Centering LGBTQIA+ Black, Indigenous, and people of color, Prism’s Gender Justice for Liberation series draws from current events and lived experiences to explore the roots of today’s most urgent issues and oppressions, and highlight how we are reimagining a world transformed by gender justice and all of its joy, abundance, community, diversity, and promise.
Since the onset of COVID-19, many inequities in our society have significantly increased. It has become clear to many that current government policy and safety nets are not good enough, but many of these issues were already present before the pandemic. For a long time, mutual aid has filled the gaps unmet by policy. Mutual aid is reciprocal care and cooperation through redistributing tangible resources among people and communities that have been failed by power structures created by the kyriarchy. In simpler terms, mutual aid is helping each other in a world where the systems and institutions that should adequately support those in need fail to do so by design.
Mutual aid funds can be run by either individuals or organizations. This includes GoFundMe campaigns, funds run by nonprofits, and individuals who understand the risks of publicly asking for money but do so anyway to help people in need. Over half of Americans do not have enough personal savings to cover major financial events, like paying rent or utilities in the event of job loss, covering car or transportation issues, or sudden illness and related medical bills. As a result, many people turn to their community networks and allow themselves to ask for help. I say “allow” because, unfortunately, we are culturally conditioned by an individualistic society and expected to function without help or assistance. Even when we are most in need, many of us feel that we are not worthy of asking for help or feel ashamed that we need the help to begin with.
These realities are strongly felt by many Black trans people who experience periods where we may not have a stable community around us. Some of us are no longer in contact with our birth families; others have moved to a new city for a new chance at security and are trying to build community from scratch. In such scenarios, organizing via the internet is the best, if not the only, option many of us have.
Black trans people know what it is like to experience discrimination and be unable to determine what aspect inherent to their personhood has left them in the crosshairs of systemic oppression. Standing in the intersections, Black trans people are more likely to encounter barriers to health care and accessing benefits. #BlackTransLivesMatter may occasionally trend on social media, but Black trans lives are constantly under threat. We are further blocked from assistance by the bystander effect, a phenomenon where people are less likely to help if others are present. As trans people, our financial experiences differ from the greater population, as illustrated in data and research provided by the Human Rights Campaign, and it’s difficult for many of us to create impactful change for those who need it most. Because of our lived experiences, Black trans people can provide a lot of feedback about our immediate needs. The day Black trans people no longer need to fundraise because there are easily accessible and completely adequate government safety nets will be the day we have made significant social progress for all. If we are able to acknowledge that, by failing Black trans people, we have failed ourselves as a community, then we will have an actual shot at real change.
Looking at the inequities experienced by Black trans people reveals the cracks in our current social safety nets. As a librarian, working in various library roles since high school, I’ve seen firsthand the barriers many people face and have experienced those barriers myself. When I found myself unemployed and struggling to make ends meet as a deaf Black trans person, I was able to rely on mutual aid and the support of my community, inspired by the other Black trans folks I witnessed asking for help. Sometimes the mutual aid pages I followed were community organizers, sometimes they were small “by us, for us” organizations. Nearly all were headed by Black and brown people, often disabled, often LGBTQ+, often all of the above. I’m showcasing some of these pages today, with their explicit consent and knowledge. All of them boost people who need help, and many of them do this work even as they themselves try to survive, even as they themselves try to stay housed, clothed, and fed.
BlackGirlsAreGod is no stranger to the bystander effect. They organize mutual aid for themselves and countless people worldwide via fundraising efforts and art. They continually lead with vulnerability in an unkind world, sharing their experiences as a marginalized Black trans person, even as they have experienced the loss of their social media platform, their mutual aid crowdfunding, as well as housing instability. They’ve also had to navigate having their academic work stolen or overlooked by people who were supposed to be in community with them in the past. There is nothing I can say about their experiences that they haven’t already said themselves. The fact that they are still standing, doing their best to survive, and thinking of creative ways to raise funds for themselves and members of their community is something that reminds me to keep going.
Dionne Davis is an honest voice that cuts through the social media chatter and motivates me to think more deeply on world issues as they pertain to mutual aid because many of the issues we experience in the U.S. are not isolated incidents. She is a content curator, sharing her informed opinion and cracking open many facets of white supremacist culture while also shining a light on the ripple effects of the culture of individualism by pointing a figure up at the kyriarchy. Davis reminds us that we do not struggle alone and cannot survive alone. Davis uses her social media platform to organize for mutual aid and create connections with other small organizers to help them get assistance. Her experience as someone from the U.S. who does not currently live here informs the way she organizes, and she works with some of the other people on this list to boost mutual aid both here in the U.S. and worldwide.
Not The Respectable Type focuses on mutual aid and spreading organizing strategies to help people become more effective with their mutual aid fundraising. They post content about social inequities with the aim of gaining monetary support for Black femmes and the Black LGBTQ+ community. Their profile was recently deleted by Instagram, something that has happened to a number of online organizers. They have since had to recuperate the loss of their platform and reconnect with their community so they can continue helping direct mutual aid funds to Black LGBTQ+ folks.
Z is a Black trans disabled person who fundraises for zirselves and others. Ze is able to do so via community care and support shown by zir peers who work hard to make sure that Black queer people have someone to turn to when they are in need. Much of zir content relates to zir intersectional experience and bringing attention to others’ mutual aid requests.
Black Trans Texas Connection, a modern STAR
Black Trans Texas Connection is a grassroots organization that functions as a safe house for Black and Brown trans women, modeling themselves after Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera’s organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. They have faced challenges doing this work, including backlash against a mutual aid fundraiser from people seeking to police Black trans women’s efforts to organize outside of the nonprofit industrial complex. Thankfully, they managed to push back successfully and were able to secure their long-term housing with the help of mutual aid donations from individuals and larger organizations.
There are countless others who fly under the radar due to the sensitive nature of mutual aid work. It’s a testimony to how difficult it is to organize in the open, and I appreciate these people and organizations for allowing themselves to be seen.
If you are curious how to get more involved with mutual aid work or supporting mutual aid organizers, here are three steps you can take to create change on both the individual and systemic level:
Make a point of actually reading some of those books suggested by your social justice or anti-racist book club. Listen to marginalized voices, especially Black trans voices. Make sure you’re getting a wide range of marginalized perspectives because we all have something to contribute to the conversation.
Donate and share
Make a donation plan! Pick at least three people to donate to regularly. Donate directly via whatever methods they put forward. Do not make knowing their pain a requirement to meet whatever criteria you’ve subconsciously set before you give. If someone comes to you for help, do not turn them away. If you don’t have funds, ask three people you know to send funds and share widely with your networks! Direct cash relief is often most needed, and not enough eyes see the current requests for aid.
There are already people doing this work, and there are already established networks focused on redistributing funds to those in need. Learn about your local organizations and volunteer your time or whatever platform you have to elevate their work. Black trans-led organizations are notoriously underfunded, and they often have to work twice as hard as better supported organizations to get the same amount of funding.
In the end, there’s only so much we can do alone. White supremacy dictates that we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that it’s “survival of the fittest” and every person for themselves. We are socially conditioned to believe that if someone falls on hard times, it is a direct result of something they’ve failed to do, but this is something that can happen regardless of whether people do “all the right things.”
Black trans people are the front line for community care and community resources, and it is incredibly necessary that we acknowledge the work Black trans mutual aid organizers are doing intentionally, visibly, or otherwise. Mutual aid and community care have been doing what policy will not, but it continues to be a struggle in a world that equates financial stability with freedom. As Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Let’s get everybody free.