COVID-19 Call 6 — An Offering of Hope from Trans and Queer Migrants

A sixth TLC community conversation between Alán Pelaez Lopez, Oluchi Omeoga, and Úmi Vera. 




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This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings

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>>       Hi everyone my name is Alexia and here with me is my colleague Katja and we are part of a collective.

>>       [Speaking in Spanish]

>>       And we are dedicated to provide language justice in the LA area and in Southern California.

>>       [speaking Spanish]

>>       Language justice is the basic rights that all of us have to communicate, understand and be understood in the language in which you feel most comfortable.

>>       [Speaking Spanish]

>>       Today in this space we have the incredible opportunity to make this a trilingual space because we will be facilitating, interpreting and providing access in English, Spanish and ASL.

>>       [Speaking Spanish]

>>       So here in the chat box you will find a number to call if you would like to access the Spanish interpretation as well as the subtitles in English.

>>       [Speaking Spanish]

>>       We would also like to acknowledge which is also part of language justice that those languages that are maybe not part of this space but that do exist on this land and that may have been invisible or destroyed through colonial processes.

>>       [Speaking Spanish]

>>       We really appreciate this opportunity to collaborate with TLC and this new adventure in this digital world and I think this is all for now. Thank you so much.

>>       [Speaking Spanish]

>>       Just one more thing if you listen to us in Spanish you will notice that we instead of using the ending “a” or “o” we use the ending “e” which is not a pronunciation error. We are just trying to end the binary gender identification.

[Technical disruption]


[>>      We are now live.]

>>       Hi everybody thank you for being here today. My name is Alan and I am part of the Black LGBTQ Migrant Project. This is the Transgender Law Center virtual gathering and offering of hope from trans and queer migrants.

Before we start I want to mention the fact that we are committed to visibility justice as it — access as a necessary practice for disrupting isolation and ensuring participation and leadership of disabled folks, access that is meaningful that includes a commitment to the radical transformative demands of disability justice. Disability justice charges us as a community to identify, interrupt and disrupt all forms of supremacy including ableism, racism, misogyny, classism and more. By committing to accessible spaces we are following through —  to have critical conversations and to be together.

And for a little more on why we are here today we are here today because some of you may be aware there is has been a lot of attacks on migrant communities, on black people not just in the US but worldwide, on trans- and queer folk across borders and those navigating — in this moment particularly acutely and the COVID 19 pandemic has increased the amount of violence or isolation that our communities face. So today’s conversation and panel is an offering that will allow us to re-center and engage in an honest assessment of what is happening right now, what the stakes are for queer and trans migrants and what we can do to hold each other when policy and maybe the world cannot or does not want to.

And this talk is particularly important because it centers trans migrant leadership and trans folk in the US and across borders have been tasked with continuously reimagining new ways in which to move through the world in which to live, work love and uplift one another and trans folk are the people we need to look toward for leadership because the heightened attacks that we experience right now and the isolation we experience right now are not new to trans- and queer migrants communities. They’re actually an every day. So that is why we are centering trans and queer migrant voices.


The way that today will go is going to be asking Oluchi and Umi a few questions and afterward we’re going to open up the Q and A session of today’s live. For those who have questions please do ask them.

Before we start with the questions I’m going to invite Lynly who is our legal expert. Lynly are you able to get on the live?

>>       Hello. Thank you, thank you. Hey everyone I’m in Lynly the legal director at the Transgender Law Center. I’m so excited to be able to speak with you today and to let you know that we just filed a class action with the Rapid Descent Network as well as a law firm asking —

[>>      Sorry we’re going to have to restart the live one more time. Please just hold on and we will be right back.]

>>       Hi everyone thank you so much for your patience as we work through these technical difficulties. I’ve been using Zoom for a number of years now and I still have problems sometimes so thank you so much for your patience.

