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Black trans femme artists leading the charge for inclusion and hope

Black trans femme artist Jordyn Jay
footage still via Advocate Channel

In the face of escalating anti-trans legislation and social hostility, the transformative work of Black trans femme artists offers a beacon of hope and a bold vision for a more inclusive and compassionate future.

Since 2021, we’ve seen a dramatic rollback of trans rights across the United States. Driven by an intentional far-right and Republican party-aligned misinformation campaign that has inspired political action and violence, it makes clear its purpose: to deny trans people the ability to live safely and freely.

This assault on rights is more than about laws, rules, and administrative actions. It attacks the idea that we all belong and should have space. That’s why we need the artistic boldness to push beyond boundaries and imagine a future of possibility for everyone. These qualities are at the heart of hundreds of Black trans femme artists who shatter limitations through their existence and powerful work. That’s why we need the hope and inspiration they bring now more than ever, especially given recent history.

For the last four consecutive years, the number of anti-trans bills considered and passed has broken records.

In 2023, more than three times the number of anti-trans bills were introduced and passed. These bills ranged from allowing teachers to intentionally misgender students and force trans students out to their parents to banning transgender students from participating in sports leagues consistent with their gender identity to denying gender-affirming medical care to trans youth and adults. Sadly, the scope of these bills is becoming more aggressive.

Towards the end of last year, at least four states introduced proposals that would prohibit people as old as 26 from receiving hormone therapies or gender-affirming surgeries. Florida changed state policy to effectively block trans-Floridians from obtaining a driver’s license that reflected their gender identity. States like Missouri, West Virginia, and Georgia have moved forward with proposals that would criminalize the act of simply being trans near a minor or a school.

It’s hard to ignore the reality: these bills are aimed at eliminating trans people from public spaces. This relentless attack on trans rights is working, too.

Earlier this month, two new reports revealed how right-wing attacks against the LGBTQ+ community are working to shift public opinion on support for not only transgender issues but rights for our entire community, ranging from queer-inclusive curriculum and literature to same-sex marriage while simultaneously driving a rise in homophobic and transphobic violence in schools.

According to a survey of more than 22,000 U.S. adults conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), support for same-sex marriage dipped to 67% in 2023 from a record high of 69% the year before. The study also found more than three-quarters of those surveyed (76%) favored laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation, a decline from a record high of 80% in 2022.

At the same time, The Washington Post reported that “...In states with restrictive laws, the number of hate crimes on K-12 campuses has more than quadrupled since the onset of a divisive culture war that has often centered on the rights of LGBTQ+ youth.”

The scale and scope of these audacious attacks are why now is the time to tell trans stories, celebrating the storytellers and artists who do just that. Black trans women and femme artists, like Marsha P. Johnson, have historically been the first to stand up for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. While also disproportionately facing the most anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Black violence, these artists have continued to lead in helping us dream of an alternative positive future.

Last year, TransLash Media began Artistic Legacies, a documentary project featuring the power of the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts(BTFA) Collective and how its more than 200 members use artistic expression to change themselves and the world around them. By doing so, they bring hope to the most marginalized during unprecedented violence and political attack.

But in doing so, they show how to create a brighter tomorrow by using what is already inside each of us: the power of our story and the force of our light.

Enjoy Artistic Legacies now through Sunday on Advocate Channel!

Jordyn Jay, Executive Director of BTFA, created the organization in 2020 to offer grants to Black Trans femme artists and has programmed with nationally recognized artists. She acknowledges that while “... it would be great to just give Black Trans people the same opportunities that you’re giving other people, also understanding that Black Trans people don’t have housing background, people don’t have health care, Black Trans people are missing a lot of resources that it takes to be an artist and be able to create in a sustainable way.”

At the inaugural BTFA fundraising gala at the Brooklyn Museum last year, Jay explained, “It’s not our trauma. It’s not our pain. It’s hope. Before I started (BTFA), I would see stories of our sisters being murdered and I would hear numbers like 35. That was the life expectancy for Black Trans femmes. And I would wake up every morning with that number in my head. And I thought that was it for me. I thought that was all I could accomplish was 35. But now, I have a family and I have a community and I have a reason to keep going.”

Jordyn is not alone. Artistic Legacies lifts up the story of Kamiyah Prescott, a ballroom legend who used art to grow from the repressive rules of a highly religious household and find freedom through expression. Iman Hill centers community in her powerful story of growth, starting in Atlanta and leading to the stages of New York City as a musician and songwriter. As she owned everything she was, Iman’s artistry flourished and changed.

The essential question is why doesn’t the wider world listen to what they teach and embody, especially when their lives show us how to overcome the worst of human nature.

At this pivotal moment in LGBTQ+ history, it is a question that everyone should be asking.

Imara Jones is the creator of TransLash Media, a platform dedicated to telling trans stories to uplift, empower, and save trans lives. Like and follow Imara on Instagram at @imara_jones_.

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