Day 3 of the Domestic Exchange: Activist Roundtable
- Eesha Pandit, member of MEV’s Cohort 2, co-founder of Center for Advancing Innovative Policy, and founding team member of South Asian Youth in Houston Unite (SAYHU)
- Ana Andrea Molina, director and founder of Organización Latina Trans en Texas, whom we met on Day 2 of the exchange
- Monica Roberts, African-American blogger, writer, and transgender rights advocate and founding editor of TransGriot
- Ola Osifo Osaze, founder of Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP)
- Kelvin Lopez, Organizer at Jolt Houston, and whose Austin office we visited on Day 1 of the exchange; Jolt is a member of MEV’s Cohort 4
Houston is currently known as the most ethnically diverse city in the United States.This diversity which has happened over time with demographic changes, highlights the need for Black and Brown solidarity and making connections between our struggles, while also understanding the differences, nuances, and complexities.
A key connection raised by panelists is the mass incarceration of poor Black people and the high rates of detention of immigrants. Said Eesha, “Our communities are separated into different wings in the prison, but it is literally the same structure impacting us and it’s the same companies profiting off our imprisonment.”
SB4, a current law that allows law enforcement to racially profile people by asking for their citizenship documents, is another example. “We are all getting profiled,” said Monica, “and when they are done messing with Latinx immigrants, they are coming for Black folks, including Black trans folks from the Caribbean.”
Economic and Political Impact
The panelists also pointed to how communities of color and trans communities get shortchanged in the economic and political spheres. “Communities of color helped Houston grow into an international city with a booming economy,” shared Monica, “but the trans community and immigrants are not integrated in that.”
Ana Andrea shared that while activists celebrated Obama and progressive Texans like Wendy Davis, their administrations were signing agreements with ICE and overseeing immigrant detentions and deportations. “People who call themselves progressive use us to grow their numbers. But in their path to their objectives, they forget our goals.” This is partly why Jolt organizes young Latinx people to register to vote and run for office, shared Kelvin.
These same divisions show up between communities of color and among LGBTQ communities. “There are over 130,000 undocumented South Asians in Texas,” shared Eesha, but they use the narrative of being “good immigrants” to stay under the radar. “How can we be in solidarity with other undocumented communities if we aren’t willing to admit it?” Ola discussed the ways Black cis and trans immigrants are targeted for punishment and criminalization within detention centers, “it’s another way that anti-Blackness shows up.” There was also heated discussion about the ways white LGBT organizations ignore the leadership of trans leaders of color. They banded together to defeat an anti-trans bathroom bill but were silent when Latinx trans folks were fighting SB4. When trans folks of color were calling the alarm about the exclusion of trans people in early versions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), white leadership didn’t listen to them. “There is internalized transphobia in our movements and white trans folks don’t want to be led by people of color,” said Monica.
Transphobia, anti-Blackness, and racism also impact how resources are distributed. “It’s like there is a mafia within movements and it obscures the work. If there are resources, you should share them,” commented Ana Andrea. Millions of dollars were raised for Hurricane Harvey relief and none of it went to OLTT, even though they were housing tens of people displaced by the storm. After a discussion led by Ola on the minimal percentages of funding that goes to trans organizations, Monica shared, “Leadership of color is not funded properly and not being respected, especially in the South.”
Cross-Community Organizing Opportunities
The panelists are clear that Houston is the perfect place to do cross-community organizing. Because of Texans’ experience with “repressive regimes and problematic governments, some of the most innovative organizing is happening here, but it gets disregarded and disrespected,” said Eesha. “Rather than looking to us for insights, progressives see us as a place to be fixed.” Observed Ola, “I’m always surprised by the invisibility of Texas in the progressive movement. It has a much stronger progressive history than people see. Trans organizing is focused on the coasts and Chicago, but Texas has had a major impact on the modern trans movement.”