I’m so excited to be able to share with all of you today that Transgender Law Center, Rapid Defense Network just filed a class action to demand the release of transgender detainees in all immigration detention centers. What this means is we are going to the court and saying you need to release people because it is it is unsafe because of COVID 19.

Before any of this happened there have been advocates in organizations who have been demanding the release of transgender people from detention centers for years and those requests continue. However in the light of COVID 19 we are trying another legal strategy to basically force the court to look at the unsafe conditions holding transgender people in and it is important to be clear that ICE is making a choice to keep people maintained and isolated during the pandemic risk. So we are going to court and saying it is time you need to release people.

And what has been truly amazing about this litigation is that it happens because so many people came together to make it work. We have lawyers, organizers, funders, so many different groups of people who came together to get the documents needed, the statements needed and honestly even the money needed to make this happen because not only are we saying you need to release people, we are also saying we actually have a plan once you release people and we have almost $100,000 pledged to release people when you do it.

And so what this means is that we will be waiting for a chance to argue this in court. It could be very quickly, it may take a little more time but hopefully we will be in court within the next week making these arguments. So stay tuned, we are super excited about this and if you have any questions please feel free to put them in the chat.

Also we know that so many of us have had our eyes on the Supreme Court right now awaiting decisions in three workplace discrimination cases that will have a direct and profound impact on our communities. Regardless of the outcome we will be here for you. On the week that the Supreme Court title VII decisions are handed down our weekly community call will be focused on these decisions. Please join us then as our legal team discusses those decisions, and charts the path forward together. Thank you all.

>>       Thank you so much Lynly for that update. It is exciting and necessary news so thank you for that. And when we were first conceptualizing the space for today I was asked if I could share a poem that I’ve been working on that might give us some insight into our queer and trans experiences so I will open with a poem and then we will begin asking panelists questions. I am a artist by trade. That is my main work and this is called free to be read when the world does not know how to hold us.

I believe in trans pleasure, the divinity of our spirit needs and desires. Creators of life-assumed impossible.

I believe in trans pleasure, the shapes of magic of trans- Dykes, our life which were conceived by this Holy Spirit of self, born of the knowledge that always insisted itself onto us. Though sometimes difficult to name, identify and articulate, the embodiments of our truth are sometimes questioned and questioned and questioned. And the revelry of colonial imposed practices.

I believe in trans pleasure despite the spectating eyes — — patriarchy, powers that seek — in the name of progress.

I believe in trans pleasure and our descendents of a presupposed hell that is anything but because we descend from imaginative sanctuary.

I believe in trans pleasure because from the same allies that publicly root for us, try to get rid of us, we rise again from that which fails to die. Our spirits, our needs and our desires.

I believe in trans pleasure because we ascend from a holy messiness and we want possibility and sit at the right hand of each other, the kindred Almighty. From there we will come to practice care and courageous accountability. Raise a timepiece field chalice to the clouds. Offer it —


[>>      I’m going to need you to start the poem again. I’m going to try a different method of going live because it is clear that there is some issue with Facebook right now so I’m going to do a share screen instead and if you could start the poem right over and thank you for your patience.

>>       Absolutely. Let me know when.]


>>       Thank you for your patience.

I believe in trans pleasure, the divinity of our spirit needs and desires. Creators of life-assumed impossible.

I believe in trans pleasure, the shapes of magic of trans- Dykes, our life which were conceived by this Holy Spirit of self, born of the knowledge that always insisted itself onto us. Though sometimes difficult to name, identify and articulate, the embodiments of our truth are sometimes questioned and questioned and questioned. And the revelry of colonial imposed practices.

I believe in trans pleasure despite the spectating eyes — — patriarchy, powers that seek — in the name of progress.

I believe in trans pleasure and our descendents of a presupposed hell that is anything but because we descend from imaginative sanctuary.

I believe in trans pleasure because from the same allies that publicly root for us, try to get rid of us, we rise again from that which fails to die. Our spirits, our needs and our desires.

