It has been a little over a month since the 3rd annual Trans Justice Summit and our Trans Justice team at Basic Rights Oregon has had the chance to reflect on the impact this year’s summit had.
The Trans Justice Summit was created in 2011 as a space to build the leadership of trans people and our allies. The first Trans Justice Summit in 2011 and the second in 2012 each saw between 120-150 people in attendance. Based on community feedback, we found that these summits had an overrepresentation of cisgender attendees and white trans masculine people, making it difficult for the people most impacted by transphobia, racism, and transmisogyny to be heard. This year, Trans Justice staff and the Summit Host Committee intentionally created a smaller, more focused summit than in years past and 55 folks attended. In an effort to ensure representation of the most marginalized in our community our staff and host committee members held 1 on 1 interviews with almost all of the attendees, working to create a space that prioritized the leadership and experiences of trans women, trans people of color, trans youth, and those who live at the intersection of those identities.
It is a long term goal of Basic Rights Oregon to increase the representation of these communities within our organization and the Summit was designed to build leadership opportunities. We know that ultimately those most impacted by health care, employment, housing discrimination and criminalization are not the voices the LGBT movement typically highlights. The Summit was supposed to be a place where we could envision a future where that wasn’t the case. However, it was hard to look around the room at this year’s Summit and ignore the fact that there was a marked absence of the people in our community who face the most barriers: trans women of color and trans youth.
We recognize that our Trans Justice team inadvertently created barriers where we meant to create a place of community building. Our limited space for attendees and our system of 1 on 1 interviews unintentionally excluded many in our community. We, despite our best intentions, ignored the clear fact that until now the Trans Justice Program has not built relationships with and trust within these communities. The decisions we as a team made were ones that excluded the very people we hoped to support and it is indicative of the lack of meaningful representation of trans women of color in our organization. Ultimately, we did not do effective outreach to youth or trans women of color and did not structure our recruitment in a way that engaged either.
Basic Rights Oregon is at a pivotal moment organizationally. In 2014 we will begin our strategic planning process that will determine our priorities as a policy and advocacy organization for the next 5 years. This year’s Trans Justice summit has highlighted how important it is that we commit to real change for all members of our community. As the organization embarks on this process, our staff and lead volunteers will prioritizing holding listening sessions, distributing surveys, and holding individual conversations designed to prioritize the voices of LGBTQ people of color, youth, and trans people. To get involved with the strategic planning process or share your thoughts about how the organization can best engage these communities, contact Aubrey (Aubrey@BasicRights.Org) .
In addition to the strategic planning process, Basic Rights Oregon is taking action to increase meaningful representation of trans women of color and youth in our organization. For the Trans Justice Team that means re-evaluating the ways that we structure the Summit and doing the work to get critical feedback from trans women of color and youth at every step in the planning process. It also means building relationships that are meaningful and symbiotic with those people.
For Basic Rights Oregon as an entire organization, action means first understanding how we replicate systems of oppression within our organization, creating barriers for trans women of color and youth who want to get involved. As a staff we will look at building analysis around how transmisogyny, racism, and youth oppression intersect in the lives of the people we serve. In the community, we will gather feedback broadly and deeply about the lived experiences or trans women of color and youth. From all of this, we will be able to address and break down those barriers by restructuring the way in which we do our work and what we work on.
We are deeply thankful for the feedback graciously given to us and take it seriously as we look forward to the opportunity to get it right next year. As we look at new ways to develop leaders and grow our work in 2014, we can’t ignore our past mistakes. What we can do is begin-now – building competencies as an organization that make Basic Rights Oregon a trustworthy and supportive place for those most impacted by our work.