Day 2 of the Domestic Exchange: Houston, TX
Today we spent the afternoon having a homemade lunch with leaders and members of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT) at Casa Anandrea, their house in Houston that provides emergency shelter for trans, intersex, and queer people, especially those who are undocumented. About 20 people welcomed us, mostly, though not exclusively, Latinx folks from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Some just recently came out of immigrant detention while others have been in the country for twenty years. Antena Houston joined to help us practice language justice in the meeting.
OLTT started about 4 years ago after trans women at an LGBT event were confronted for using the women’s restroom. When they asked the organization hosting the event for accountability and to agree to demands for trans women, the organization refused, and that experience birthed OLTT, led by Ana Andrea Molina. “We cannot be excluded from our own community.”
Through their Trans Empowerment & Leadership Program, they fight for the rights of trans people by bringing women to the Texas state capitol and to Washington, DC to advocate for issues important to them. “Straight people have fun at our shows, but they ignore our narratives. It is our responsibility and privilege to fight for our issues. If we don’t do it, no one else will do it for us.” OLTT sees its leaders as powerful political ambassadors who are speaking out on behalf of the larger community. In a great example of using cultural resistance as a way to support the political work, they hold an annual pageant judged by a panel of activists, where the winner is “not a barbie doll but someone who can speak powerfully in front of a crowd.”
Another key part of their work is the Deportation Defense Project. Along with the push factors for most immigrants of poverty and violence, trans women have additional layers of hardship, such as being disowned by family members at a young age, sexual abuse, constant harassment, and job discrimination. Trans women who are Indigenous and/or Garifuna also confront racism. Many of them are detained at the U.S. border without any resources, housed in terrible conditions and facing deportation. Member after member shared their story of how OLTT was a lifeline for them, often being the only organization to offer support, by coordinating legal services, getting fines lowered and paid, providing transport and a place to stay. And, more importantly, by providing emotional support, sisterhood, and hope.
Solidarity and sisterhood are essential parts of the way they operate. “We don’t have to be best friends, but we have to be sisters in the struggle.” They receive no funding for most of what they do, including rent and food for the emergency shelter. Any grants they have gotten so far are small and often support specific programs. They fundraise for donations through garage sales, drag shows, and bingo. The women who are able to make money donate to keep things running. No one is on payroll and everyone is a volunteer. This solidarity is extended out into the community, too. During Hurricane Harvey, they housed over 50 people who were displaced. They held a successful clothing drive for homeless folks in the area, knowing that many LGBT people are on the streets. They recently opened up their services to LGBT and non-binary people broadly, knowing that not everyone in their trans community agreed with that decision. “Some people only care about what they can get for themselves. We are not just fighting for our own rights, but for the larger LGBT community.”
It is clear that a valued show of solidarity from the broader community would be to support this important work with much-needed funds. They also named the need for more people to pay attention to the many trans women who are still in immigrant detention all along the Southern border – progressive lawyers, judges, and service providers are crucial. They also need more job opportunities for trans women, especially jobs that pay living wages for dignified work. These Translatinas will continue doing their incredible work and can continue scraping by to meet as many needs as they can, but it is on the broader community to ask ourselves how will we show up in solidarity with them. “We’ve been thrown out of our families and social groups as soon as we talk about our needs. Here we are a family. We are powerful. We are chingonas.”