Sunday, July 5, 2015

Letter to Equality Maryland Board

Dear Board Members of Equality Maryland,

I first want to offer my gratitude for the amazing work which has been done in the name of Fairness and Equality across the great state of Maryland over the last several years.  It is demonstration enough of what a vigilant and responsive non-profit can do with leadership and commitment.

With respect to the public statement released this past week concerning Equality Maryland’s future, I am reminded of a situation in 2011. In the aftermath of the Marriage failure in the House after passing the more challenging Senate, during which time Equality Maryland had signed on with others in partnership over the legislative plan to exclude public accommodations from the trans bill, at that moment of time, EQMD stared into a similar abyss.

When Lynn Bowman arrived to guide EQMD through its regeneration, a series ofCommunity Listening tours took place. While for some this was merely a mechanism for community members to vent at recent transpirations, others saw it as an opportunity to be engaged and have their needs articulated and considered.

So I will be frank.

The current composition of your board speaks to the lack of vision in communities which still struggle and which still have considerable unmet needs to be addressed. The work is not over for those in such communities, however, true representation from those communities do not exist on your board. When I see such constructed entities, I question if that body has the capacity to understand the areas which need championing. I recently have had conversations with community leaders in the Maryland and DC area and most are scratching their heads as to why EQMD cannot seen the many challenges which still exists and is having a difficult time pivoting towards those concerns. My response has been and will continue to be, board construction. If a community is not at the table, they most certainly are on the menu.

It has been my most distinct pleasure to have worked with Lynn Bowman, Patrick Wojahn, Carrie Evans, Owen Smith, Vanessa Bowling, Keith Thirion and the countless volunteers whose work supported the mission of EQMD. It would a tremendous loss for such a resource to disappear.  The only thing Morgan Meneses-Sheets has ever said, which I find truth in, is that sometimes organizations successfully work to establish their own demise through victory.  If they are not vigilant and responsive, they die.

So my suggestion is to remain in business. If it means a similar commitment reformation as in 2011, so be that. However, there needs to be community meetings and there most certainly needs to be real qualified leadership from transgender and gender non-conforming members of communities of color and the organization needs to remain centered in Baltimore, where the greatest needs still exist. The riots in April have demonstration the crises faced at the intersections of race and economic opportunity, now overlay gender and gender non-conformity onto that and we can see were programing is still needed for the countless unattended LGBT youth due to societal and familial rejection, trans women of color and the opening of employment opportunities to them, Latino LGBT community members and concerns of deportations and barriers with English as a Second Language preventing successful navigation in schools as well as society itself, to full and productive citizenship.

New partnerships need to be made, and older ones strengthened. Maryland still has a need for Equality and a need for Equality Maryland.

In solidarity and support of The Work,

Jennifer Fischetti
TransMaryland, founder 2007
Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality, founding steering committee member, 2011-present
Gender Identity Groups, lead facilitator, 2006-2011
Transgender Response Team, member 2011-2014
Trans*Empower, founder 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

BPD's LGB Advisory Council is Largely Invisible

The recent murders of Kandy Hall and now Mia Henderson point out alarming homicide rates in Baltimore’s transgender community of color, and specifically those of trans women.  This represents the intersectionality of race, gender and economic opportunity. It highlights the single greatest need we as a gender non-conforming community have, our own personal safety. It represents the absolute need for transgender community of color to be empowered to own their own voices.
The city of Baltimore is known for its high homicide rates. The popular television show “Homicide: Life in the Streets” was set and filmed in Baltimore during this particularly difficult period in our history. However current rates are getting special attention. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ran on a campaign slogan of “Better Schools - Safer Streets - Stronger Neighborhoods”. While the homicide rate was at a 20 year low during her first year as mayor, it has increased again above the 200 per year mark.  The Baltimore City Police Department reports that 80-85% of these homicides are “drug related”. If we break these numbers down and identify specific communities, we will be astonished.
The number of homicides in Baltimore City for 2013 was 235. The BPD claims that only 15-20% of those are “non drug-related” and if true, means the number of homicides not involving the drug trade was between 35 and 47. Using 47 for 2013, we come up with a homicide rate of 8 per 100K. When we look at the number of transgender women of color who have been murdered since February of 2011, and look at the population totals, we will find an alarming rate. Using UCLA’s Williams Institute numbers, which identify  transgender people number at 3 ½ tenths of one percent of the population, or in the city of Baltimore, that total is 2177. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city’s population of color is at 68% and Baltimore’s relationship between male and female is 53-47. A strong estimate of transgender women of color is 785.
There have been 5 murders in the last 41 months, a rate of 1.46 per year. This may not seem like a high number, yet remember, it is per 785, not 100,000. To extrapolate those totals out to the same index, one gets 186 per 100K. This rate is 23 TIMES that of the rest of Baltimore’s non-drug-related homicides. 23 times.
 While the State of Maryland just passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act this spring, the city of Baltimore has had similar protections since 2002. Yet the marginalization and homicides in transgender communities of colors and specifically, transgender women of color continues. At a June 6, 2014 community meeting with the Baltimore Police Department, Acting Captain Eric Kowalczyk stressed that these crimes will not be solved without help from the community. However community members strongly expressed their distrust for the police, as they have been victimized for “walking while trans” and other indignities. To resolve this the city’s force created an “LGBT Advisory Council” which includes many city agencies, but not trans organizations, and most importantly, no trans community of color organizations. The LGBT Advisory Council is largely invisible to the community and thus the BPD still suffers from an extreme disconnect with those marginalized and no mechanism to repair that, save building relationships, one community member at a time. This faulty loop was brought to the attention of those in the meeting that June afternoon, only to get pushback from the acting LGBT liaison, Sgt. Avery, suggesting “You people do not know, it’s work, we ACTUALLY do work”. Sgt. Avery is no longer serving as LGBT liaison.
In light of the dire situation transgender women of color find themselves living with, with stigmatizations of being a criminal, a deceiver, a prostitute, a drug addict and worse, many find it difficult to gain meaningful employment or receive adequate health care.  Most are disenfranchised and little is offered in the way of empowerment programing at the city or state level. This is changing, albeit not fast enough.
The LGBT Advisory Council, which is not “individually” seated, yet filled with member organizations, has NO public interface. It has no means of connecting to the community, short of one or two of its member organizations posting a Facebook state update. The most recent meeting with Police Commissioner Batts, supposedly to get input from the trans community went UNANNOUNCED, but spread only by "word of mouth". 
At the bare minimum, transgender women of color MUST be part of that process. It is time for white cisgender organizations to step back and amplify trans people of color concerns, not speak for them. Acting Captain Kowalczyk, I know you are sensitive to the concerns of the community, now show us you can take swift action to rectify this situation.