It was a Monday in November 2017 in the board room at Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) that a group of trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) folks got together. The room was filled with hugs and kisses, camaraderie, and a sense of community as we ate take-out Chinese and debated our needs -- and our next steps.
"We need this!" "The community does not have access to that!" "We could use help on this!"
This is how we started most of our comments on issues like employment, housing, health care, legal assistance, immigration, education, and much more. And the questions were: How do we address so many competing priorities among us, and how do we work together to better the needs of our people?
And then we realized that we had already identified the key word: "Together!"
Let's form a coalition, we decided. Let's get a unified front -- a body of organizers and trans leaders. Let's get their agencies behind them to request the dollars necessary to fund the work that we, as community members, know our folks need.
And so the TGNC Equity Coalition of NY was born. Our mission: We are a trans-led coalition that strives to create resources to end trans-specific barriers to improve and influence community-wide policy initiatives. We work to develop public policy to create long-term and permanent social change for TGNC people across New York City.
For many of our members, this kind of planning and collaborative process was new -- and a little scary. For most of us, the City Council's offices at 250 Broadway seemed to be so far away as to be unattainable. "I have never been to the City Council before," said Tabytha Gonzalez, a founding member of the Equity Coalition, who represents the Transgender Legal Defense Education Fund (TLDEF). "And I've definitely never been there to ask for help. But I feel supported by the rest of you all. Let's do this!"
Tabytha's views reflected views throughout the coalition. We immediately began working together to plan meetings with elected officials, write letters and statements, organize rallies, and start phone-banking. We were exercising our civil rights and we were telling our City Council members about our experiences, our pain, and our struggles, and we did so with the strength that only solidarity and a sense of community can bring.
We knew that our collective narrative had to resonate with our elected officials. Cristina Herrera, Founder and Executive Director of Translatina Network, underscored the importance of our narrative at one of our meetings -- and signaled how historic any sort of Council recognition would be: "The City of New York has an opportunity to stand in solidarity with our TGNC communities," she said. "The hostile political conversation and the unwavering number of hate crimes and homicides against transgender individuals nationwide put our lives in constant danger."
While some of the coalition members were optimistic, others thought that our arguments went, like they have on so many other occasions, nowhere. Resigned to either not being heard or, worse, being heard but ignored, we were ready to hear "NO" one more time. Sadly, many of us are used to that word when it comes to solutions for our struggles. More recently, as our federal government has tried to erase us by continuing to side with transphobic causes and creating damaging laws and regulations that diminish our well-being, NO has definitely become an answer we deal with far too often.
This time, however, we received a YES. The New York City Council listened! And Members took our requests seriously. They understood that the TGNC community must be protected. To do that, they committed $1.8 million for a first-of-its-kind initiative directed specifically toward services for our community.
Funding this project is one of the strongest statements the City of New York can send to the rest of the country and the world. It's a statement of solidarity and support -- the perfect complement to a set of progressive laws and protections that aim to guarantee the safety and the right to pursue happiness and prosperity like any other New Yorker.
By helping the TGNC community meet our needs, the Speaker of the City Council, Corey Johnson, along with the Finance Chair, Danny Dromm, the LGBT caucus, and the entire Council have taken a historic step that makes New York City a place where TGNC people can flourish.
And we, the TGNC Coalition and the trans community, say "thank you."
The New York City Council is redefining what true allies are and how they act by creating tangible solutions for one of the city's most underserved communities. These Members embody what New York City is about: inclusion, solidarity, and love.
So, Happy Pride, New York City! Amid so much other uncertainty right now, this is reason to celebrate -- and to be hopeful.
Cecilia Gentili is managing director of public affairs and policy, Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC).
[Note from TheBody: This article was originally released by GMHC on June 18, 2018. We have published it with their permission.]