A guide to sup­port­ing Black trans artists and orga­ni­za­tions in Philly and beyond

6 minute read

Black Lives Matter. That much is obvious. However, there need to be more inclusive conversations around that statement. Black Trans Lives Matter, too, and it’s important that we elevate and listen to those voices.

Last year, two trans women of color, Michelle ‘Tamika’ Wallace and Alicia Simmons, were murdered in Philadelphia. There were more than 20 killings of transgender people in the US in 2019, and most of them were Black trans women.

We aren’t shouting out their names enough. We aren’t shouting out Tony McDade. We cannot continue to marginalize our own people. This week, I’ve curated a list of local Black trans/gender-nonconforming/nonbinary artists and organizations that you can support, as well as some literature, podcasts, and a film to start or further your own education.

These are just a few names. Here’s a spreadsheet on more Black (and Brown) queer and trans folks who need support—it was initiated in response to COVID-19 back in March but has been updated as recently as late May. Additionally, I’d like to keep growing this list—please see my editor’s note below about how to contribute.

Philly-based/-bred artists

Shanel Edwards

Edwards is a first-generation Jamaican Black queer non-binary dancer, photographer, director, and poet. They’ve received grants from the Leeway Foundation, the Bartol Foundation, and have been a Winter Tangerine Fellow and a Pink Door Fellow. Find out more about their work online, and consider supporting them today by picking up some of their art for sale.

Icon Ebony Fierce

Icon—it’s in their name, and rightfully so. The Philly-based performer does it all. From drag, to burlesque to performance art, Icon Ebony Fierce has left their imprint on many venues, events, and performances throughout the Philadelphia area. Check out their weekly stream, Ebony’s Confessions on Facebook on Tuesday nights, and follow them on Instagram.

Sa’Mantha SayTen

Known for their occult witch aesthetic and advocacy for inclusion, Sa’Mantha SayTen is a photographer, writer, academic, and performer. See more of what they’re about on their website and tune into their YouTube channel for “makeup, drag, and everything queer.”

Wit López
López is a Brooklyn-bred, Philly-based disabled gender nonconforming/nonbinary trans mixed-media creator, performer, and curator serving as an instrumental voice for the QTPOC community in the city. Their work implements Africana studies, accessibility, queerness, gender identity, Blackness, Latinidad, and more, often with a twist of humor. They’re the founder of Till Arts Project, a safe space committed to providing resources for LGBTQ+ artists and creators. Learn more about the versatile López online.

Local organizations to support

GLSEN Philly

This national organization was founded by a group of teachers in 1990, and the Philadelphia chapter (officially accredited in 2018) has been working to ensure safe schools for students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Consider giving them your support, and see what they can do for your school, students, and educational events.

ArtLOVE

A Philly artistic collective advocating for and curating inclusive safe spaces for all forms of performing arts. Give them a follow on Instagram and Twitter.

William Way LGBT Community Center

You’ve seen William Way and its offerings quite a bit in BSR, and the organization is one of the more well-known names in the community. But let’s assume not everyone is in the know and wants to learn and support. The center has long been an advocate and a supporter of the LGBTQ community through service and recreational, educational, and cultural programming. You can discover more here, and consider donating or volunteering.

Literature to read
An assortment of fiction and nonfiction by trans/gender non-conforming/nonbinary authors centering such voices. Consider picking these up from a local Black-owned bookshop like Harriett’s Book Shop or Uncle Bobbie’s.

Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility

A collection of essays, conversations, and archival investigations around the trans experience. Topics include performativity, activism, police brutality, and the social ramifications of trans representation within contemporary culture.

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity

Not all history is written, and much of it has been erased. Black on Both Sides serves as a first step into the history of Black trans people in America. The book draws from early sexological texts, narratives of people fleeing slavery, Afro-modernist literature, and more.

When Aidan Became a Brother

Education has to come earlier. The children’s book When Aidan Became a Brother, by Kyle Lukoff and Kaylani Juanita, tells the story of Aidan, someone everyone thought was a girl when he was born. After realizing he was a trans boy, and with a new sibling coming, Aidan and his parents come to understand how to fix mistakes, how better to communicate, and “how to love with his whole self.”

The T Is Not Silent

A collection of poems by Andrea Jenkins, the first Black and openly transgender woman to be elected into public office in the US (she serves on the Minneapolis City Council).

Freshwater

This novel by Akwaeke Emezi tells the story of a Nigerian girl named Ada, who has separate selves as a result of “being born with one foot on the other side.” The coming-of-age tale follows Ada as she moves to America for college and constructs her identity.

Podcasts to listen to

Marsha’s Plate

Three friends come together every week to share opinions and perspectives that center the Black experience. Topics include gender, politics, and current events. It’s available on Stitcher and SoundCloud, and you can find out more about it online.

Black, Trans, & Beautiful

A podcast from the transwoman of color perspective. There are over three years’ worth of episodes, many of which are evergreen and relevant conversations.

Stream of the Week: Happy Birthday, Marsha!

Happy Birthday, Marsha! is a film about iconic transgender artist and activist, Marsha "Pay it No Mind" Johnson and her life in the hours before she ignited the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. The film comes from Sasha Wortzel and Black trans woman Tourmaline, and both serve as writer, director, and producer. It’s available on Amazon (and also on DVD with captions and audio descriptions via the website), and is perhaps an alternative to the controversial Netflix biopic.

Editor’s Note: I’d like to keep this list open, so if there is a name or an organization that you think needs to be included here, please contact me! BSR strives for inclusivity and representation, and as we continue to elevate marginalized voices, I’d love to see more trans and gender non-conforming/non-binary folks pitching and contributing to us as well.

Allyship is a practice.

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