As Black History Month ends, one organization continues to make sure the accomplishments of Black transgender Americans aren't forgotten throughout the year. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute aims at uplifting Black trans voices as the LGBTQ+ community marches toward full acceptance, equality, and safety.
To protect and defend Black trans people's rights, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute organizes, advocates, creates communities to heal, develops transformative leadership, and promotes collective power, the group's mission statement declares.
"We have seen great opportunity through the social and art and cultural landscape," Elle Moxley, the executive director and founder of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, tells The Advocate. "However, politically, we have not necessarily seen the same advancements."
She explains that as Black transgender people, seeing representation in media by women such as Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez has been life-changing and affirming.
"For Black transgender people, it is a beautiful time because Black transgender people have an opportunity to see more of ourselves in the world," she says. "However, I'd be remiss without talking about the success of transgender people in politics, most notably Miss Andrea Jenkins and Minneapolis, who is the first black transgender city council president."
In 2017, Jenkins became the first out transgender African American elected to office in the United States.
Moxley says that expanding transgender rights and increased visibility for transgender people in American society has resulted in a backlash. She says continuing the fight to humanize transgender people, particularly Black trans women, is paramount.
"And so we are in the fight of our lives, but that is not just Black, transgender people, that is anyone who has been marginalized throughout civilization's timeline," Moxley explains.
Black trans women have been disproportionately targeted for violence and are frequently the victims of murder.
"Originally when I started the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, there was murder after murder after murder of Black trans women, and there was a movement that started celebrating that at least we know their names, " Moxly says. "There's so much beauty in honoring a life and knowing the name of someone whose life has tragically been taken or they've perished in other ways. But it became very clear to me that we needed to find other solutions outside of just being able to report on murders."
She says that to stop these murders from happening, her organization intentionally goes to great lengths not to pay lip service. From marching in the streets to community engagement and financial stipends, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute positioned itself as a resource.
MPJI created an artist fellowship program that empowers Black transgender creatives and provides resources to ease the burden of transphobia experienced in artistic spaces.
"Our community said that we wanna feel good. We want to be alive, and we wanna have joy despite what we know is happening to our brothers, sisters, and siblings, " Moxley says.
Ultimately, despite the challenges and palpable danger in the current political climate, Moxley is keeping matters in perspective.
"There is great power and trans and queer people being able to see themselves and being able to see each other, and so we're living in a powerful time," she says.
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