Renee Jarreau Greene, 31, a black trans woman, said she did not “come into her transness” until she was 27.
Greene said one difficult aspect of her transition was feeling excluded from her intersecting communities: the black community was not necessarily welcoming to transgender and queer people, but the LGBTQ community was not necessarily welcoming to people of color either.
“It’s tricky,” Greene said at a panel Tuesday night at the Centilia Cultural Center at El Centro de la Raza.
The community-building event, sponsored by a dozen organizations that focus on people of color and LGBTQ issues, attracted an audience mixed with transgender people, LGBTQ and allies to hear about the struggles faced by transgender people of color.
The panel was moderated by Jeremiah J. Allen, project director of TRANSform WA, which focuses on educating the public on the cultural diversity of transgender and gender-diverse people.
Greene was on the panel along Adriana Torres Gonzalez, who is a Latina transgender woman; Taffy Maene, who identifies as Fa’afafine, which is considered another gender in the Samoan culture; and Hiram Calf-looking, a Native American who identifies as Two Spirit.
“Mainstream” transgender politics often focuses on LGBTQ movements such as advocating for marriage equality and preventing attempts to put restrictive regulations on bathrooms.
But that focus often means that the specific issues that trans people of color face are ignored and that the trans community in general can overlook the issues and activism from the grassroots people of color.
Panelists said that one of the challenges they face is feeling discrimination in both the LGBTQ and POC spaces.
“[It’s] one of the hardest pieces and it comes in so many different ways,” Calf-looking said.
“Little by little I’ve been accepting myself,” Torres said. “We do face racism at times. During transition it’s also very awkward, because people look at your and try to figure out what you are.”
Calf-looking also said it was frustrating to see the same activists being called on to represent the POC-transgender community.
“I’m starting to see the same faces wherever I go,” Calf-looking said. “I don’t like being a token.”
Allen asked the panelists what were two things that they wanted allies to do.
“Give us your resources,” Greene answered.
“Share your wealth,” Maene added.
Calf-looking, Greene, Maene and Torres all said the biggest issues that transgender people of color face are lack of resources and being pushed out of jobs and public spaces.
“There is displacement for us in not just jobs, but in social spaces too,” Greene said.
Maene, who founded U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle to support transgender Pacific Islanders, said some Fa’afafine have faced discrimination from their employers over using the restrooms.
“A lot of our girls were pushed out,” Maene said. “My trans Fa’afafine sisters, we’re not allowed to use the restrooms in their workplace because their appearances don’t meet societal standards.”
Maene added: “They should pee without needing to put on lipstick.”
Greene said that gentrification in Seattle also is disproportionately affecting people of color.
“Especially within the black community, as Seattle gets wealthier, we’re losing the places we fit in,” Greene said.
Maene added that some people who have been displaced from their homes and jobs have been forced into sex work on the streets to support themselves.
The organizations that supported Tuesday’s event included Asian Counseling and Referral Service, ACLU, Pride Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, El Centro de la Raza, Seattle King County NAACP Branch, Somos Seattle and U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle.
“A lot of different organizations are invested in this event, because it gives a chance to uplift and allow transgender people of color to tell their stories,” Allen said.
According to Allen, the first of two steps to becoming an ally is to not just hear their stories but to listen, and the second step is to support the grassroots organization socially and financially.
Grassroots organizations that put a focus on the issues faced by LGBTQ people of color include Ingersoll Gender Center, U.T.O.P.I.A Seattle, NW Network, Gender Odyssey, LGBTQ Allyship, and Gender Justice League.
“We don’t have the resources we need to organize effectively,” Greene said. “There could be so much more we could do.”
Torres said that despite the struggles, the fight for equity needs to continue.
“We have to keep going and survive,” Torres said. “That’s what we do.”
Correction: A quote attributed to Jeremiah J. Allen has been changed. Allen said a question about what allies should do to help transgender people of color was misquoted as being about what white people should do to help transgender people of color.