June 22, 2011
Tracy at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in 2010.
When Tracy Bumpus died Friday, the Housing Works family lost a fiery former employee, a warrior for transgender rights, and a woman willing to make personal sacrifice in the name of social justice.
"She believed in fighting," said Daneisha McCoy, Bumpus' roommate and close friend. "And that's what I admired about her. She didn't take any mess."
Bumpus, who turned 45 this month, was known for one fight in particular.
After she was the subject of, among other things, a virulently transphobic tirade from a transit authority employee, she sued the NYCTA. As a result of her lawsuit, the transit authority amended its policies and procedures to include gender sensitivity provisions. Important precedents were also set, most notably a ruling that the NYCTA's 40,000 employees are not exempt from the New York City Human Rights law, including its provisions prohibiting gender identity discrimination.
"Tracy had the courage to challenge injustice," said Housing Works Senior Staff Attorney Armen H. Merjian. "In so doing, she significantly enhanced the rights of transgender New Yorkers, for which, sadly, we still must fight."
(Cases do not end when a plaintiff dies, so the suit continues until further notice.)
Born in Oklahoma, she lost her mother at a young age, experienced homelessness and spent many years in prison. By the time she came to Housing Works in 2003, though, she was an inspiration for other transgender women, encouraging them to go to school and to stand up for their rights.
"She'd done all the things that they'd done," said Lynn Walker, who hired Bumpus as a residence manager and life skills trainer at Housing Works' Transgender Transitional Housing Program. "It was she who could speak to them about her own experience and be very combative about it, be very in their face about how they needed to shape up and get with the program."
The transit authority lawsuit was not the first time Bumpus put her name on the line to pave the way for others. According to McCoy, Bumpus had sued the Oklahoma correctional system for discrimination. She also spent years pushing New York City's Human Resources Administration to implement best practices guidelines for working with gender-nonconforming people.
When Bumpus died, she was living in California and working as a program assistant at the AIDS Project of East Bay. She was days from completing a master's degree in social policy from Empire State College. She had already signed up for a second master's program -- this time, in teaching.
She was also doing quite a bit of baking.
"She had this thing for Paula Deen, so she made her own cooking show name -- Pammy Bubbles," said McCoy. Bumpus would pull on a blue wig and blue clothes and whip up a batch of macaroni and cheese.
"Tracy was smart, very smart. She had wonderful ideas, but she never talked down to you," said McCoy. "She was so real, and she got comfortable with who she was. And that's why so many people respected her."
Please join the Housing Works family for a party in Bumpus' honor on Thurs., June 30 from 3 pm to 5 pm. Come to the East New York Adult Day Health Care Center, 2640 Pitkin Ave., Brooklyn.
Follow the Update blog on twitter @housingworks.