TKO in the Media

For media inquiries contact Christina Nicholson at christina.nicholson@tkosociety.com

Trans student fatally shot in Mississippi remembered for ‘generous heart’


Mel Groves, a 25-year-old studying plant and soil science at Alcorn State University in Jackson, Mississippi, was the definition of a tree hugger, his friend Que Bell recalled.

Bell and Groves met through a mutual friend. The three of them linked up because they were all Black transgender men around the same age. Bell said that one time he was landscaping in his yard and Groves stopped him before he began to trim a tree.

“He was like: ‘No, you can’t do it like that. That’s going to hurt the tree.’ And I was like: ‘OK, let’s go back to the drawing board. Let’s figure out something that’s good for us but also that’s good for the tree,’” Bell said, laughing. “He cared about everything, especially plants.”

On Oct. 11, Groves drove himself to Merit Health Central, a hospital in Jackson, and collapsed outside his car, Jackson police said. He had been shot multiple times. Hospital staff members transferred him to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he died later in the afternoon.

Groves’ loved ones said news articles have reduced his life to a statistic: He is at least the 39th trans person to have been killed this year, the deadliest on record for trans people, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which has been tracking fatal anti-trans violence since 2013. They said his story does speak to how law enforcement and social safety nets fail trans people, but they stress that he was more than just a statistic in an increasing tally.

At a virtual memorial Sunday, people who knew Groves described his vast knowledge of plants, his “generous heart” and a smile that made people want to talk to him.

In addition to studying plant science, Groves was also a farmer for the Knights and Orchids Society, an organization based in Selma, Alabama, that prioritizes supporting the Black trans and gender-nonconforming community. Bell, who is the group’s executive director, said Groves drove it to start a community garden program after a supporter donated land. Just before he died, he was about to become the full-time garden manager for the society.

Bell said they used to joke that Groves just wanted to “play in the dirt.” Since his death, Bell said, one of Groves’ former professors has reached out to tell him about important research Groves conducted in plant science. Another professor told Bell that he used to text Groves plant trivia questions and that he had been waiting for Groves to become his colleague one day.

“I’m just thinking that wasn’t even his best,” Bell said. “That was him performing, still, while dealing and facing all these other barriers he was fighting through, so imagine how much he could have contributed to technology, to science, to agriculture if he had been stable and if he actually had a chance. He’ll never get an opportunity.”

Since the two met in 2016, Bell said, Groves had experienced homelessness frequently. His immediate family rejected him after he came out as trans, and he experienced violence and discrimination in college. Groves also previously said he repeatedly experienced discrimination from medical providers.

Sam Brown, the public information officer for the Jackson Police Department, said there has been no indication that Groves was killed in a hate crime.

But his loved ones say that doesn’t mean that his identity as a trans man can be separated from his death. Caleb Gumbs, the mutual friend who connected Groves and Bell, said he has seen comments online that say, “Do we actually know that he was killed for being trans?”

“And that made me really think about, wow, is that really what it takes for us to understand the systems that are at play that have ultimately led to his murder, whether or not it was directly related to him being trans?” Gumbs said.

Gumbs met Groves when they were both about 19, and Gumbs turned 26 the day Groves died. He said it was jarring and telling, because he and Groves lived “parallel lives.” They both grew up with families that weren’t affirming, went to historically Black colleges in south Alabama with full-ride scholarships and were close in age.

“At every turn, the difference between us was so small,” said Gumbs, a Ph.D. student in pharmaceutical sciences at Florida A&M University. “Everything that happened to me was just this minor change and difference — a little bit more acceptance, a little bit more luck. And now, the vast difference between the two of us.”

He said that Groves experienced repeated homelessness but that he couldn’t go to shelters, where many trans people report experiencing violence.

“If he didn’t feel like the streets were his only option available to him, I truly do believe things would have been different,” Gumbs said.

He wrote in a post on Medium that Groves “embodied resilience” but that a culture of transphobia, racism and cissexism, which is a subtler form of discrimination based on sex and gender, led to his death.

“That same system that did ultimately kill him really could have killed me and still can,” Gumbs said.

Even after Groves’ death, his loved ones were fighting those systems. Just hours after he died, they had to reach out to local news outlets that misgendered and deadnamed him while also grieving his loss, Gumbs said. Some updated their stories; others said they couldn’t change them without confirmation from law enforcement or Groves’ immediate family.

A week after Groves died, Jackson police provided the same statement to NBC News that it first issued, which misgendered and deadnamed him. The department has not responded to a request for comment about whether it plans to update the statement.

At least 41 trans people have been killed this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Advocates have said the number is likely to be low because police often misidentify trans people in reports of their deaths. A disproportionate number have lived in the Southeast.

Known trans killings — which, according to the Human Rights Campaign, include both fatal violence motivated by anti-trans prejudice and fatal violence in which a person’s trans identity may have put them at risk — are the most on record. The increase is due in part to better tracking but also to legislation in the last few years that harms trans people and reinforces prejudice, advocates say.

More than 30 states — including Mississippi — have considered over 100 bills this year that would bar transgender minors’ access to certain gender-affirming health care or restrict their participation in school sports, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nearly one-third of those bills have been considered in Texas, whose Republican governor, Greg Abbott, is expected to imminently sign a measure barring trans students from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identities. Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said bills like the one headed to Abbott contribute to anti-trans prejudice and violence because “they perpetuate fear and misinformation about who trans people are.”

