she has benefited from all the resources we were able to connect her with and is currently living independently, employed, and still attending English classes.

While the work has been hard, stories like the one above and the relationships I have built with my ACTIVATE cohort are reminders to stop and celebrate the wins. Like when we purchased our first transitional home. This was monumental for the organization, and this is a home that'll always belong to the organization for generations to come. If we all keep working together, I hope that we will all be able to experience my version of trans joy - rest. In its finest definition. A time when we don't have to work or be activated because the joy of rest without worry is something we should all strive for. I haven't experienced this fully, but pieces thus far, and it's been liberating.

Ciora Thomas: Serving and Advocating for my Local Black Trans Community

SisTers PGH is a BLACK and TRANS-led nonprofit organization that serves the Transgender community of Southwestern Pennsylvania. They provide holistic, supportive services, including housing, rent/utility support, emergency shelter, and a drop-in center for Trans youth, adults, and seniors experiencing houselessness, domestic and sexual assault, gender-based violence, and those living with HIV.

Learn more about SisTers PGH!