I believe in trans pleasure because we ascend from a holy messiness and we want possibility and sit at the right hand of each other, the kindred Almighty. From there we will come to practice care and courageous accountability. Raise a timepiece field chalice to the clouds and offered to our troubles ask permission to harvest yarrow and fill the flaps in tents to wounded flesh.

I believe in trans pleasure of the Holy Spirit of self, the holy church, the communion of grief and joy, our forgiveness to this society, the resurrection of our trans cestors and life everlasting.

Let the church say. ashay.


>>       So we start in this way to celebrate our trans community members to celebrate each other and to provide a model of how to hold one another. And right before the poem Linley gave us a legal update and told us that ICE is making the choice not to release our community. They are making the choice to continue putting us in danger. And what this brings up for us is the idea of abolition. Oluchi and Umi, the first question I want to ask is what is abolition and how does this serve as a framework right now in the work that you do and also in the work you have been doing?

>>       I can start. My name is Oluchi. I will put on my glasses so I look smart. Abolition like the word abolition means literally to end the institution or practice. Abolitionism came from the abolition of slavery so when we talk about the history of abolitionism and the history of abolitionists those were people who wanted to put an end to slavery so contextually in America when slavery ended but we found this new slavery started to form in the way of prisons and slave labor.

And this idea of slave labor –what does that actually look like? And we have a specific definition as not paying enough money to actually live. So as folks know we do not actually get paid in prison or if you do it is a very very very small amount. So contemporary abolitionism as we talk about in our context is abolition of prisons and that state.

As far as how that serves for us is we as BLMP know and understand that the prison system has been used to criminalize and oppress black people. And we know that to give autonomy and humanity to all black people the prison system cannot exist in the way that it does. And as BLMP we believe that punitive justice actually does not bring us to a transformative space where people’s humanities are appreciated and liberated so to find the liberation we seek thought BLMP completely agrees that transformative justice has to be used, whereas unitive justice has been used throughout our history, right?

So with that specifically when we look at the detainment of immigrants and specifically trans migrants, we know that prison dehumanizes us on a daily basis and we also know that because of the hetero patriarchy that us as transgender folks are also oppressed in the system so we see that trans migrants that are in detention are treated poorer than poor. They are treated the poorest in our society and we know that to liberate us we have to work within the intersection to see who is most oppressed.

>>       Thank you Oluchi and by the way you look smart with or without glasses. I think that, hi everyone this is Umi organizing and campaign director with Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement.

I think that abolition for us has always been a framework center and I think specifically in our political home that we are working on and building with at the national level around the abolishment of detention centers and ICE and to the extension of prisons as BLMP organizes with abolitionism and centers around prisons, the abolition movement came from as you were hearing from Oluchi from a letter black power movement building and being that the nation building of this country is so emphasized in its success and in achieving nation building through the eradication of all the indigenous peoples. And the control and labor of black and brown bodies.

For us, abolition really has to take center the recognition and acknowledgment that these are, there is a legacy of abolition. And further working on building that coalition and intersectional analysis as Oluchi was saying. And it certainly continues the state continues to prove to us today that it does not care about black and brown bodies with COVID. The pandemic right now certainly we are seeing that this has been, many people are seeing that this is an issue and we’ve been advocating for the abolition of detention centers and ICE for a long time because we’ve been saying the state does not care about the lives of black and brown people in cages. It is a moneymaking machine and has always been that like nationbuilding of this country it always has been.

And so there are other ways that even our resistance comes up. And we could talk about that a little bit but I think it also, one of our healing justice programs, healing and liberation is a program that specifically honors the retention of indigenous healing practices for trans and queer folks who are navigating in their lives post detention and post incarceration so this is one way we engage in movement building outside of the state. We don’t need the state to maintain the ways that we heal and that we work on being well and our wellness.