“They build this caricature of trans people as folks that people need to fear,” he said. “When you repeat, time and time again, a lie about a marginalized or group of people that folks may not necessarily have a direct contact with, if you repeat it enough, then some people internalize it as the truth, and that is what’s happening here.”

Nov. 20 is Trans Day of Remembrance, an annual effort to honor the memory of trans people killed in acts of anti-trans violence. Bell said he is already dreading it, because someone had already shared a photo of Groves with a hashtag next to his name.

“I was not prepared yesterday just to open up Instagram and see a hashtag beside one of my closest friends’ names,” he said. “And it’s different for me, because I’m in the work — we’ve been organizers, we’ve been activists, we’ve done these vigils, we’ve done these memorials for folks. But it is different when you know the person, you have poured into the person and there’s that connection. It’s hard to see it.”

Bell said he feels so much pain for trans people whose names are on the list but whom the public doesn’t know anything about aside from the fact that they were killed. That’s why he is trying to celebrate and memorialize who Groves was as a person.

Once, when the two were driving from Mississippi to Alabama, they were taking turns choosing songs to play. When it was Groves’ turn, Bell said, he chose “the oldest blues or jazz song that you could think of.”

“He was a Nat King Cole type of guy,” Bell said. “And I was like: ‘How are you this old? And you’re only like 20-something.’ He was an old soul. He was well before his time.”


Originally published at https://www.nbcnews.com on October 21, 2021.

The Pervasiveness Of Transgender Health Care Discrimination : Short Wave

A new report from the Center for American Progress finds that nearly half of transgender people have experienced mistreatment at the hands of a medical provider. NBC OUT reporter Jo Yurcaba explains the long-term impacts of this discrimination, plus a few potential solutions.

Link to the podcast interview and full transcript are below: 


MADDIE SOFIA, BYLINE: You’re listening to SHORT WAVE…

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SOFIA: …From NPR.

BRIT HANSON, HOST:

Jesse Brace lives in Lawrence, Kan. Earlier this year, they spoke with reporter Jo Yurcaba about what it’s been like trying to get medical care as a trans nonbinary person.

JO YURCABA: And they told me that they went to an ER near their hometown in 2017 to get care for their seizures. And they said that they told staff that they are transgender and nonbinary and that the name they go by is different than their legal name and that they use the gender-neutral pronouns they/them. But they said that staff didn’t acknowledge this information at all.

HANSON: Jesse tried other hospitals and clinics, but they told Jo that this kind of thing kept happening. Medical providers kept using the wrong name and the wrong pronouns.

YURCABA: So they avoided getting care. And about a year later, their health got much worse. They started having daily seizures. They couldn’t drive themself to work at their job at an Amazon facility, so they started sleeping in their car in the facility’s parking lot.

HANSON: They lost their job, eventually their car, and then they became homeless.

YURCABA: And they said at that point they were having hundreds of seizures a day, and they couldn’t even move at some points from where they were laying. And so the discrimination that they faced in that ER really had a far-reaching and a really dangerous negative impact on them.

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HANSON: A new report from the Center for American Progress says Jesse’s treatment by the medical system is common, that transgender people are, quote, “consistently and systemically underserved by the American medical system” and face regular harassment and discrimination. And Jo wrote about that report for NBC Out.

YURCABA: Trans people, especially transgender people of color, have reported experiencing mistreatment at the hands of a medical provider. And that’s, you know, really reported across the country. I spoke to people in rural areas, people near cities that are — you know, supposedly have more accepting medical systems. So this is a really pervasive issue

HANSON: Today on the show, we take a look at just how many transgender patients have faced health care discrimination and talk about the long-term impacts, plus a few potential solutions, with reporter Jo Yurcaba. I’m Brit Hanson. You’re listening to SHORT WAVE, the daily science podcast from NPR.

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HANSON: OK, Jo, let’s dig a bit deeper into this recent report from the Center for American Progress. Nearly half of transgender people reported having experienced mistreatment at the hands of a medical provider in the year before the survey, and that percentage is even higher for trans people of color. Give me a sense of what kinds of mistreatment people reported both to you and in this report in general.

YURCABA: Yeah. So the report found that people reported things such as being refused care for medical providers — so medical providers didn’t want to give them care specifically because they were transgender — or they faced verbal or physical abuse. And the report didn’t detail what those two things were in particular, but the people that I spoke with said that verbal abuse could be anything from being misgendered or deadnamed — having providers use the wrong name and pronouns — to people making comments specifically about their genitals or about, you know, their presentation — a variety of things like that, too.

HANSON: Yeah, Jo, I can imagine that this kind of discrimination and mistreatment can keep people from seeking care in the future, you know, whether that’s not going to routine doctor visits or putting off more serious issues. Talk to me more about sort of the longer-term implications of an experience like this with a medical provider.

YURCABA: Yeah. So I spoke with Dallas Ducar, the CEO of Transhealth Northampton, which is an independent, trans-owned and operated clinic in Massachusetts. And she told me that, you know, they mostly see trans patients, and they really see the impacts of compounded discrimination on trans people’s health. So for example, she said a few months ago a new patient had abnormal vital signs on their first visit, and they were so abnormal that they had to be quickly taken to an emergency room because they were so sick. So she said it’s common that trans people forgo routine care either because they’ve experienced discrimination or just because they fear experiencing discrimination. And so then they forego urgent care, which could turn into an emergency room visit and, like, a really life-threatening condition of some kind.

