GALAEI launches visual campaign celebrating trans lives

As part of Transgender Awareness Week, Queer Latinx social justice organization GALAEI announced the launch of a visual campaign that highlights the everyday experiences of 12 trans and gender-nonconforming Philadelphians. 

#TeaAndRoses aims to empower the trans community by amplifying folks’ day-to-day activities, such as commuting, performing in a show, walking to the grocery store and working. The campaign, which is the brainchild of GALAEI’s peer-based, trans-focused initiative Trans Equity Project, will debut Nov. 21 — a day after Transgender Day of Remembrance — at William Way LGBT Community Center with a free, family-friendly dinner event.

“Trans people are usually highlighted in death and are never highlighted during their time on this earth,” said Valentina Rosario, a trans woman and the coordinator of Trans Equity Project. “So we are talking about recognizing them for their everyday lives and their hobbies; the things that they do on the daily.” 

The campaign’s name is a spin-off of “taking T,” or testosterone; the pop-culture, information-seeking phrase “What’s the tea?”; and giving roses to celebrate trans folks now instead of bringing commemorative flowers to their gravestones, said Mikah Thomas, Trans Equity Project recruiter.

The project has been in the works for about six months. Over its course, Thomas reached out to potential participants, coordinated photoshoots with the project’s photographer — who is also trans — and attended the photoshoots, which took place at popular Philly spots like Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room, Penn’s Landing and William Way. 

“We have people who represent everyday folks,” Thomas told PGN about #TeaAndRoses participants. “When you see these photos, you don’t assume, ‘Oh, this is a trans woman, this is a trans man.’”

Those featured include folks who perform in the city’s ballroom and drag scenes, work at large-scale institutions like the Philadelphia AIDS Consortium and participate in health department initiatives like campaigns for PrEP.

Participants will attend next week’s launch event, along with trans activists Naiymah Sanchez and Reno Prestige Wright, who will be honored at an awards ceremony. Sanchez works as the trans justice coordinator for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Wright, a trans man, opened up on The Jerry Springer Show in 1997 about his experience transitioning and is part of a marginalized cohort of trans men who participate in the ballroom scene.

Thomas said he hopes #TeaAndRoses provides visibility to the trans community, combats stigma and creates community. 

“Sometimes even when we still go to stores, we’re still faced with discrimination or if we’re going to local municipal departments, they don’t quite understand if somebody has medically transitioned, but they haven’t legally transitioned,” he added. “We need competency training for that, but before we can even get that, within the LGBT community we need people to understand what trans-ness is and [what] nonbinary gender-nonconforming looks like.”

Following the launch ceremony at William Way, the photographs and testimonials from participants will be on display at GALAEI for an indefinite period of time, said Francisco Cortes, interim executive director of GALAEI.

He added that the most important aspect of #TeaAndRoses is “to show how [trans folks’] everyday existence is a form of resistance and a form of activism, because too many times trans names are only said in terms of when they are murdered or when trans people are being harassed or discriminated against.

At least 22 trans or gender-nonconforming people have been violently killed so far in 2019, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The majority of victims are trans women of color, including Philadelphia’s own Tameka “Michelle” Washington, who was shot to death in May. 

The GALAEI team told PGN that the organization will continue the project next year and aspires to eventually make it a national campaign. 

“This is a campaign designed for people in our community making an impact and giving roses to celebrate them because it is tragic when we lose people, but we need to celebrate more of our community,” Thomas said. “We want people to know that there is a program, there is a project, there is a place that provides numerous opportunities to create safe and affirming spaces for all individuals.” 

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