Last night, Transperience.TV debuted a new program “sisTers” which explores the experiences of trans women of color. The show is produced in partnership with “sisTers United” a Pittsburgh based project building supports for trans youth of color and other disadvantaged groups within the LGBTQ community.
In this inaugural episode, host Ciora LeGrand takes viewers to the streets to meet young women on “The Stroll” – a portion of Liberty Avenue and Stanwix Street that is frequented by young trans women making a living as sex workers. Prior to this show, I had this vague understanding of Liberty Avenue and sex work but no idea that it had a name, a title beyond Liberty Avenue. And I was not really prepared for what the young women interviewed in this segment had to say. (I’m doing some research into history of the stroll as a term.)
During one of the most profound segments in this show, Ciora is standing in front of the gates where she used to sleep when she was a young sex worker living and surviving on The Stroll. The gates are now the home of Toonseum which this very week is coming to work with youth at the GLCC. I shared the episode with Joe Wos of Toonseum and I think he was pretty shocked even though he, too, knows in a general sense what is happening to our youth.
And that’s Ciora’s point – these kids end up on The Stroll primarily because they are kicked out of their homes for being trans. They stay there because there are many, many adults willing to exploit them for sex and keep them accessible with a supply of drugs and handouts. They have nowhere to go. I’ve tried all week to identify a single agency or organization providing outreach to these young women and can’t find a single one – because there is no funding to do street outreach. But but but – if they weren’t kicked out of their homes in the first place, we wouldn’t be scrambling to develop an outreach program. It takes a long time for an outreach program – even one that’s fully funded – to build the trust necessary to help people, one by one.
Perhaps if people they trusted naturally – family and friends and adults in the neighborhood – were more proactive in supporting them and connecting them with existing services designed for youth (and their families), we wouldn’t have to design so many programs to rescue or save them. Not perhaps, definitely. Definitely, they deserve that trust to support them as they grow into their true selves. That’s a goal everyone can tackle – by taking an honest look in your own heart (and your family) at how transphobia, homophobia and racism manifest themselves. And doing something to push back.
Items from Cathy’s Closet at the GLCC are available to all of these young women and the volunteers at the organization are supporting sisTers United as they develop outreach services. It can’t be solved overnight. But it definitely cannot be solved without you understanding the real lives and experiences of these young women. It is important that you understand – there is no where for them to go. There are not enough programs or funding or services and there’s certainly not enough room in the jails and prisons. There’s not enough training, not enough housing options, not enough recovery programs, not enough jobs and not enough options. That won’t change unless you take some action.
I’m going down to the Cultural District tomorrow night to celebrate my 11th anniversary with Ledcat. I’m going to look around with fresh eyes and an open mind. Then I’m going to volunteer with sisTers United. Because there are also not enough people who give a damn.
I don’t know China personally (I hope I spelled her name correctly), but I really respect her for speaking some hard truth on camera and for making an effort to support young women.
Follow sisTers United on Facebook to learn more.