And the survey, you know, really backed up these experiences people are having, too. It’s said that more than a quarter, or 28%, of transgender people reported having postponed or not gotten necessary medical care for fear of discrimination. And for trans people of color, that number was 22%.

HANSON: So let’s talk about the medical provider side of things. The report says that 1 in 3 transgender people reported having to teach their doctors about trans people in order to get the routine care that they needed. What were you hearing from your sources as you dug into how well equipped medical providers are to care for their trans patients?

YURCABA: Yeah. So every person I interviewed reported that they encountered medical providers who didn’t really know, you know, what being trans meant for people’s health. So some people said that it was things like medical providers just thought that someone was sick because they are transgender, or it could be more nuanced.

I spoke to Alex Petrovnia, a 24-year-old in Pennsylvania who said that when he went to a primary care facility where he lives, he saw a medical resident there. And he was worried about how testosterone would affect a joint problem he was having, so he asked her whether there was a form of physical therapy to help that problem. And they had what he described as like a tense exchange. And the doctor told him, quote, “I don’t know anything about this because I’ve never had a patient like you.” And he said that he responded with something like, yeah, it’s really unfortunate that you aren’t taught anything about trans people in medical school. And according to him, she responded with, I don’t think it’s that important. There aren’t that many of you.

So, like, a lot of these cases seem to come from…

HANSON: Yeah.

YURCABA: …This idea — I mean, yes, you know, trans people are estimated to make up 1 to 2% of the population, but it’s still a significant number of people. But some medical providers seem to think that because it’s so few people, they shouldn’t really be expected to be competent in care for trans people.

HANSON: And I can imagine that in addition to the kind of overt mistreatment that you’re talking about here, there are all kinds of other ways that providers might be cuing to trans patients that they aren’t welcome. Like, there’s this whole range of experiences, and it’s all harmful.

YURCABA: Yeah, exactly. I think that some people, when they hear about someone like Jesse’s experience, they’re like, oh, the staff, you know, wouldn’t use the pronouns that you would like and your preferred name. Like, why is that such a big deal? But, you know, many studies are showing now that, like, using someone’s preferred name and pronouns has a significant positive mental health impact. So it can have the opposite, you know, if you don’t use that name and pronouns. So those kinds of things, even though they seem small, can really add up to have a really huge impact. And, you know, you see in Jesse’s case how it did.

HANSON: Yeah. I’m curious. Did you come across any information about medical school curriculums and sort of how doctors or other medical practitioners are being trained?

YURCABA: Yes. Yeah. So the report actually cited a 2018 brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that more than half of medical school curriculums lack information about unique health issues the LGBTQ community faces and don’t cover treatment beyond just HIV prevention and care and that the report found that could likely contribute to transgender people’s inability to access affirming care.

And what’s interesting is, like, even though we have that data, there’s very little to no data on what medical school curriculums specifically look like for transgender care. And as I’ve started to dig into that issue more, that seems to be reflected, like, when I talk to people as well. They say, you know, LGBTQ+-specific curriculum is improving, but really, trans care — it’s not covered past just, you know, gender-affirming hormones or just, you know, there’s no curriculum on, like, just how to interact with trans people and provide them primary care.

HANSON: So, Jo, the report outlined a number of recommendations and ways to address the health care discrimination that we’ve been talking about. Walk me through a couple of these.

YURCABA: Yeah, sure. So there’s one that the authors told me is the most pressing, and they recommend that the federal government create a rule to strengthen Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and has protected trans people from discrimination in federally funded health care facilities. And the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights under the Biden administration announced that it would enforce Section 1557 to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

But one of the report authors told me that they’re still really worried about what that could look like and how strong those protections could be given this, like, bigger recent push we’ve seen for religious exemptions to nondiscrimination provisions in medical care settings. And, you know, even recently, a district judge in Texas issued a permanent injunction against the nondiscrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act. And even though one of the report authors said that she expects the decision to be overturned, she said that the threat is still there, especially when it comes to trans people, you know, for example, wanting to go to an emergency room. There’s a fear that a doctor there could say, I don’t want to provide care to this person, and it could, you know, have life-threatening consequences.

HANSON: OK. And what else? Were there other recommendations that stuck out to you?

YURCABA: Yeah. So the report’s authors also recommended that Congress and local governments increase funding for LGBTQ community health centers. Those often fill the gaps that trans people face in health care. And Mel Groves told me, for example, that he was connected with an affirming primary care physician through this grassroots organization in Selma, Ala., called the Knights & Orchids Society. And he drives about 4 1/2 hours from his home in Jackson, Miss.

HANSON: Wow.

YURCABA: And so these groups, you know, even though they’re helping to fill the gaps by connecting people like Mel Groves to physicians, he said that it’s ultimately up to the medical system and society to address these issues. And that’s why, you know, community centers need more funding, but also there needs to be improvements to curricula.

And, of course, you know, the report authors also are pushing for Congress to pass the Equality Act, which the House passed, but it’s since been stalled in the Senate. And that would provide the first federal-level nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ+ people.

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HANSON: Jo, is there anything else that you’d like to leave our listeners with today?

