What a wild month it’s been. We have a lot to share as we close out LGBTQIA History Month. That includes honoring a living icon who has been fighting for trans rights for over 50 years, sharing an opportunity to help save a sacred space in D.C., and celebrating the lives and mourning the passing of our kinfolk, among other things. But before we jump in, here are some things that pissed us off and broke our hearts. As always, thank you for reading.
First, what pissed us off is the boringly predictable army of the cis-het-patriarchy as they defended their brother Dave Chappelle and his fumbling, transphobic Netflix tirade, while Netflix itself refused to take any accountability and gaslit the trans community. For a poignant take on the rotten roots of patriarchy that have created the conditions for Chappelle’s success, check out this IG thread by writer, thinker, and organizer Raquel Willis.
What broke our hearts (and pissed us off) is how Texas banned trans kids from playing sports, which is unfortunately on brand for the Lone Star state, which is also forcing people to carry unwanted pregnancies to term by banning abortions after six weeks. Many people don’t even know they’re pregnant at that time. When it comes down to it, all of us love someone who has had an abortion. If you can, support the National Network of Abortion Funds, which advocates for all people—including TGNCI people—to make the best reproductive decisions for themselves and their families. And be sure to give to your local abortion fund.
All month long, we have been celebrating the Black TGNCI and queer elders and ancestors who have made the world better, not just for other Black TGNCI and queer people, but for us all.
We owe so much of our growth to those who came before us.
Our Black queer and TGNCI elders fought police, protected each other at all costs, created safe spaces, documented their own stories, championed feminism and intersectionality, started families, made art, and paved the way for who we are today. Without our Black queer and TGNCI elders, we might not have access to many of our basic dignities and rights we have today, such as not being arrested or beaten by police for being queer, or raided or harassed while hanging with our community. In some states, we can marry who we love, and overall we get to come out of the shadows and see ourselves reflected more and more in society. By building power and visibility for the gender-justice revolution, our predecessors made it possible for us to live into and expand our identities.
Black TGNCI queer ancestors are often unsung heroes who died poor and never received their flowers while they were here, despite deserving our acknowledgment and gratitude.
This month and always, we give gratitude for their fight, resilience, commitment to finding joy, and dedication to being creative and sharing their magic with the world.
Speaking of giving folks their flowers while they are here, we want to uplift and show love to a Black transgender activist and elder who has been dedicated to transgender rights and the liberation of all Black folks for more than five decades.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, known by many simply as Miss Major, is a living icon. A non-binary transgender activsist, a former sex worker, a formerly incarcerated anti-prison advocate, a survivor from the Stonewall riots, and as quoted by Janet Mock, “the mother we all deserve.”
For the last 50 years, Miss Major has been a tender yet fierce activist in the Black TGNCI community and continues to share the stories of our NYC queer kin who endured so much.
This month, we are excited to uplift an amazing project, Mobile Homecoming, founded by Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Sangodare Akinwale. Alexis is a queer Black troublemaker, a Black feminist love evangelist, and a prayer poet priestess with a PhD from Duke University in English, African and African American Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Sangodare is a multimedia artist, filmmaker, musician, composer, theologian, and founder of Queer Renaissance, a multimedia movement based on the premise that we can create the world anew.
The mission of Mobile Homecoming is “to amplify generations of Black LGBTQ brilliance.” For the past decade, they have been traveling the country creating space, provding support, and documenting the stories and legacies of our Black queer and TGNCI elders. Their vision is to “imagine a world where elders and ancestors are honored for their brilliance, bravery and survival; where every community member has what they need to thrive and do their passionate work within the community.”
We asked the founders of Mobile Homecoming to share even more about their work, and here is what they had to say:
Times are changing, and the Black queer and TGNCI movement is leading the way. What feels like the most important aspect of your work, and why? What do you feel is your place in the movement toward Black folks’ liberation?
