Philly Trans Heroes: Trans Day of Visibility 2023
March 31st is Transgender Day of Visibility and we’re focusing on joy. After all, when trans advocate, Rachel Crandal, created the holiday in 2012 she hoped it would be a day for people to re-focus on celebrating the lives of transgender people instead of hyper-focusing on violence and bigotry. We specifically want to show love to our local trans activists so here is a list of a few of Philly’s trans heroes.
"There are people who live a life that starts a revolution...Nizah's death was a revolution. This woman has carried the lives of trans* people on her back, and look at the fruit that has blossomed from her existence." -- Samantha Jo Dato, Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference Coordinator and friend
Nizah Morris was a trans woman, a Buddhist, an activist, and an electrifying entertainer who performed in the weekly drag show at Bob and Barbara’s. The Buddhist blog, Engage!, published the following in a memorial to Ms. Morris:
“She was one of the co-founders of a Philadelphia-based LGBT nondenominational upāsaka/upāsikā Buddhist fellowship called AI. This fellowship began in the 1970s, and although it is now defunct, it may have been the world’s first and only multiracial upāsaka/upāsikā fellowship for gender non-conforming queer people of color. The fellowship was formed as a private safe haven for low-income queer and gender-variant Buddhists of color to skill-share, collectively meditate, and pool money to attend expensive retreats in the United States and abroad.
Nizah was also one of the elders in a now-defunct street outreach nonprofit organization called Genders Within that guided gender-variant sex workers and addicts in harm reduction. She volunteered extensively as a harm reductionist and HIV/AIDS prevention worker for organizations like Bebashi and Action AIDS (now Action Wellness).”
In 2011, Nizah Morris’ legacy was honored with the opening of Morris Home - the country's only drug and alcohol recovery home specifically for trans and gender non-conforming people. Since it’s opening, Morris Home has expanded to include education and housing networks, holistic therapies and community outreach to help support its members and graduates.
It is believed that Nizah Morris was killed because of police negligence; despite continued community pressure, there still is no conviction in regards to this tragic loss.
“Ms. Arcila worked for the Philadelphia AIDS Consortium for 20 years, during which time she also founded the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference—now the largest conference for transgender and gender-nonconforming people to provide health care and wellness support. It grew every year since its inception with 7,000 people attending in 2017.
Ms. Arcila also led the grassroots movement to ban gender markers from SEPTA passes in 2013, arguing them discriminatory against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. She served as treasurer for the William Way LGBT Community Center and as a member of the board of directors for the Mazzoni Center].” From the Philadelphia Citizen
“Naiymah Sanchez joined the ACLU-PA in January 2017 as the trans justice coordinator. She is a proud woman of transgender experience and previously worked as the coordinator of the Trans-Health information project for five years providing education and advocacy services for transgender individuals in Philadelphia. Naiymah has worked to help the Philadelphia prison system become more PREA (Prison Rape elimination act) compliant since 2015. Part of Naiymah's initiative is to build coalitions to better serve transgender individuals and the injustice they face.” From the ACLU of Pennsylvania
Erickson grew up in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia and graduated from Temple University in 1940. Upon his father’s death he inherited the Schuylkill Products Corporation, which he later sold for a considerable profit. Erickson was very politically progressive and actively opposed the McCarthy era purges, which targeted communists, homosexuals and anyone considered deviant. In support of his progressive ideas, Erickson contributed a great deal of his wealth to politicians and community organizations in Philadelphia and beyond. Erickson came out as trans in 1962 and a year later received one of the first gender affirming surgeries performed in the US.
Erickson’s most notable contribution is that of the Erickson Educational Foundation (EEF) in New York. In regards to the foundation, OutHistory has said: “It is difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of the impact of the EEF in bringing the question of gender identity to the forefront, where it could be discussed on scientific, humanitarian and educational terms. Its influence has been without equal in this country and even internationally.”
“Jaci, 56, served on many boards and commissions, but was perhaps most loved for her willingness to share her story in personal, one-on-one conversations. Whether offering support to a young trans woman or counseling a person with HIV, she offered hope to those who thought there was none. Jaci served as a member of the Morris Planning Committee, as well as the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference Planning Committee. She was a founding member of the Temple University Community Advisory Board and founded the Trans People with Hope Conference in 2004. She was on the Philadelphia Police Liaison Committee, acted as an advisor to the City of Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs, served on the board of the LGBT Elder Initiative and the board of The God Environment and volunteered with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Youth Aid Panel and the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund.” - Written by AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania
“Min. Tatyana Woodard is a Minister at Next Level Revival church. Her career in activism took flight within the Ballroom Community of Philadelphia, which also sparked her love of fashion. She took on the role of Project Director for the Trans Equity Research Project at Temple University’s School of Social Work, where her focus was on reducing HIV-related health disparities in the Trans community. Woodard was also named Philly Gay News 2018 Person of the Year honoree for her advocacy. She is proud to Lead The ark of safety insuring to provide a multifaceted, trauma-informed space where Black and Brown trans women can access temporary housing, meals, prevention, and other healthcare services, trauma services, or access gender affirming clothing. Tatyana also works as Community Affairs manager at the Mazzoni Center.” Min. Woodward’s biography from Ark of Safety LGBTQ+ Safe Haven
“Christian A'Xavier Lovehall is a proud Black Trans man with Caribbean roots, from Philly known for his poetry, music and freedom fighting. By day, he is co-owner of FrootFly LLC, a freelance photographer and an unapologetic advocate for the most marginalized individuals and communities, including Black Trans individuals, people living with disAbilities, those who are undocumented and sex workers. By night, he is a HipHop artist, known as WORDZ The Poet Emcee, who works tirelessly to save the world from the influence of “wack emcees” with music many fans consider to be a “breath of fresh air”.
In 2011, Christian founded and organized the Philly Trans March, an annual rally, protest and march towards Trans equity and liberation. In 2013, Christian became a Certified Peer Specialist and has worked as a Recovery Specialist at Morris Home, the east coast’s first residential program for Trans individuals in recovery from alcohol and other drugs.
In 2015, he founded and created The Free Ky Project, to help spread awareness about Ky Peterson and the untold stories of Black and Brown Trans Men, who are survivors of sexual assault. In 2016, Christian became the lead facilitator of the TransMasculine Advocacy Network (TMAN), a support and advocacy group for Trans men of Color in Philadelphia founded in 2006.
In 2017, Christian became a certified doula, affectionately known as Brotha Doula. By providing doula care that is inclusive of birthing trans men, gender non-conforming and non-binary individuals, Brotha Doula offers one-of-a-kind support to those who may not have access to non-judgmental, informed and confidential doula care. He is also a Board Member of DesireeAlliance and Strategic Committee member of The Black Sex Workers Collective.
Today, Christian continues to live his life spreading a message of peace, love and liberation “by any means necessary." From Christian’s Facebook
Acknowledgement is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to honoring the tireless work of trans people. We encourage you to donate generously and often to these heroes and organizations and to encourage your friends and family to do the same.
Here’s a bonus one for good measure ;)