YURCABA: Yeah. I think one thing that keeps coming up for me as I report on this is just that these statistics and these personal stories don’t occur in a vacuum. And, you know, this report came out in a year where a record number of bills targeting transgender people, specifically trans youth, have been introduced in state legislatures.

So I think it’s important to keep in mind that advocates and experts are saying that this comes not only from a culture that doesn’t understand trans people, you know, from problems with medical school curriculums, but also from the culture generally where these state laws are coming from that sort of frame health care for trans people as an experiment when, you know, it’s been around for decades. And it really makes it seem as though trans people need a care that’s, like, different or other or dangerous when in reality, they just want regular health care like everyone else.

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HANSON: Jo, thank you so much for bringing us your reporting on this. It’s hard to hear and also incredibly important. We really appreciate you and hope you’ll come back on the show again soon.

YURCABA: Yeah, of course. Thank you so much for having me.

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HANSON: To find out more, check out today’s episode notes, where we’ve put a link to Jo’s full reporting and to the report from the Center for American Progress.

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HANSON: This episode was produced by me, Brit Hanson, with help from Indi Khera. Berly McCoy checked the facts, and Gisele Grayson was our editor. Thanks for listening to SHORT WAVE from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)Follow Brit (@bnhanson) and Jo (@joyurcaba) on Twitter, and email the show at shortwave@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Brit Hanson with help from Indi Khera. Berly McKoy checked the facts, and Gisele Grayson was the editor. Leo Del Aguila provided engineering support.


Originally published at https://www.npr.org on September 13, 2021.

Meet the Black Trans-Led Group Offering Care Amid Alabama’s Anti-Trans Bills — Rewire News Group

mobile food pantry


Amid a deluge of attacks on LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights, a Black trans-led organization in Selma, Alabama, is doing the work of uplifting and mobilizing communities in the rural South. Systemic health and economic disparities leave many rural Black LGBTQ people behind, and so the Knights and Orchids Society (TKO) meets people where they are and provides holistic services to help them thrive and become self-sustaining.

TKO’s work has been especially critical lately, as Alabama lawmakers take aim at trans youth health care and sports in a year when a record number of anti-trans bills have been filed across the country. One of the state’s most aggressive anti-trans bills, the misleadingly titled Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, would have made it a felony for health-care providers to provide gender-affirming care to trans youth.

The bill, HB 1, passed the Alabama Senate but ultimately failed when the legislative session came to an end before the house could vote on it. However, the legislature was able to pass HB 391, a measure banning trans girls from participating in school sports that reflect their gender. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law in April.

Organizing against a barrage of antagonistic legislation, racism, transphobia, and homophobia has been especially difficult, said TC Caldwell, TKO’s arts and communications director.

“The problem for the folks fighting for trans and reproductive rights is that everyone wants to lead instead of build, from policymakers to community organizers,” Caldwell told Rewire News Group. “Not to mention the Black TGNC [trans and gender nonconforming] voices are missing from the rooms and conversations where they could create the most impact.”

TKO provides members of its communities with holistic care and resources, including primary health care, hormone replacement therapy and other gender-affirming care, HIV prevention, arts and cultural enrichment, fresh food, job opportunities, and more.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, TKO shifted to delivering supplies and food they would normally give out at their food pantry. The pandemic exacerbated houselessness and income instability as well, Caldwell said.

“The pandemic added another barrier to a system that is already hard for TGNC folks to navigate,” they said. “On the other side of that, more folks were ready to transition and live as themselves.” Caldwell, for example, said they’ve been on testosterone for over a year now. “The pandemic showed many of us, including myself … that we don’t own tomorrow.”

Alabama has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the country, and infections and hospitalizations are rising due to the spread of the delta variant. While Caldwell and some other TKO team members are vaccinated, they understand people’s hesitancy to get the shots.

“When we discuss vaccinations in Alabama, we have to bring up the Tuskegee experiment,” they said. “We have to bring up sterilization of Black women in this state. We have to discuss racial disparities many of our folks faced then and now.” Caldwell pointed out that lack of access to resources like transportation and education, as well as hospital and clinic closures in rural areas, help keep vaccination rates low.

Founded in 2012, TKO has been building power for Black LGBTQ+ folks in the South through its four main programs: FAITH, which promotes sexually transmitted infection awareness and prevention; Reproductive Justice, which provides reproductive and family care services; Coffeehouse Arts, which fosters cultural enrichment through the arts and storytelling; and a community garden used to feed people and provide job opportunities for formerly incarcerated community members.

TKO emphasizes bodily autonomy and choice for its clients who seek health care, making sure that they “can come in whole and leave whole after a primary care visit with the doctors in our network,” Caldwell said.

The organization was founded in response to another ongoing pandemic- HIV.

“Many of our friends were being diagnosed with HIV,” Caldwell said. “I remember our co-founder, Quentin Bell, losing a friend years ago who was only 22. So the push came from a place of wanting more for our people and also getting resources to our people. We frequently say that our people don’t need saving, they just need resources. They can live whole and full lives when access to those resources are available.”

Along with partner organizations like Margins: Women Helping Black Women, Queer Med, and Alabama Arise, TKO works to fill the gaps left by the state by providing affirming reproductive care, health care, and economic empowerment to marginalized communities. TKO has also extended its network across neighboring states including Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, and seeks to broaden its reach. The group aims to open satellite offices in Montgomery and Birmingham in the next couple of years, and to expand its services into providing housing to LGBTQ+ homeless youth.

