Reflections on the 2014 Black Trans Advocacy Conference
by Theo George, Online Communications Manager, National Center for Transgender Equality The 2014 Black Trans Advocacy Conference (BTAC) kicked off in Dallas, Texas last month. The conference is three years old and included six days of activities, workshops, and seminars. This year’s theme was “One Earth. One People. One Love.”
I had no idea that this type of event existed until doing some of my own research earlier this year. These types of opportunities are desperately needed in Black trans and gender non-conforming spaces. As disturbing as the general findings were for the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), they were even more so when looking at respondents of color:
- 34% of Black trans people live in extreme poverty, reporting a household income of less than $10,000/year.
- Half reported having attempted suicide.
- 50% who attended school expressing a trans identity or gender non-conformity faced harassment.
I remember reading the results of this survey nearly a year ago or so, a little after I began my own transition process, and being completely overwhelmed. It’s quite overwhelming for anyone to try and comprehend these types of discouraging statistics. Black transgender and gender non-conforming people seem to face tremendous obstacles in virtually all areas of life from employment opportunities to attending school.
In addition to being overwhelmed with these harsh realities, it can also be isolating to be person of color anywhere along the LGBT spectrum no matter where you may call home. That’s why I’m always excited by opportunities to immerse myself in events where I’m surrounded by positive, brilliant, and compassionate trans people of color—experiences that are often overlooked by the media. While many Black people face tremendous obstacles there is also an extraordinary element of triumph and perseverance. The 2014 BTAC was one of these extraordinary moments. And while I could write a novel about what made it so extraordinary, I’ll share three of my most important takeaways: 1. The importance of community: the sense of community at BTAC was unlike any that I’ve experienced at any other conference in the United States. From the time I walked in the hotel (literally) to the time I walked out, I never felt alone. While most of us can’t recite the stats from the 2011 NTDS by heart, you could sense the weight and sense of awareness that everyone carried with them—a knowledge and awareness that too many around us are struggling deeply. With this heightened sense of awareness, we never missed an opportunity to check in and encourage each other. 2. Being surrounded by the most brilliant minds: from the powerful keynote speeches to the daily seminars to the community forum, there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t reflect on the fact that I was surrounded by brilliant people. I wish that there were more forums and opportunities for these brilliant voices to be heard. Hopefully as the movement for transgender equality progresses, we will get to hear from more diverse voices. 3. The ongoing need for visibility and support in LGBT communities of color: the lack of visibility for LGBT people of color often results in lack of support from other organizations (despite the fact that we arguably need it the most!) I would encourage anyone who can to consider learning more about the organization, its vision and think about ways in which they can provide support. Ultimately, I want to thank everyone who made the 2014 BTAC possible. There are so many people who sacrificed their time and finances to make this event possible. It was truly a life-affirming experience that I would recommend to just about anyone.