Bré Anne Rivera is a trans activist from Detroit. She has been living with HIV since 2010, and has been working in movements for justice for a decade.
She started organizing after a horrific incident on October 23rd, 2011, when a trans woman named Shelley Hilliard was brutally murdered after she was revealed to be an informant in a drug raid. When the officer who exposed Shelley was questioned by attorneys about his motives for revealing Shelley’s name and putting her in harm’s way, he simple replied, “I don’t know.” He has faced no consequences for his actions and has only been employed in a different police department.
Shelley’s murder inspired Bré to co-found the Trans Sistas of Color Project, a trans-led project to build the individual and collective power of trans women of color in Detroit. “I started this project not only to honor the lives of Shelley and other women we’ve lost; I wanted to fundamentally invest in trans women of color still living, particularly Black trans women. It was time we had our own space.”
Detroit has had a history of violence against Black trans women. Earlier this year, 20-year-old Paris Cameron was killed in an anti-LGBTQ homicide against her and two Black gay men named Alunte Davis and Timothy Blancher. Two other Black trans women named Kelly Stough and Amber Monroe were both killed in the Palmer Park neighborhood of Detroit in the past few years.
These reported murders speak to the social conditions of trans communities in Detroit — and are further illuminated by the most recent groundbreaking report called Wellness for Our Communities published by Positively Trans, a project of Transgender Law Center that centers trans people living with HIV. The Detroit-specific results indicate that 76 percent of respondents have reported discrimination in employment. Furthermore, about half of respondents reported that their family had cut them off at some point in their lifetime. These conditions, among others, destabilize the lives of trans communities and make them more likely to contract HIV.
One of the recommendations made by the report is to “mobilize and organize [trans and gender nonconforming] individuals, particularly [those] people of color living with HIV, to dismantle all forms of barriers and make positive changes in their community.”
Bré’s leadership has helped create space exactly for that, for trans communities to connect with one another and hone our skills to change the world. In addition to the Trans Sistas of Color Project, she works for the Groundswell Fund, a reproductive justice funder, ran by primarily women of color, which supports the work of women of color and trans and gender nonconforming people of color.
Bré’s vision for trans liberation is a world where trans women of color are at the table, we all have housing, and sex work is decriminalized. It’s a world with less police and less gatekeepers to our wellness. It’s a world where people don’t need to medically transition. When asked what words of advice she’d have for younger trans women, she offers the following:
“Be gentle with yourself in the work. And take some time to get clear on your politics and what kind of work you want to move. Use that as a guide.”