The organization’s slogan, “nurturing through nontraditional care,” also speaks to the many ways it cultivates joy and togetherness within its community, understanding that Black trans joy is just as essential a resource as food, funds, or medical care. They host park events, virtual open mics, Pride and Juneteenth celebrations, and meetings called “Diva 2 Diva” for Black trans women to be in community with each other.

“The erasure of Black trans femmes is an area that needs more attention. The media speaks on their deaths more than their living. Show them thriving. Normalize thriving instead of dying,” Caldwell said.

“We have much more to share than just stories of harm and death, but because our rights are constantly under attack we rarely get to share that side, and that takes a toll on our mental health as well as our ability to fight back in ways that are more effective.”

Revolutionary formations like the Knights and Orchids Society-the name stands for Knowledgeable Noble Independent Gifted Honorable Tenacious Soldiers (Knights) and Overcoming Racism Classism Heteronormativity and Injustice Down South (Orchids)-are rewriting the story.


Originally published at https://rewirenewsgroup.com.

Why Unilever localized Pride push to 5 US cities ranked worst for LGBT+ people


Determined to enact real change this Pride, Unilever has pledged to improve the municipal equality index of five cities in the US rated among the worst in terms of conditions for LGBT+ people. As it releases the first two films in the five-part series, The Drum talks to the lead of Unilever USA’s Pride Business Relationship group about the project.

Rainbow-washing is the term used to describe brands that smack a rainbow logo across their socials without bothering to use their power and influence to make an actual difference. Hoping to prove its brand is not just a trick of the light, this Pride Unilever has set itself a mission to actively improve conditions in five cities ranked worst for LGBT+ people.

Aiming to make frontline change, instead of offering a ‘one size fits all’ Pride campaign, the third year of its United We Stand campaign will support on-the-ground grassroots organizations, looking beyond major cities that typically offer more support and services for its residents.

To do so, it referred to the municipal equality index (MEI) which examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBT+ people who live and work there, rating them on everything from non-discrimination laws to bullying.

To put things in context, the cities picked by Unilever are five of 17 that scored 0 on the index, while places like Los Angeles and New York scored the maximum 100. “If you look at the index, you’ll find there’s parts of the States that score zero in terms of how they relate back to LGBT+ support,” explains Conor Feeney, lead of Pride Business Relationship group at Unilever USA. “It’s where we can really influence change,” he says, stressing that diversity was critical.

Through United We Stand, local organizations in the five cities — Monroe in Louisiana, Moore in Oklahoma, Clemson in South Carolina, Florence in Alabama and Southern Missouri — will be supported by Unilever year-round, beyond the month of Pride.

Through the partnerships, Unilever aims to address key issues that help raise living standards for LGBT+ people in these areas, focused on lowering hate crime rates, creating safe spaces, increasing access to local services, fighting conversion therapy, HIV decriminalization, youth homelessness and nutritional support for the LGBT+ community.

“We’re really tailoring our support to focus on issues that these organizations can really help on within the communities,” Feeney explains. “Rather than just be city-focused. By doing this we can affect real change through this year and into the future.”

As part of the Pride campaign, Unilever has enlisted the help of the mononymic activist-filmmaker Tourmaline. A transgender woman who identifies as queer, Tourmaline has worked with Unilever since 2019 and has created a series of five films that explore the stories of change-making individuals from multiple intersectional LGBT+ experiences including rural, indigenous, Black, latinx, transgender and youth. This is part of efforts to increase diversity in advertisements and content, both on-screen and behind the camera.

Unilever released the five films on June 9. One film visits Florence in Alabama, talking to Quentin Bell, director of The Knight & Orchids Society, and Gabriel Cabán Cubero, southeast regional organizer at Working Families Party. They both speak about how they’re working to make their area more accepting of LGBT+ communities.

In another, Unilever goes to Clemson in South Carolina, meeting Darius Jones and Gertie Frazier-Williams, who are president and vice-president of South Carolina Black Pride respectively. Both talk of their experiences growing up gay in South Carolina, how they learned to be themselves and why they need to lead by example.

“The videos explore the stories of change-making individuals from multiple intersectional LGBT+ experiences, which is part of the company’s ongoing efforts to increase diversity in advertisements and content, both on-screen and behind the camera,” explains Feeney. “The advocacy will be representative of the work that the organizations are doing.”

The third year of United We Stand, Feeney says this campaign is a progression on Unilever’s policies over the last three years. “We’ve continuously supported LGBT+ initiatives over the last three years and this is a further development of that approach through the year,” he explains.

“We are committed to achieving solid results through improving the score. So the tangible systemic result that we want to see is improving the scores in these areas specifically relating back to the issues where we feel we can affect real change through monetary support of the organizations. We’re partnering with Tourmaline to launch the advocacy campaign that relates back to issues specifically that these organizations are focused on.”


Originally published at https://www.thedrum.com.

Refusal to treat, verbal abuse: Trans people face overwhelming health care discrimination

For three years, Jesse Brace avoided getting care for their seizures after they experienced discrimination at an emergency room near their home in Lawrence, Kansas, in 2017.

They said they told the staff that they are transgender and nonbinary, that their name is different from their legal name and that they use gender-neutral pronouns.

“They refused to even so much as acknowledge this information, and not only did they not use [my pronouns], but they also sent me home without treating me for what I went in for,” said Brace, 25.

