It’s a scary time to be a transgender woman of color – it’s been this way for a while. 2016 was the deadliest year on record for trans and gender non-conforming people, with trans women of color being disproportionally affected. With the recent murders in Louisiana (three trans women of color within the last half of February), 2017 is shaping up to be even deadlier.
Bamby Salcedo is fighting to change all that. An activist and organizer in Los Angeles, Bamby created the Trans Latin@ Coalition to advocate for the specific needs of the trans Latin community, and recently opened the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness.
In our talk, Bamby discussed the basic needs that many in the trans community don’t have access to (especially those who are immigrants), the urgent need for trans-inclusive homeless shelters, and why she offers her own story as hope to those in the community who are struggling.
JM: How has being an activist changed as visibility’s increased?
BS: I think the movement from the beginning has been a constant struggle. Right now we’re in a pivotal moment where we are being recognized to some degree, but the reality is that trans people continue to face extreme social issues. Trans people are not able to obtain jobs and basic needs like housing. We’re being criminalized for simply being who we are. We’re constantly on this uphill battle.
JM: I think a lot about the number of trans women being murdered, but on top of that, they’re also taking their own lives. The suicide rates are staggering.
BS: Many have been murdered this year, but there’s likely more that aren’t documented. This is the constant struggle that we have to face. Just yesterday, I was talking to someone who is homeless. She’s 23. She’s done public relations work and her intelligence is superb, yet she hasn’t been able to get a job since she transitioned and she’s now homeless.
JM: Is this why you created the TransLatin@ Coalition?
BS: That’s definitely one of the reasons. We’re doing advocacy work, which leads into changing the structures that continue to oppress us, but also the direct community empowerment and leadership development that we need to have in order to develop the next wave of leaders.
One of the things we continue to see is that we’re providing emergency services, but trans people who are getting released from immigration detention centers, through the advocacy we’ve done or otherwise, they’re in limbo. They don’t have paperwork or a social security number, so it’s difficult to place them into the workforce.
We often have to put them in emergency shelters, but it’s a struggle to find sensitive places where they can place them. The Los Angeles LGBT Center has a program, but it’s specifically for youth. For people who are over 24-years old, there’s nowhere for them to go.
JM: There’s not a trans or LGBTQ-exclusive homeless shelter?
BS: Other than the LGBT Center for youth, no, but we are on the task of building that right now. This is an emergency thing. I think we need to call it what it is: we, as a community, are in a state of emergency. We need for our elected officials, instead of criminalizing us and putting us in jail, to actually invest in the livelihood of trans people. This needs to be addressed immediately.
JM: California has some of the most trans-inclusive laws in the country. In general, do you feel safe living here?
BS: You know, it’s unpredictable because the life of a trans woman of color really is just living day by day. When you’re at your home, if you have a home, then you could say that you’re safe, but when we walk out of our homes, often times we have a target on us.
Last year I was a victim of a hate crime. We are all exposed to violence. If you’re not the standard that people think you’re supposed to be for a woman, you could be attacked. One of the reasons, and this is my own analogy, is that because trans women have left the privilege of manhood, that speaks to the masculinity of other men. Therefore, we’re prone to their attacks. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.
Because trans women have left the privilege of manhood, that speaks to the masculinity of other men.
JM: These are big issues. For the people you’re working with, how do you present the future in a realistic way and still provide them with hope?
BS: What I often use is my own personal experience. When I first got to Los Angeles, I was 19 years old. I was homeless; I was using drugs; I had been part of the prison industrial complex. Whatever you can think of, I’ve lived it and survived it. After I got into a treatment center and got clean when I was 32 years old, I finally had a clear mind and could see things the way they were. I was watching my friends that I was on the corner with just a few months before being attacked, being murdered, being dragged from cars and chased.
I put myself as hope to the community. I let them know that, yes, we are in this moment right now, but if we work and stick together, if we do what we need to do, we can get to the other side.