Metro Weekly

D.C. Gives $20,000 to Self-Defense Program for Trans, Nonbinary Folks

Defend Yourself's program plans to train "empowerment self-defense teachers" who can teach those skills to trans and nonbinary residents.

Photo Illustration by Todd Franson (Original image by Motortion, via Dreamstime.)

The D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs has awarded $20,000 to an organization aiming to teach transgender and nonbinary residents skills how to protect themselves from potential attackers.

According to D.C. CBS affiliate WUSA9, the office awarded the money to Defend Yourself, an organization that shares skills to help those targeted for harassment, abuse, or assault to feel more safe and confident in their ability to defend themselves.

The money from the Office of LGBTQ Affairs will allow Defend Yourself to train up to 10 transgender and nonbinary residents to become “empowerment self-defense teachers,” who can then share their skills and knowledge with others. 

Defend Yourself claims to have trained more than 35,000 D.C.-area residents to prevent, interrupt, and heal from gender-based violence since its founding in 1997, according to the organization’s director, Lauren Taylor.

“Trans people, specially trans women of color, experience some of the most severe and frequent violence, including gender-based violence, of any group in the U.S.,” Taylor told WUSA9. “In the District, 47% of trans women have been sexually assaulted, as compared with 27% of women in the general U.S. population. Also in DC, 47% of Black and 56% of Hispanic trans people had been sexually assaulted compared with 14% of Whites.”

Defend Yourself’s trans-specific course, “Get Empowered: Safety and Wellness Skills for DC’s Trans Community,” hopes to give gender minorities the skills to respond to harassment without endangering themselves, and how to effectively respond without putting themselves at further risk should they ever be assaulted. 

“I’m thrilled to share skills like assertiveness, boundary-setting, and de-escalation with my trans siblings,” AJ Head, the lead trainer for the “Get Empowered” program, told WUSA9. “My favorite part of teaching empowerment self-defense is the moment a person realizes they’re worthy of safety and respect.”

Tessa Jelani, a transgender woman who has applied to be an instructor in the program, says she hopes the program will be meaningful and achieve its desired impact.

“For me, being able to teach my sisters and my brothers in this community will mean a lot to me,” she told NBC Washington. “We have to walk out our doors every single day and constantly have to be on a lookout.”

Those interested in becoming trainers for the “Get Empowered” program are encouraged to apply online by filling out this application form by May 8. For more information on the program or Defend Yourself, visit

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