And so we also organize against the state around abolition and things like that. But also organizing outside of the framework of what the state cannot control our healing practices and our ways of living, our joy and much of that. Those are some —

>>       Thank you so much Umi and Oluchi particularly Oluchi thank you for grounding us and charting the genealogy of prison and anti- black practice that creates empire and for uplifting the fact that transformative justice has to be prioritized to counter so-called punitive justice. And Umi also thank you for reminding us that the prison system is also complicit with the eradication of indigenous people. And the need for coalition building because as you eloquently told us the state is proving to us that they don’t care. And also you highlight the ways in which it is a moneymaking machine.

And with this in mind I want to ask you what are the limitations that you are facing in your organizations? And who are some of the community leaders currently addressing those limitations?

>>       I think I really look to, I’m specifically really intrigued by a Muslim trans queer led group out of Chicago, Queer Crescent. And I really appreciate I’m learning from the wisdom of what it means to look into a community migration into the states and consider the fact that nation building has included eradication of indigenous peoples, enslavement and control of black and brown bodies and that being at the center of our analysis around uplifting a Muslim trans and queer community through organizing. I think they are doing a tremendous job.

Going through on a personal level through a lot of learning curves and how to engage with very difficult conversations with Latin X, nonblack, Latin and people who might have a migration experience and who are so ready for the conversations around the abolition of detention centers but are still working through how much as many intersections they have how much they seek a police state for violence as they face continuously every time they step out of the door. So some of my colleagues that had some very brief conversations even internally within the Latin X movement that still has a long way to go to grow and be inclusive of a more pleural movement beyond a Southwest, Mexican centric, Latin and trans, queer movement.

I think for me Queer Crescent is one of those organizations and spaces in the community that really really consider and put that idea into practice.

>>       When I think of limitations I think of I don’t actually think that we are limited as folks. I think the limitations that exist exist only because of the oppressive systems. Like capitalism oppresses us and building all of our worth to production. But I think that I know you’re going to get into this a bit more.

But I think that when we talk about liberation and activism you cannot not talk about art and how we as trans people, we as black people have been using art as a tool to liberate ourselves since our inception. Which is why I think we make the best art — that is another discussion for a day. But I think a lot about organizations that have art as a focus into what they are doing and that could be many practices so I think about Culture  Strike which a nationwide organization that brings art into activism. I think about the group that has the experience which is really about how do we take the joy from being black and show that through our art and music and culture and everything. I think of one of the local organizations in Minnesota, Black Visions that really talks about what is the vision for black Minnesotans and how do we actually obtain that vision. And even thinking about BLMP we have Alan who is an amazing fucking artist. I apologize I don’t know if I’m supposed to use that but he really brings his cultural organizing to the forefront of our work. And all the other artists we been able to cultivate.

I think those are the leaders who are actually dismantling those limitations that we see through our organizing and through our work.

>>       Thank you Umi and Oluchi. I think your answers create an amazing conversation particularly how you start with transnational organizing or transcultural organizing in a migrant space can be a limitation but the ways in which there are organizations like Queer Crescent who are shifting the narrative of how we understand migration, how we understand queerness and community holding. And you also named learning ideas of the police state as limitations particularly because we all come from different countries and we have learned something in our home countries and then come here and try to project it. And Oluchi you begin by saying that we are not necessarily limited as people but we are targeted and then to which creates the limitations.

But you see a sense of hope in future in art as the thing that can shift us out of the limitation and you name the Black Youth project, you name Culture Strike. And I guess in the midst of violence, particularly because both of you work with organizations who are constantly dealing with the state, how do you imagine the future and how have your colleagues, your friends in the Transgender Law Center, in Familia Trans Queer Liberation community and the Black LGBT Migrant Project how do they shape what you want to see? How do they inspire?

>>       I think for me a lot has been really at center Afro futurism, envisioning, literary arts, sci-fi futurism. Writers of decades before us engaging with organizers that have also been influenced by arts and have learned through the arts and through their personal experiences. Folks that are willing to have certain conversations that speaks beyond, a lot of times bullet points conversations that when we move policy.