When they tried to get care elsewhere after that, they said, they had similar experiences, so they avoided care entirely.

In 2018, they began having seizures every day, so they started living in their car outside the Amazon facility where they were an assistant operations manager, because they couldn’t drive themself to work anymore.

In November 2018, they lost their job. “I lost my car soon after and ended up on the streets in the winter,” they said. “I was having hundreds [of seizures] a day and wasn’t even leaving where I was laying.”

They were homeless, living out of their car or on the streets, for over three years.

Brace’s experience in the ER — and the impact that health care discrimination had on their life — is something many trans people face and fear when they try to get care, according to a report released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress, or CAP, a liberal think tank.


Discrimination, among other factors, prevents trans people from seeking necessary care, which leads to health disparities that can affect many other areas of their lives, the report found.

The authors outline a road map of solutions, including legislative protections for LGBTQ people and better competency training for medical providers.

“The onus should not be on individuals,” said one of the report’s authors, Sharita Gruberg, vice president of the center’s LGBTQ Research and Communications Project. “It really should be on these institutions to do the right thing, and the resources and guidance is out there.”

CAP’s report found that nearly half of transgender people — and 68 percent of transgender people of color — reported having experienced mistreatment at the hands of a medical provider, including refusal of care and verbal or physical abuse, in the year before the survey, which took place in June 2020.

Discrimination can then prevent people from seeking future care, the survey found: 28 percent of transgender people, including 22 percent of transgender people of color, reported having postponed or not gotten necessary medical care for fear of discrimination.

Brace got another job in May 2019, but they said they weren’t able to get consistent care again until May of this year. They said doctors in the area repeatedly told them that they were unable to take on new patients. It wasn’t until Brace was referred to a doctor who has a transgender child that they were finally able to obtain a primary care physician.

“I get panic attacks just making appointments,” they said. “I have no support whatsoever. Unfortunately, all health care around here is like this. There is no support for trans people, and so most avoid seeking care.”

Dallas Ducar, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, opened Transhealth Northampton, a trans-led organization that provides health care to trans and gender diverse patients in western Massachusetts, in May. Ducar said that as a health care provider and a trans woman, she knows there’s a dearth of affirming care for trans people across the country.

She said many of Transhealth’s patients have gone without medical care for long periods of time. A patient who came in a couple of months ago had abnormal vital signs and had to be quickly taken to an emergency room because they were so sick, she added.

“It’s unfortunately not uncommon to see people who have experienced such high levels of discrimination and then forgo the routine visits, then perhaps even forgo an urgent care visit, which then turns into an emergency care visit,” she said.

The CAP report said harassment and discrimination “contribute to high rates of stress,” and — along with social determinants of health — make trans people “more likely to experience poor health outcomes.”

People will read about health disparities among trans people “and just think of that as something that, horribly, is associated with just like being trans, but actually a lot of these experiences have to do with being trans in a world that is constantly oppressing you and where you’re experiencing discrimination both interpersonally but also institutionally and in these broader systems,” said one of the report’s authors, Caroline Medina, a policy analyst at CAP.

The report cites the 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that trans people were more than twice as likely as cisgender adults to be told they had depressive disorders.

Fifty-four percent also reported poor physical health at least one day in the previous month, compared to 36 percent of cisgender respondents, according to the CDC data. Trans people also have an increased likelihood of having asthma and developing cardiovascular disease, according to the CAP report.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also aggravated the health disparities trans people face: 1 in 3 reported having had suicidal thoughts during the pandemic, and 1 in 2 reported that their access to gender-affirming health care was curtailed significantly during the pandemic.

Ducar said barriers to care, particularly gender-affirming care like hormones, is “really, really harmful, and they add to the layers of discrimination that exists within the trans community.”

“On the mental health side, we are seeing folks with really complex issues — tons and tons of trauma — that’s coming to our doorstep,” she said. “We’re just seeing a lot of not only trauma, but complex PTSD specifically. These are people that have just been consistently burdened with the symptoms of PTSD, trauma just recurring. It’s really been terrible.”

When trans people do try to seek health care, they can face discrimination or outright refusal of care, as CAP found. But even when they don’t experience discrimination, they are likely to see providers who don’t have the cultural competency to provide them with affirming care.

CAP’s survey last year found that 1 in 3 transgender people reported having had to teach their doctors about transgender people to get appropriate care, and 15 percent reported having been asked “invasive or unnecessary questions about being transgender” not related to their reasons for visiting.

The report cited a 2018 brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that more than half of medical school curriculums lack information about unique health issues the LGBTQ community faces and don’t cover treatment beyond HIV prevention and care, “likely contributing to transgender people’s inability to access affirming care,” CAP wrote.

Alex Petrovnia, 24, a writer and scientific researcher living in central Pennsylvania, said that last fall, he had to report a primary care physician after a negative experience.

He was worried about how testosterone would affect a joint problem he was having, and he asked the doctor, who was still a medical resident, whether there was a form of physical therapy to help the problem. After a tense exchange, he said, the doctor told him, “I don’t know anything about this, because I’ve never had a patient like you.”

“I was trying to keep this interaction peaceable, and I replied with: ‘Yeah, I know. It’s really unfortunate that you’re not taught anything about trans people in medical school, and it’s just not a very well-known issue,’” he said. “And she looked me right in the eyes and she said: ‘I don’t think it’s that important. There aren’t many of you.’”