Sangodare: We create spaces and opportunities for people to practice liberation. Right now, that looks like building TGNCI spiritual leadership and wellness resources at our retreat center. In large part, what I mean by spiritual leadership is the ability to facilitate expansion in non-linear (e.g., decolonial, metaphysical, energetic, collaborative) ways.
The practice is both toward our liberation and the actual activation of our liberation (from within and moving outward in community) in more and more moments. By creating accessible moments of liberation, small collaborations, and new stories of possibility, we make more space for that which we declare we want to experience. We declare that we can experience it.
Because of the work we have done, our intense study, and building deep relationships with LGBTQ and TGNCI elders across the country, we have answered the number-one request, which is space for us to be together. We activate our retreat center where the types of practice I am describing can take place across age and remove some of the patterns of our everyday lives.
You two have been dedicated to this project for a long time. What first inspired you to do Mobile Homecoming? And what keeps you going?
Alexis: Back in 2009, a women’s conference hired Sangodare to document their event. We went to the event, and we were some of the youngest people there. Over the course of the weekend, we discovered this particular conference wasn’t just for any women. Most of the people there were Black lesbian elders. We felt so much love and synergy with the elders we met that we felt called to get on the road and listen and build family with more Black LGBTQ elders around the U.S. It was a game-changer for me because I realized that beyond the archival research I do as a scholar, there is what we now call the experiential archive: the wisdom we pass on and share by being together.
What keeps us going is the love, of course! Living on an intergenerational scale activates a whole different level of bravery, clarity, and purpose for us, and we love to be with our people! Our continued desire to see our folks (especially since the isolation of the pandemic) fuels us to keep creating structures of togetherness.
What has been the response to your work from the elder community over the years?
Sangodare: Gratitude. Love. Stories. Donations of their cherished items, libraries, and archives.
They express that they have more hope and see greater possibility. They feel like they have family, legacy, and a lasting and deep impact they hadn’t experienced or expected before. And this is not just from us but through some of the spaces and connections that we have facilitated, as well.
Alexis: They have also given us really good relationship advice. 🙂 Without the collaboration of Black elders, we would not have access to stewarding the new Soul Sanctuary space that we are activating right now. It feels like our elders have seen themselves as partners in this work immediately, and that’s as it should be. They have ownership of it, and they understand the urgency even better than we do.
Someone reading this today may have a desire to connect with the older or younger generation, but may not know how. What advice can you give them?
Alexis: It’s true. So much of social life seems to take place within a generation. But it wasn’t always that way, and it doesn’t have to be. We take our lead from the people who have worked to make movement spaces accessible to parents and children. It requires asking and thinking about what another age group values. When we started Mobile Homecoming, we wanted to make ourselves super available to connect, so we literally got an RV so we could travel to where people lived and camp out in their driveways, yards, offices, the street in front of the house, the senior center, wherever they were. We were like, “You don’t even have to come out the front door. We’ll come to you.” But of course, that’s not feasible all the time. Our first step was to connect with organizations (SAGE, ZAMI NOBLA, Lesbian Herstory Archives) that we knew were led by and serving elders in our communities. So my advice would be: Go where the folks are, and listen and learn.
You all just reached a huge milestone! Can you talk about the Healing and Living Library, and how folks can support it?
Alexis: Yes!!!!!!! We are so excited that our twin dreams of creating a retreat center embraced by trees and a downtown reading room for our ongoing archive and Black feminist library (a block away from Durham’s new LGBTQ center) is happening now!!!! I am literally writing this next to a moving truck. We’ll have more photos soon, but this is the page of our website that describes the Soul Sanctuary project, which is happening on 11 acres of land reclaimed from one of the largest former plantations in the United States. And we would very much appreciate donations as we get started and sustain the vision. Folks can donate one time or sustain the project here: https://www.mobilehomecoming.org/donate
Sangodare: We imagine a community centered around a living library in the spirit of the ancient libraries where people traveled to study and practice with wisdom keepers. So the library has books and materials in the Black feminist, LGBTQ, and BIPOC legacies we walk in, but it also has the elders themselves, their legacy bearers, and the caregivers. The Mobile Homecoming Trust exists to sustain the lives and legacies of that trifecta of community into perpetuity.