Those things, also influenced by art and culture. Certainly collaborations with spaces like culture strike that has been mentioned. A lot of creative individuals that really ground us and hone us in on the envisioning that we can live, we can navigate journeys without state violence, without detentions. I specifically as an example an institution that has been created in our lifetimes can and will end in our lifetimes. A lot of times being that violence is so constant, it is not new, it is just is reproduced constantly in so many ways always looking to artistic medicine people and ways to really ground us and influence us and envisioning arriving to a place where abolition of these cages will be a thing that we want to experience and will.

>>       I totally agree. I think for me I get very activated from even being on Instagram. And I think that like our people are like so dope when it comes to art and culture and being able to hold the trauma and oppression they’ve had and turn that into something beautiful which really inspires me to do the work that I do on a daily basis. Just being able to read ground in that and show that in a deep way. For example Alan your poetry makes me think about what is possible. I think also when we have time to vision and scheme around the world that we do want to live in and makes that world more of a reality. And it makes it easier to actually work towards that and be willing to work towards that as well.

>>       Alan, I don’t think I can hear you.

>>       Can you hear me?

>>       Yes.

>>       Thank you so much. Again you are so in conversation you talk about how violence is produced and how art can ground us and help us counter that violence. And Oluchi it is interesting that you say that Instagram is a way of inspiration because you are able to witness other community members to talk about their trauma but actually take hold of their narratives. And render that story in the way that they want their story to be seen or witnessed. And this actually ties in really well with two of the questions we have received in the live.

One of the questions is given our current changes in organizing and mobilizing I would love to ask you what are your suggestions with using social media to continue to mobilize for trans and queer people of color and liberation in abolishing ICE and detention centers?

>>       Yes, yes I agree with this question I appreciate that. And the second question is essentially the same thing around how do we move social media — how are we using social media? I think that especially because we now have all of these stay-at-home orders and people are likely have to get along and get in line so we are already online, right?

I think people don’t realize digital organizing existed before this moment. We might not have emphasized it as much but we have existed online before like even before the word digital organizing was a word we found a community online before this COVID crisis or Coronavirus began. Aspires how we have built community we actually take hold of things that are popular. Go to our Instagram or Facebook you will see that we — to just engage folks and say that we are online and here. And also people have done political things on social media before like if you want to follow someone you are doing great I will post in the chat afterwards. They post all the time around political education and just making it fun and relevant and making it like art. Folks have done live poetry or open mics before this started.

So really just utilizing what we are doing now on a bigger platform I think is one thing that might be different but understanding that social media has been used as a tool for organizing for a very very long time. But now that unfortunately white people and other folks are forced to do that, now it is being recognized as something less viable. And understanding what those differences are.

>>       I completely agree and echo and I think I will just, I am really loving the ways that some of this is making us stop from doing what we traditionally feel like, looks like showing power. Oftentimes before the last few months of rethinking, going towards digital organizing, I think we are also rethinking the ways that we include people that speak many different languages in very intentional ways. People of many different abilities and disabilities and so whereas before I felt like for sure the fight has to be out in a physical location out in the streets, shutting down intersections and that is great like we love doing that. Where I organize out of. And certainly it is a way to show power yet it is not the only one. And so I’m loving seeing all the creative ways that community always has been organizing digitally and the ways that we are now uplifting that leadership.

>>       Thank you. One of the things that your comments make me think about is the reality that for example one of the reasons why Christian abolitionists were important is because people who have been incarcerated for leading a light of abolition conversations they tell us that they were in prison and they were organizing, they had no access to leave they were still able to engage in hunger strikes. They were able to say no. They were able to send letters out and then when they were organizing inside they were people who were distribute that information to the media. If the media would not take it they would just posted on the Internet and blogs. They would tell their neighbors, their friends and I think that in the midst of this isolation and in this social distancing, one of the things that we can do is be very intentional and what we uplift in our day today. If we are using social media we can all become archivists. We can all become historians, uplift stories of people who’ve already been doing the work because the more access there is to a framework or to a history of people who are doing this, the more excitement others will feel and the more stakes they will also like they will see that the stakes are high and they will engage.