When he left, he tweeted about the visit so other trans people in the area would know not to see that doctor.

The medical practice reached out to him a few days later and asked what it could do better, Petrovnia said. When he returned to see a new, supportive primary care physician, “they told me that they sent the resident back to trans-inclusivity training and that they had instituted that for all of their residents going forward,” he said. “So that was very positive. … Being the squeaky wheel really actually made an impact and actually improved the situation theoretically for others.”

Petrovnia acknowledged that not everyone is able or willing to spark such teachable moments.

Mel Groves, 25, visited a primary care office in Montgomery, Alabama, in January when he had a cough, fever and lower body pains. When he was taken back for a full-body CT scan, he said, he had a decent conversation with the attendant who was pushing his chair. Groves said that when the procedure was over, however, the attendant’s tone changed. The attendant had apparently seen Groves’ chart and made a comment about his genitals, Groves said.

“I was taken aback,” he said. “It was shocking, to say the least.”

Groves said that he wanted to report it but that he was feeling too ill and overwhelmed, as he was working in the area temporarily. “I knew that that’s what I should have done, but at the time, I had a lot of stuff going on,” he said.

The health care system that oversees the primary care office where Groves was treated could not confirm his story, citing patient confidentiality.

CAP’s report outlines a number of policy recommendations that the authors said would help address health care discrimination against trans people.

One in particular is among the most pressing, the authors said: They recommend that the federal government create a rule to strengthen Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and has protected trans people from discrimination in federally funded health care facilities.

“The protections in Section 1557 are so critical but are also a floor that we need to firmly establish and strengthen,” said Gruberg of CAP. She said it was great that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights had announced that it would enforce Section 1557 to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, “but we’re also very worried about what that looks like, how strong these protections are going to be and the potential for religious exemptions to undermine them.”

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a permanent injunction last week against the nondiscrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act, ruling in favor of religious health care providers who said the rules would force them to perform abortions or provide gender-affirming treatment against their religious beliefs. While Gruberg expects the decision to be overturned, she said “that threat is still there.”

The report’s authors also recommended that Congress and state and local governments increase funding for LGBTQ community health centers, which often fill the health care gaps that trans people face.

Groves was connected with an affirming primary care physician through the Knights and Orchids Society, a grassroots organization in Selma, Alabama, led by Black trans people. He drives about 4½ hours from his home in Jackson, Mississippi, to Auburn, Alabama, when he needs care.

Although groups like the Knights and Orchids Society have provided what Groves described as “life-changing” support, he said it’s ultimately up to the medical system and society to address pervasive issues like discrimination.

“We’ve always been here,” he said. “So I think that now the role falls on society and the medical professionals to educate themselves more. If that means more fellowships, more trainings, more professional development … I feel like that is single-handedly the best thing that we can do to foster better health care for trans people, is helping people to understand how to be inclusive, and then going forward from there.”


Originally published at https://www.nbcnews.com on August 19, 2021.

Montgomery City Council blocks anti-discrimination ordinance.


The Montgomery City Council voted down an anti-discrimination ordinance Tuesday night, leaving supporters of the ordinance in a stunned silence and prompting Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed to issue dire warnings about the message the council sent.

The 5–4 vote against the measure, which would have offered protections for minorities in a wide range of city services, seemed to surprise Reed, who told the council that he would no longer be able to tell businesses that shared those values that they’re welcome in Montgomery.

“If I am asked if we are a city devoted to diversity and inclusion of all people then I have questions on that,” Reed said after the vote. Reed also said during the meeting that he would have to give those businesses the phone number of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

Birmingham passed a similar anti-discrimination ordinance in 2017.

The Montgomery ordinance would have offered protections to a wide range of minority groups and prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.

It was the protections for gender identity that drew the most criticism during Tuesday’s public comments, with speakers repeatedly referencing men being able to enter women’s restrooms. Reed called the comments some of the most offensive he’s ever heard, and others pointed out that there currently are no locks on public restroom doors preventing men from entering women’s restrooms.

Following the meeting, one of the “no” votes, Councilwoman Audrey Graham, told WSFA-TV that she felt “bullied” into voting for the ordinance because she didn’t have time to figure out exactly what it does. The ordinance had been presented to the council over a month ago, but a vote on it at the last council meeting was delayed specifically so council members could understand it better.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Action Fund, which worked with Reed to draft the ordinance, said it was encouraged by Montgomery taking up the ordinance but disappointed in the outcome.

“Attaining these protections remains a vital concern for Montgomery residents, who need and deserve an NDO that fully supports the communities it is created to protect,” said Scott McCoy, the Action Fund’s interim deputy legal director. “We look forward to revisiting the issue at the appropriate time with input from the mayor, city council and most importantly, the communities who are directly affected.”


Originally published at https://www.alreporter.com on August 18, 2021.

Expand Medicaid Coverage in Alabama

July 30, 2021 marked 56 years since President Lyndon B Johnson signed Medicaid into legislation in the US. More individuals and families were able to receive services and treatments that had been long denied to them due to being underemployed, unemployed, or having little to no access to medical facilities. Recently, Alabama has been named as one of 12 states that has not made any effort to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

An estimated 300,000 new members would be added into the program if Governor Ivey expanded medicaid in the state of Alabama. According to Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, “The most important thing that Medicaid expansion does is it absolutely improves health outcomes. You get earlier cancer diagnosis. You get lower infant mortality rates. You get earlier diagnosis of diabetes."

