We have to be more mindful when walking home by ourselves, we have to have extra protection and make sure to be with someone in case something happens, we had to block my bedroom window because the neighbor was staring into my room, we had to put a plan in place so if there was a problem we would go to a neighbor’s house to be safe, we had to install security cameras.
Earlier this month, we published a Q&A with Sean O’Donnell of Observatory Hill on Pittsburgh’s Northside about the impact of harassment from a neighbor on his family. You can read that interview here. Two of his children wanted to share their own perspectives as they have also absorbed the impact of this behavior. In particular, 15-year-old Ke’Juan was the person most directly targeted by the most recent actions of the neighbor.
So we asked Ke’Juan to tell us about her life, her family, her hopes and dreams, as well the impact of this harassment. Ke’Juan also stood up in court to offer testimony and is committed to continuing to speak up for herself, her family, and all trans and LGBTQ kids. You can also read a Q&A with her older brother, Chris.
You can read an excellent story about the situation and the recent court hearing over at the Pgh City Paper.
Your Name: Ke’Juan Hall
Your Pronouns: she/her
Your Age: 15
How do you describe your identity? I identify as a proud transgender black girl
Tell us about the first LGBTQ+ person that you met and what impact they had on your life. The first person I met was a trans person. I saw them expressing themselves. I saw them on the sidewalk when I was very young walking down the street. They looked happy and they seemed comfortable in their skin the way I was not back then. So, overtime I felt like inside I was a girl and I started expressing myself in that manner ever since.
Tell us about your family. What sorts of things do you do together? What would a typical day look like in your household? My family consists of two dads, three brothers and three dogs. We typically go on outings like the movies, Kennywood, restaurants, etc and once or twice a year we go on vacation, usually to Puerto Rico. When we are busy, we wake up early, eat breakfast, take out the dogs and get to work or camp. On the weekends we deep clean the house and chill for the rest of the day.
What sorts of activities and interests do you and your siblings have? What makes you smile? I play video games and so do my brothers. We are a gaming family, but whenever I’m not gaming I am an actress. I love acting and I am in a theater group called Alumni Theater Company. Alumni Theater is a company that produces shows with black youth to tell stories facing black youth, while also enhancing their professionalism and acting skills.
It’s a very different world for trans black girls.
How involved are you individually and your family in general involved with the local LGBTQ community? Whenever it is Pride month we go to the Pride parades and activities. I play online gaming with other trans people or LGBTQ people. I have several friends at school who are part of the LGBTQ community.
For the past several years, a neighbor has been harassing and attempting to bully your family. What sorts of things have they done? Have they targeted everyone or just some of you? Our neighbor has put up signs in her backyard facing into our backyard, saying transphobic and homophobic things. They have put up dozens of anti-trans social media posts, including posts that accuse my two dads of kidnapping us and forcing me to be trans, none of which is true.
Tell us about the impact this conduct has had on your lives and the life of your whole family. We have to be more mindful when walking home by ourselves, we have to have extra protection and make sure to be with someone in case something happens, we had to block my bedroom window because the neighbor was staring into my room, we had to put a plan in place so if there was a problem we would go to a neighbor’s house to be safe, we had to install security cameras.
How did your parents respond to this neighbor’s behavior? They were very upset and called the police went to court to get a no contact order.
Your family previously had a no-contact order that expired. What difference did that order have on your day to day lives? We could live freely. The neighbor moved away for a little while to their second property and we could live normal lives without being watched and harassed.
Do you feel safe in your home? What makes you feel safer? Yes and no. I do feel safe because I know that if anything happens my community will back me up. I know that we have plans in place in case anything happens. I know my parents will protect me. But I also worry because of everything the neighbor has done.
Tell us about your other neighbors. All of my experiences with our other neighbors have been very nice. They are kind and caring. Our one neighbor gives me magazines about African American culture every month. They are just so empathetic.
You both attended a magistrate hearing with your parents. Why was it important for you to be there? Was the experience of being present and speaking to the magistrate helpful for you? It was important to be there to show that trans kids have a voice and that we will not be silenced. It was very helpful to speak because it showed our perspective on what happened and gave people a day-to-day view of my life.
