SaVanna Wanzer is setting a lofty but necessary goal: make May a month to focus on the needs and wants of D.C.’s transgender community.
A founder of D.C.’s annual Trans Pride celebration, Wanzer has created We The People, a committee of activists and advocates who will plan events that uplift the larger transgender community. Under Wanzer’s guidance, We the People has organized “May Is? All About Trans,” the third iteration of a series of events focusing on the transgender and gender-nonconforming community.
“As a founder of Trans Pride, I can tell you we’ve only had about 45 minutes on the day of the celebration to talk about issues in our community,” says Wanzer. “So by creating ‘May Is? All About Trans’ we now have up to three hours at each event to talk about an issue where we can get more accomplished.”
Deirdre Denise Gray, co-chair of the event alongside Wanzer, says that the goal of the month-long series of events is to highlight different aspects of the journey a transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person goes through in their life and to provide advice and resources to those in the process of navigating their identity.
The month kicks off with a day-long summit on Wednesday, May 1, at Metropolitan Community Church of D.C., followed by a dinner at Busboys & Poets.
“At the summit, we’re looking to bring some great minds from the community,” says Gray. “We’re going to have legal presentations, medical presentations, spiritual presentations, covering a whole variety of topics for those who are going to be in that space. We’ll have different people from all different walks of life, who identify as trans, LGB, queer, allies, spiritual advisors, all exchanging ideas and information so that we can come out of it with what I call our ‘Points of Light.'”
The “Points of Light” are specific action items, proposed by members of the trans and gender-nonconforming community, that will serve as part of a policy agenda for the greater D.C. area. Gray hopes that by identifying priority items, the community can continue to highlight certain issues over the course of the next year, and speak in a more united voice about the goals of the community.
“We know some of the biggest things are housing, employment, and access to medical care,” says Gray. “But we need to think about what are the other things that we can look at as a community, and say that when one of us has a platform, to make sure we raise this point or bring this topic to the attention of those who we are in front of.”
As part of “May Is,” Wanzer has designated specific lieutenants in charge of outreach to specific communities. Alexa Rodriguez serves as a coordinator for Latinx and immigrant outreach, and aims to push for more inclusion of different voices and perspectives.
“It doesn’t matter what language we speak or where we’re coming from, we are part of the community,” Rodriguez says, adding that she hopes to inspire and create opportunities for leadership roles for people in the Latinx and immigrant communities.
“There’s a lot of barriers for undocumented immigrants coming from the Latinx community, the language barrier is really hard,” says Rodriguez. “D.C. is a sanctuary for all communities, including the LGBT community, and for the trans community there are a lot of resources, like Whitman-Walker or La Clinica del Pueblo. But sometimes, if we don’t have documentation that reflects our gender, it’s hard to seek out services because of the fear of being discriminated against or being misgendered. When we don’t have documentation, we cannot access health care.
“Housing is another issue we face as undocumented trans women, because if we are homeless we cannot go to the shelter for women because we don’t have documents that match our gender,” she adds. “And we cannot go to a shelter for men because we are not men, so it’s hard. There are a few programs like Casa Ruby and SMYAL or other organizations who provide shelter, but they’re restricted by age. We, as trans people, often transition as adults, in our 20s or 30s, so it can be hard to find resources for us because there are no programs for people our age.”
LGBTQ seniors are another underrepresented community that organizers hope to engage.
“Older adults and seniors in the trans community are a group that’s really been left out and forgotten,” says Gibby Thomas, senior advisor for “May Is?”
“A lot of the programs they have are geared toward younger transgender people, but they’ve forgotten about the older transgender women who paved the way,” says Thomas, who has been promoting the various events among her social circles. “I hope the older trans community can take away from these events that they’re not forgotten, that they’re still part of the community, even though we don’t go to the clubs anymore and do the things we used to do. We want them to know they’re still very much a part of the community, very much welcome, and very much needed, especially to mentor younger trans people.”
Among the events planned for the month of May are community discussions around issues such as addiction (Sunday, May 4), PrEP and forms of HIV prevention (Wednesday, May 15), and “Bridging the Gap,” a conversation on Wednesday, May 22 focusing on resolving the differences between the gay male cisgender community and the transgender community.
“I feel like there are some misunderstandings between the gay community and the trans community,” says David Moody, a straight man who serves as the awards coordinator for “May Is?” “There’s also misunderstandings between the two communities about what each other represent, and whether they can work together to build each other up as opposed to trying to tear each other apart.” Moody notes that some people may see the gay and trans community as competing for a limited pool of resources.
Amy Nelson, a legal advisor and queer lesbian representative, is hopeful that the variety of events held throughout the month — including an art showing and open mic night on Saturday, May 11, and a Happy Hour at Denizens Brewing Co. on Sunday, May 12 — will attract people to attend, while also highlighting the community’s major priorities.
“I love that we have a mix of events with different formats,” she says. “Some are strictly for entertainment purposes. Some are to socialize and have fun, and others are educational panels. Then there are events targeting particular demographics. It allows particular groups to have the unique opportunity to get together and interact in a designated space.”
Above all else, Wanzer says an important aspect of “May Is? All About Trans” is that the events are safe spaces where all people can feel welcome.
“It’s about self-pride, self-respect, self-loving, honoring yourself, loving yourself, being yourself, staying out and staying proud of who you the individual are,” she says. “But at certain locations you can’t do that. So at all of our events, we try to create an environment of love.”
“May Is? All About Trans” kicks off on Wednesday, May 1 with a Trans Summit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Metropolitan Community Church, 474 Ridge St. NW, and a post-summit dinner from 6 to 9 p.m. at Busboys & Poets in Brookland, 625 Monroe St. NE. For more information, and full list of events, visit www.mayistransdc.com.