Alabama is a state where HIV/STI cases are on the rise, Alabama has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, and COVID-19 is becoming increasingly prevalent and fatal particularly among those who have pre-existing conditions. The preventive care and early diagnosis that Medicaid expansion could provide has the ability to save so many lives in Alabama.

This is why groups such as Cover Alabama are vital. Cover Alabama ‘is a nonpartisan alliance of more than 90 advocacy groups, businesses, community organizations, consumer groups, health care providers and religious congregations advocating for the state of Alabama to provide quality, affordable health coverage to its residents and implement a sustainable health care system.

Please sign the petition to take action to help thousands of uninsured residents in Alabama: https://www.coveralabama.org/petition

Black Joy is Revolutionary

“won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon ….
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.”

Lucille Clifton “Wont You Celebrate with Me”

Through decades of media erasure and misinformation, the world has become impervious to the idea of Black trans folks openly being in a state of joy.

You know what joy feels like, right?

Dancing without care, tears streaming down the cheeks with laughter, losing track of time, feeling yourself expand, being more of yourself, crying out in pleasure — that kind of feeling, that kind of joy.

It’s understandable that attention needs to be given to the discrimination that the Black trans community faces, the dangers that they encounter in a world that has long denied them their rights and humanity. Still, there’s space to share real-life and even fictional stories about their joys.

This past Pride we got to share these moments with one another, and we look forward to continuing to do so. Our organization is Black trans-led, and we proudly center the Black TGNC community in our work. We don’t wait until June comes back around to enjoy one another, to enjoy ourselves, and to be seen and celebrated. That’s what the media does.

Imagine if there was just as much time and attention given to honoring the lives of Black trans folks, not only in ceremony but in continuous, open celebration. Fortunately, some of us are in spaces where we don’t have to imagine that. For anyone who doesn’t experience this in their lives just yet, know that it is real. If you live in or near the Dallas County, Alabama area or are ever in town, please visit us.

We’d love to share with you the power and possibility of uninhibited Black joy.

Bob The Drag Queen and Peppermint Announce Black Queer Town Hall Lineup

Bob the Drag and Peppermint Queen have announced the lineup for the second annual “Black Queer Town Hall.”

Performers and advocates slated to appear are Big Freedia, TS Madison, Mila Jam, Monet X Change, Be Steadwell, Wolf Hudson, Miss Major, Shea Diamond, Tourmaline, Yves Dropper and Queen Jean. Peppermint and Bob the Drag Queen will host and produce the event, which is sponsored by GLAAD and NYC Pride.

The town hall event was initially organized by Marti Gould Cummings in 2020 to create a space to heal, mourn and rejoice Black queer lives. This year, the event will raise money for Black queer talent and this year’s charity, The Knights & Orchids Society, which advocates for Black LGBTQ+ communities in rural areas of the southern United States.

“I’m thrilled to team up again with queer Black folks and their allies dedicated to uplifting queer Black talent,” Peppermint said. “We’ve all learned a lot over the past year. One of the most apparent things is the work is not done. Bob and I are dedicated to connecting everyone with the initiative to love and Support and nurture queerness and Blackness equally.”

 

 

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy will be honored with the Black Queer Excellence Award for her “fierce commitment and intersectional approach to justice.” Griffin-Gracy has been an activist for more than 50 years, particulary for transgender women who have survived incarceration and police brutality. She recently served as an executive producer on “Trans in Trumpland,” and collaborated with her longtime assistant Toshio Meronek to pen a novel inspired by her life. The book arrives in late 2021.

“Through our work, we are committed to speaking out for all New Yorkers,” Shawn Kobetz, partnerships manager for NYC Pride, said. “There is no place for racism in the LGBTQ+ community or anywhere else. NYC Pride will speak up, speak out and stand with our fellow New Yorkers in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and all other kinds of oppression. We are grateful for the opportunity to help use our platform to listen, educate, and create spaces for dialogue through the Black Queer Town Hall.”

Black Queer Town Hall will livestream on June 26-27 at 8 p.m. ET on the organization’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

Story originally posted on Variety.com June 25, 2011

Controversial Anti-Trans Bill in Alabama is Stopped

Time ran out before the controversial SB10, proposed by senator Shay Shelnutt, could be voted on Monday, May 17.

SB10 would make it a Class C felony for physicians to provide gender affirming care to minors in Alabama. Even administering puberty blockers would have led medical professionals to face up to 10 years in prison or a $15,000 fine.

It is a victory worth celebrating, but this type of anti-trans legislation is nothing new in Alabama, and it won’t be the last in a round of similar bills. Less than a month ago, Alabama Governor Ivey signed HB1, a bill that prevents transgender student athletes from participating in sports that align with their gender identity.

Alabama has a long way to go when it comes to equality for the trans community and LGBTQ+ people overall. It was only this year that Alabama’s sex education laws removed material stating that homosexuality is illegal and unacceptable.

The Knights & Orchids Society’s Arts & Communications Director, TC Caldwell states, “Alabama lawmakers have a lot of work to do to when it comes to protecting the trans community, particularly, trans youth. These bills send a harmful message to the world about the lack of equality that they should just accept, and it’s unfair for trans kids to have their rights violated so early in life. Despite what legislation says, we are moving forward in our work to protect and champion trans kids in Alabama.”