Trans women in Detroit have ‘lack of outreach, love’

Detroit’s black transgender community is already one of the city’s most misunderstood populations. Now, it’s increasingly one of the most victimized.

A video of a transgender woman discussing an attack in Dearborn spread widely across Facebook on Wednesday, but while many of the comments offered support, some purposefully misgendered the victim and some said the attack was deserved.

The offending comments are enigmatic of the work that needs to be done to bring more awareness to the challenges in the “T” in Detroit’s LGBT communities, which is often overlooked in movements made toward gay equality and equity, leaders and allies of the community tell BLAC during a Wednesday evening picnic in Palmer Park to honor the lives of murdered transgender women.

“A lot of times, the trans girls get lost in the M4M,” Jeynce Mizrahi, a house mother in Detroit’s ball community, says. “That’s really what kind of spearheaded this.”

Mizrahi co-organized Wednesday’s picnic to coincide with Hotter Than July, Detroit’s annual black gay pride celebration, to raise awareness of black trans women. It took a coalition between House of Mizrahi, the newly formed, Detroit-based Trans Sistas of Color Project and other organizations to bring everyone together.


“There is a lack of services, a lack of outreach and a lack of love,” Mizrarhi says, “and definitely a disconnect from understanding.”

First, there’s the stigma. Many individuals who identify as transgender are shut out from their homes; according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender Americans experience homelessness. (Couple that with the fact that in many states, landlords and lodging managers can choose not to rent to a transgender individual.) Then there’s the violence; many transgender individuals turn to sex work, but are savagely beaten – or killed – by their johns. And then there’s the health care, or lack thereof: Black trans women are among the least likely to have adequate resources for treatment, and that’s if they have the income to afford it. (And speaking of income, unemployment also ravages the black trans community due to job discrimination.)

There is some respite. Many homeless trans men, women and teens find their way to the House of Mizrahi. “I come across a lot of children – literally,” Mizrahi says. “I see the hurt, I see the pain. We all need to help somebody.”

Equality Michigan, the state’s largest LGBT service organization, has recently revamped its victim services division, with an sharper focus on trans victims. “(The video) is a perfect example of why this is needed,” Serena Johnson, Equality Michigan’s newly hired victim advocate who comes to the organization from Detroit’s 36th District Court, says.

“We’re in the process of hiring a trans advocate that is able to hand-hold members of their own community to become educated about themselves, and just have a better awareness of safety issues (that come with being trans),” Johnson adds. “We have to provide out-of-the-box services for the community.”

Detroit’s trans community needs allies as well, particularly elsewhere on the LGBT spectrum. The Trans Sistas of Color Project, which has the support of gay men, was founded partially in response to the death of Shelly Hilliard, a Detroit trans teen whose body was found burned on the city’s east side in 2011.

“We know we cannot allow that level of violence against a trans woman to happen again,” says John Trimble, a co-founder of the project. “But as a cisgender gay man, I have to recognize my privilege and use that to uplift my trans sisters. They’re dealing with homophobia, bias and stigma in every lane.”

The Trans Sistas of Color Project was established in 2015 and is already off to a running start, having found fiscal sponsors and raising its profile through events like Wednesday’s picnic. But it’s a baby step in a long road toward trans equality and acceptance in the city.

“They are under attack. Period,” Trimble says. “And (the Dearborn bar incident victim’s) experience just strengthens the idea that we have to do more to empower trans women.”

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