To Our Past and Future Freedom Fighters: The Power of Black Trans Leadership, Joy and Dreaming
My name is Bré Rivera (she/they), and I am the Director of the Black Trans Fund.
I am an unapologetically Black trans femme, a person with disabilities, who recently got her high school diploma. I am proud to be a part of a rich and diverse lineage of Black trans and gender-expansive leaders who are dreaming of a world that centers joy. Despite these trying times when trans-bodily autonomy and rights are under attack, we are still able to invest in and witness the glory and innovation of care work led on behalf of Black trans communities.
Creating a fund dedicated to this work was something I dreamed into existence. It was late summer of 2015, and I was in New York City visiting my dearest sister Octavia Yaz-mine Lewis. At the time, I had just launched an organization in Detroit and was struggling to find funders and resources to support my girls back home. Octavia introduced me to many different leaders of organizations that transformed how I looked at the philanthropic landscape that activated my curiosity. I questioned why there were so many Black trans-led organizations in one of the wealthiest cities in the world struggling with funding in a place with so many resources. During that trip, I met Devin Lowe, Brianna Lee Coleman, and eli dru — future Black trans leaders and visionaries. They collectively became my political home and constantly remind me, then and now, that I am loved and free.
While riding the bus home, I became distracted by a vision. I was traveling around the country, meeting with other Black trans leaders. We deeply connected about their dreams for themselves and their communities and they shared their plans for building a new world that centers Black trans joy. I had a checkbook and would write checks to the folks I met and thank them for their time, only to repeat the cycle elsewhere. During that time, I was poor and working in a gig economy that continuously underpaid me. This vision felt impossible, and I knew it. But I kii’d with my girls, garnered support from my chosen family, and held on to it throughout my years as an advocate.
In 2020, I had the pleasure of launching the Black Trans Fund, a national fund that centers on Black trans joy and liberation and celebrates Black trans freedom fighters of the past, present, and future. We launched a few days before the global pandemic led to government shutdowns that impacted all of us. Black trans leaders became first responders by leading mutual aid efforts to provide Black trans people with survival resources. Those offerings were nothing new; Black trans communities have an inherent nature to care for the community. As someone who ran a smaller organization that desired to provide joyful mutual aid opportunities to our members, I can attest to funders being weary of providing direct assistance to individuals. I am clear now that transphobia and anti-Blackness facilitated those decisions. eli dru (he/they), a Black Trans Fund advisor and cultural organizer, recently shared a word with me that reminded me of how I saw Black trans people responding to the moment:
“We have to have a level of revolutionary optimism in the face of these tumultuous times. We refuse to allow this moment to be the center of our entire existence.”
The Black Trans Fund is revolutionary because we centered joy and liberation during absolute chaos. With the help of over 65 grantees and partner organizations, BTF has moved $1.6 million since its inception, with a planned $1.8 million to the field in 2023. To quote my friend and BTF Program Manager, HunterDae, (they/them): “We are tired of hearing about what you are struggling with. We want to hear what you are dreaming about!”
BTF is proud to create a container for Black trans-lenders to dream of a world that centers their joy. Centering joy is so valuable to the staff and leadership of BTF that we ensure that all grants are free of fees, maximizing joy’s impact on the community. We only do this because of our deep relationship with grantees who named their joy work as being impacted by administrative costs. BTF is grateful to grantees, partners, and friends who continue to push us to be responsive and guide us to be more responsible and joy-centered fund. We are not funding organizations that serve people. BTF, with the help of our partners, is investing in the necessary infrastructure to build a new world that centers the joy and liberation of our Black trans and gender-expansive kin for us to dream and create systems for future generations.
As folks prepare to celebrate Pride, I ask you to think deeply about the impact that Marsha P. Johnson’s brick-throwing at Stonewall has on Black trans communities. For me, the brick represents protection and honors all the girls carrying around a brick to survive. The throwing of that brick didn’t just start a riot; it awakened something in all of us that no longer allows Black trans power to be ignored. LGBTQ communities would not experience their freedom in this world without Black trans people. We live vibrant and joyous lives that exist outside of Pride. Celebrate us, love on us, and resource us every day.
“At the root of pride is joy, and it gives me great pleasure to witness the achievements and advancements of our grantees. I’m proud to be a part of the Black Trans Fund and look forward to sharing more joy, love, and liberation.” — Rainier Miles, Black Trans Fund Program Associate
And to our future Black trans brick throwers, know that we are here for you, we love you, and we are reminding you to center joy. You come from a long lineage of freedom fighters who have done whatever it takes to ensure that we can be in a place where the Black Trans Fund exists, that centers our joy and freedom. As we continue to build a new world capable of sustaining future Black trans communities, know that your work is important. We value the care you provide for the community. Continue to be bold and know you make our ancestors proud by just existing.