You both also spoke to the media along with your parents. What did you think of the media coverage of the entire situation? I thought it was very crucial to speak to the media so kids all around the city who are trans can see that someone has their back and that we have a voice.
Where could the systems involved here – the police, the courts, the City, private organizations, etc – done better? I don’t really know what could have been done better from what I saw. The city organization and the community were great and we have received outstanding support from almost everyone.
What sorts of microaggressions do you experience in your day-to-day life that other people might not notice? People who don’t like trans people will misgender me on purpose. I have been called “it” and a “tranny” by classmates. They try and bring me down but I just keep on doing me.
What scares you about this and similar situations? How quickly people will take sides and how one minute you feel finally accepted in society then the next you are reminded that there is still work to be done.
What gives your strength and hope? Do you know of other youth and families in similar situations? Are these realities something you hear about at school or community activities? I am good at reading people’s emotions. I can put myself in other people’s shoes. I am someone you can count on to be there for you when you need a friend to have your back or when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Ideally, what would support from the community look like to you? People putting up signs in the neighborhood supporting trans youth. Th community watching out for us and making sure we are ok. Keeping us posted on what we can do, what I can do, so the next family that goes through will have the resources and processes put in place.
There is a theory called “two Pittsburghs” that describes two side-by-side realities, one for for folx with privileges of being white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class, and ablebodied while a very different reality for folx who are BIPOC, trans, queer, disabled, neurodivergent, poor, and otherwise having less privilege. How does that resonate with your experiences? Often people take advantage of their privileges. They don’t often think about what other people may be going through in that time. People may something to me without thinking about my feelings or what I’m going through before they say it. It’s a very different world for trans black girls.
If you could create a type of community support for LGBTQIA+ youth, BIPOC youth, and others, what would it look like? What services and supports would it offer? It would involve connecting other people with people who are and are not like them to help show them that they are supported, loved, and valued. A venting spot for people who need to get whatever is on their mind off their chest and a crisis line for when people are experiencing things that may require specialized care.
How can trans and queer, BIPOC, LGBTQ, and other organizations connect with young people in your generation? They can listen to us and ask us to be part of the discussion. We can give them insight by answering questions that people may not understand. We can help educate people.
It was very crucial to speak to the media so kids all around the city who are trans can see that someone has their back and that we have a voice.
How can people reading this Q&A take action, big and small, to support your family and others? They can donate to local trans orgaziations or other LGBTQIA+ groups that help people. And those groups can use those funds to assist other queer youth and families in similar situations.
How has the response of your OTHER neighbors changed your view on your neighborhood and community? Do you plan to engage those neighbors in the future? I plan to personally thank everyone for supporting me and I will say it here first: Thank you everyone for the massive support. It is much appreciated and it matters.
People often say that voting is essential to create the change necessary to stop some of this behavior. Most of your siblings are not old enough to vote, yet. What would you say to eligible voters who aren’t committed to turning out in November for the next election? Pick the candidate you feel matches your values, who represents who you are. My Dad always says, “Don’t vote against your own best interests.”
What are your plans for your futures? Careers, education, activities, family, etc. I either want to become an actress or a lawyer or maybe president because then I could make the country a better place for everyone.
Do you have a message for other BIPOC trans and queer youth in Pittsburgh? Be who you are and love yourself.
Is there anything else you’d like to say? To all the trans people out there, you have a voice and I’m here to listen. Keep being you and don’t let anyone else bring you down. Just keep on shining
Thank you, Ke’Juan.
At the request of Ke’Juan, Pittsburgh LGBQ Charities partnered with Commonwealth Press to create a yard sign reading ‘Protect Trans Kids’ for distribution in the region. We are starting with the Northside and moving outward. You can request a sign using this link bit.ly/ProtectTransKidsSigns.
Please keep an eye on the local media for coverage of the O’Donnell-Collar family experiences as they stand up with their children to resist.
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