And Oluchi I think you said we find each other online. And that is true. We can create our own platforms. We no longer need to rely on existing platforms and that can be scary but that is an offering and something I encourage all of you to critically think about how can you use your network? Your media network? Don’t think about a large network, you have to start with the intimate first. And let me see if we have anymore questions.

I don’t see any more questions coming in but Umi or Oluchi do you have any questions or comments that you want to bring up?

>>       I will say that keep following us virtually on our social media platforms. We have some incredible programming coming up and also digital actions for the National League of action. Up to date set of demands that we will release on May 8 and the week of action will be from beginning Monday, May 25 through Sunday, 31 May. Gearing us up for our pride month that we are also here for reclaiming for abolition of detention centers and all cages.

>>       Around access one thing I did not bring up was at this time I think you it is important because it is so visceral how capitalism plays into our daily lives. Like folks are losing jobs, folks are forcing bedding forced to go to work even though they may be compromised. And states are trying to open prematurely. When people should really be staying at home. And we are really seeing that capitalism is not give a fuck about our people and does not give any about people in general and really only cares about what they can produce.

I think it is really important because people are in this time because they’re getting very activated but they might not be politicized in the ways that we need them to be. So political education and how are we actually utilizing the anger and questioning the people are  having in this moment. And this is something that is generated, right?

So a couple things that BLMP is doing is that we have a political education series that was started last week. Our last episode is on our Facebook if you want to watch it. This series is going into what is capitalism and why is capitalism shitty. The first episode is a basic understanding of what is capitalism. The next episode we have actually next Wednesday is going to be more so talk about why capitalism is bad for public health and why privatizing public health is actually killing us.

And then we’re going to talk about incarceration and the prison industrial complex which will be amazing. We’re going to go into labor what does labor actually mean and look like and how is labor tied to self work or societal work and then we are going to dig deeper into this idea of environmental capitalism and how capitalism destroys our environment and the world. So that is going to be that is on our Facebook as well so if you follow BLMP — you can register for all of the events.

Another thing we would like to do is we know that because a lot of us — community physically we want to put a stage for community online so we do we are doing monthly Afro beats dance parties which is really awesome and dope. 

And the last thing is we know it is census time right now. Every 10 years we have census and we also know that the census does not give us specific information on our people either so we know that we need to do a needs assessment on queer and trans black migrants and first generation folks living in the United States. So one thing we put out the action about the first Black LGBTQ Migrant survey and that is live on our Instagram and Facebook and all of our social media as well so if you identify as a black queer or trans migrant or first-generation folk please take our survey because we are getting data on where our people are and what they need. Other than that you can enjoy the tribe, but other than that, that is pretty much it.

>>       Thank you Umi and Oluchi. Oluchi you said something really important you said to lean on anger. One thing that we can do in this moment is display our outrage. This is something that is underneath so often particularly black death and trans death that people no longer know how to respond to it and expressing our outrage single time actually helps because it gives people a framework of how not to normalize violence because when we start reacting that means that we start accepting so one way to organize is to be vocal about how you feel. And that can actually mobilize more people to be on board with you and ask you how they can help, how they can join your cause. So don’t be afraid to lean on feelings.

And with that I want to thank all of you for your contributions .Umi and Oluchi, thank you for that. If there is any other questions that people have you can ask them and if folks if we have time we might be able to write some answers back. But please keep tuning in for future sessions with us and if there’s anything anybody else wants to say who is on the call, please do so.

Okay I’m taking that this is it. Thank you for tuning in and please follow us. We are the Transgender Law Center, Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement, the Black LGBTQ Migrant Project and we will see you soon.


[End of program]