The music room at Housing Works' East New York clinic became a high fashion dressing room last night; the cafeteria became a runway; and nine women in our Transgender Transitional Housing Program exploded down the catwalk in front of a roaring crowd.
"When it comes to putting on a show, I give people what they want," said LaShaye Simmons, a Housing Works client since 2003. "I'm out there on the floor and nothing can stop me."
The fashion and talent extravaganza was the final product of a collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art's Community Partnership Program. In the program, the museum links with organizations -- many focused on underserved communities -- to promote empowerment via art education. Since December, the women have met with the MoMA's Kerry Downey for workshops, planning the event and discussing art and the transgender experience.
"These women are really creative in their every day experience, in the way they dress, in the way they act. They don't realize that they're artists every day, and this just brings that out," said Candace Rivela, the creative arts therapist at East New York who helped coordinate the program.
Before the show, the music room became a flurry of bobby pins, fur coats and feathered false eyelashes. Curling irons steamed and the models waded through a cloud of perfume and hair spray. "Hey baby!" yelled one woman. "Zip me up sister!" called another.
When the lights went down, the women corralled themselves behind a black curtain, anxious with anticipation. They ripped down the runway, shaking hips to the rhythm of massive cheers. Simmons lypsynced, as did Deja Edwards.
"This is my family, these women are all my sisters," said Simmons after her performance, slipping out of her silver stilettos and into orange high-top Nikes. "And it's truly a blessing to be up on the stage with them."
Housing Works offers a range of services to transgender individuals, who are at significantly higher risk of contracting HIV. The Transgender Transitional Housing Program provides housing to transgender and gender-variant people living with HIV/AIDS. Since 2003, Housing Works has fought for the passage of GENDA, a New York State law that would protect transgender residents against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and credit.
Photos by Julie Turkewitz for Housing Works.