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Celebrating Black trans joy during and beyond Pride Month

Joelle Bayaa Uzuri Espeut Program Director Normal Anomaly Initiative
Alex W.; The Becoming Project Production, Houston

As Pride Month draws to a close, The Normal Anomaly Initiative's Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri Espeut writes that visibility and representation for Black transgender individuals must be celebrated and amplified beyond June.

Visibility is usually an afterthought when it comes to transgender lives. For Black trans women, their stories of triumphs and struggles relegated to the shadows. And because of systemic discrimination and violence, being open and visible as a Black trans woman often comes after trauma, pain, and a life rooted in mere survival. With laws and violence threatening the very livelihood of Black trans lives, visibility and representation come at the bottom of our collective priorities.

Eleven months out of the year, trans folks struggle to find platforms or roles to share their experiences in a positive light, making Pride Month's visibility both a rare opportunity and a stark reminder of our ongoing struggles.

Pride Month thrusts LGBTQIA+ lives into the spotlight. It's a time when our community is most visible, from political events and corporate campaigns to parades and festivals. It's crucial to acknowledge that visibility is not just a luxury. For Black trans women, this time to showcase our pride is a vital lifeline for celebrating our existence in the present and advocating for a brighter future for them and the broader community.

There was an absence of role models who mirrored my identity in my youth and a lack of spaces to celebrate our authenticity. I was five when I identified more with girlhood and femininity. I didn't have the vocabulary at that age to put into words what I felt, but I knew that I was "trans." Growing up, I repressed my feelings and knowledge about my true self because stereotypes dominated the media landscape surrounding my childhood. There were very few, if any, representations of trans women living openly or represented through the media that I could pull from as a role model. At best, trans women were punchlines on afternoon talk shows and derogatory jokes as part of celebrity gossip in my cultural zeitgeist.

It wasn't until 2005 when I found someone like Kaliyah, the first openly Black trans woman I met, and instantly felt a connection.

Meeting somebody with an experience so similar to my own was transformative. Kaliyah was like a window I could look through and see the space to express myself and a mirror that could reflect how I saw myself. She offered more than just visibility; she provided validation, support, and a sense of belonging. Her existence paved the way for my journey towards self-acceptance in 2005.

Pride Month is a time to commemorate the LGBTQIA+ community and should be an opportunity to celebrate trans joy. And in between the corporate sponsorships, celebrity endorsements, and events across cities and countries, it sometimes feels as a way to sugarcoat the continued marginalization in some parts of the LGBTQ+ community.

Conservatives are eroding rights as an anti-trans wave sweeps the country, ranging from bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth to bans on trans athletes participating in sports. While gender-affirming care bans are being fought across the country, five states (Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Tennessee) have upheld the ban. In addition to discrimination and violence, we also have to fight for basic safety and livelihood.

At first, my trans journey wasn't about the push for more visibility or representation. It was merely about making the choice to live as my authentic self amidst a landscape marred by discrimination. It was about the joy and liberation felt by just being, the outward actualization of how I felt on the inside. As I've continued along my journey and navigated this terrain, I've seen that visibility is not enough to safeguard our community.

I call on the community to join in on the fight for basic human rights, working to address the systemic barriers that impede our access to safety, housing, and employment. Visibility and representation for the trans community can be celebrated, but we must not forget to ensure that Black trans women deserve to grow old.

As we observe Pride Month and every day moving forward, I will work for visibility and representation for Black trans women. I will ensure trans stories are not only heard for one month but honored daily. I will continue to help normalize Black transness as a spectrum, and not a monolithic experience. I invite you to join me as we celebrate this month to remember that "living proudly" is not just about being seen.

It's about being valued, respected, and embraced for who we are every day of the year.

Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri Espeut (she/her/hers) currently serves as Program Director for The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc, and has worked with NASTAD, GLAAD, and Transgender Law Center. She currently is a Board member of the Houston LGBTQ Political Caucus, and serves on the Yale CIRA community advisory board. She has worked in community advocacy for 6 years, and includes SOGIE capacity building, margin-to-center and liberationist framework, and economic justice as her focal areas of her advocacy.

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Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri Espeut