The healing work is focused on the practices that support our wellness on every level: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. What if there was a place BIPOC LGBTQIA folks could come where we are supported to practice shift, liberation, and possibility?
For example, I have heard countless testimonies from people across age who struggle with a physical ailment and physical pain who have been advised by a healthcare professional (allopathic, holistic, and otherwise) to make some particular addition and/or subtraction to the meals they eat or the physical activity they get. And I have witnessed the differences when people have access to those shifts and when they don’t. It is a matter of not just life and death but the quality of our living and transitioning.
Mobile Homecoming and Mobile Homecoming Trust means to be a resource for this and all kinds of wellness; that is a major element in the means to our liberation. We do this through art, media, and the intergenerational practice spaces we generate together.
Casa Ruby, a longtime LGBTQIA bilingual homeless shelter, direct-service drop-in center, and community space for Black queer and TGNCI folks, is facing the unimaginiable. After being a safe space, first-response community center, and home for queer and TGNCI folks who are houseless, they were recently given a week’s notice by the D.C. government that they wouldnt be funded again. This is a vicious act.
Casa Ruby mostly serves Black and Latine trans women, who are some of our most vulnerable communities, especially when they are forced to live in the streets and constantly be at risk of physical violence and harassment. According to Ruby Corado, the founder of Casa Ruby, government cuts in funding meant that at least 50 LGBTQIA folks lost their beds in the shelter, and over 30 people lost their jobs. Taking away support that saves the lives of Black queer and TGNCI folks is directly causing harm to those who need help the most. It’s especially heinous, considering Black trans folks are positioned this way because of the divestment and inherent transphobia that thrive in all our systems and institutions. This funding being pulled is a stark reminder that we are all we’ve got!
Let’s pull together and help support this important space. If you have the means, please consider donating to Casa Ruby at the link below. If you want to learn more about how to support the lives of Black queer and TGNCI folks, text PROTECT to 90975, and we will keep you plugged in.
This month, we’ve lost more of our Black trans family, and it never gets any easier to talk about, but we must acknowledge the lives of our fallen kin. The number of Black trans folks killed at the hands of another is being reported at around 40 people. There are likely more, but due to folks being misgendered and killings going unreported, we don’t know the true number.
Two of our kin who were reported murdered this month are Royal Poetical Starz, a 26-year-old Black trans musician and masseur. She was shot more than 20 times in broad daylight. Her friends have shared that “she was an ambitious and talented singer that produced many beautiful recordings. She was a person that would go out of her way to help others when they needed it the most.” A fundraiser is happening now to support her funeral expenses.
We also tragically lost Mel Groves, a 25-year-old Black trans man from Mississippi, who was killed by a gunshot wound and died upon arrival after driving himself to the hospital. According to The Griot, Mel was a plant-soil scientist and student at Alcorn State University who was involved with The Knights & Orchids Society (TKO), a local grassroots organization that supports LGBTQIA rights and fights for gender justice in the South.
These tragic losses in our community have to stop. Help secure the lives of Black queer and trans folks every day. Start by texting PROTECT to 90975 to learn more about ensuring the safety of all Black TGNCI and queer folks.
In honor of Black LGBTQIA History Month, we are doing a throwback version of What We Are Vibin’ To.
Check out these amazing queer folks from our history.
We love Sylvester!
They were a trailblazing songstress and non-binary disco queen!
Watch their iconic video,
We can’t close this month without acknowledging our love for the “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde. Below is one of our collective favorites, “A Litany for Survival”:
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.
A conversation between two of our most iconic LGBTQIA leaders,
Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin (1971)