Emerson Whitney is author of this year’s transcendent Heaven, a meditation on mothers, self, and trans identity. Them. calls Heaven “the trans memoir for everyone,” and Ms. Magazine says, “Emerson Whitney’s first prose book is a frank and absorbing examination of transness, brokenness, mothering, femininity, embodiment and truth.” Heaven was named a best book by The AV Club, PAPER Magazine, LitHub, Ms. Magazine, Chicago Review of Books, Refinery29, the Observer, and The Seattle Times. Whitney hosted a conversation between staff and volunteers of Gender Justice LA on their work, and their conversation follows. Throughout July, McSweeney’s will donate $2.50 per book sold to GJLA.
Q: Give our readers some background on GJLA and your current projects.
EZAK PEREZ: Gender Justice LA has existed for 18 years. We are the first trans-led, social justice organization working to build our collective power through community organizing and campaigns in order to improve the lives of TGI people. GJLA is a grassroots social justice organization led by and for gender non-conforming, two spirit, Black, Indigenous, trans people of color in Los Angeles. We organize, hold space, provide resources, and collaborate with others so that our communities can: resist oppression, develop community responses to violence, heal from present and historical trauma, and come together in ways that feel brave and affirming. We believe it is essential to build up the collective leadership power of the trans and gender non-conforming community.
We believe in liberation. We dream of a world free from all forms of interpersonal and state violence, where our whole selves, communities, kinships, and chosen families are held in all of our complexities. This world affirms practices of collective learning, wellness, culture, and traditions that sustain us emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. Our vision is to get free!
GJLA has gone through multiple transitions (literally!). This work could not be possible without acknowledging the ones that have come before us, our Transcesors and Ancestors. We would not be where we are today if it were not for the many people who have shaped and molded the organization. Members, volunteers, interns, staff, board members, and our extended community have supported us and challenged us along the way. We continue to grow and expand based on the leadership, our current landscape, and culture shifts that happen over time.
Our work focuses on creating campaigns, programs, events and coalitions that help our communities heal, organize and build our collective power in order to create concrete changes for our community at large. A few examples include creating culturally inclusive sliding scale health clinics throughout Los Angeles, working towards alternatives to incarceration, creating a participatory research project highlighting trans masculine health and reproductive justice, know your rights trainings, leadership programs building TGI leadership, capacity building with other organizations, youth and intergenerational programing and statewide coalitions such as Transform California Coalition and a coalition organization of trans-led organizations working on AB2218.
Ezak Perez is an LA born and raised queer, trans, Two-Spirit, Brown & Down, Hopi Native American. They currently work for Gender Justice LA
More about GJLA here:
Donate Here: https://gjla.networkforgood.com/
Q: How has GJLA had an impact on your life?
JOVAN WOLF: GJLA has given me a sense of community while trying to understand my gender journey. As a mixed Black and Filipino person who identifies as a gender non-conforming trans masculine person, it is vital to my mental health and wellbeing to be in community with Black Indigenous People of Color who are trans gender non-conforming and or Intersex (TGI) in order to share stories and struggles in solidarity. GJLA provides space through our leadership programs by and for our community to dive deep into anti-oppression work in order to create real dialogues about issues impacting our communities and our personal lives. GJLA gave me a platform to speak on critical issues that affect my community and actually work towards creating the change I want to see in this world. GJLA has helped to empower me to speak up and fight against oppression, helping to change hearts, minds and policies impacting the TGI Community in Los Angeles and beyond. GJLA created a direct way for me to stay engaged and actually lead within the organization. Over the span of 4 years, I began as a GJLA member, then became a volunteer, a paid facilitator, and later joined the GJLA Advisory Board because I truly believe in the vision and mission of the organization. It’s very clear to me that GJLA is invested in empowering and building up our collective power in an intentional way.
Jovan Wolf is a GJLA Advisory board member.
Q: As queer/trans BIPOC folks, when we look at these uprisings right now (and what seems like at least a little bit of an awakening of white/cis/straight consciousness around the intersections of Blackness and trans-ness), we often hear chants of “I believe we will win.” I wonder what that looks like for you. What do you want from this current moment?
RASHIDA M: I believe this awakening is an opening of doors, but am weary in how it hinders folks from taking further action. A statement that’s been brought up is to “uplift us while we are alive.” That calls people to action through mutual aid as well as putting the money into the hands of Black trans folks and organizations that have a record of doing that. This is a call to action to challenge bio- and gender- essentialism which people use to sidestep their transphobia. It’s recognizing all types of violence including verbal, medical, sexual, and more. Lastly, in recognizing these violences it is prioritizing trans people’s safety and well being to make sure it doesn’t continue as an afterthought.
I see GJLA as a needed space/collective to the connecting and building of spaces led by and for BlaQ folx with radical practices to how nonblack solidarity functions.
Rashida M is an intern with GJLA who identifies as a non-binary femme youth who loves to do poetry/writing, pottery, and community building. They have particular interests in finding/building empowerment along with a political home by and for Black trans and non-binary youth on occupied Tongva land otherwise known as the LA area. Additional interests are in gardening, sewing, and traditional healing through herbalism.
Q: Are there any books/literary heroes you have? How have books/zines/poetry/writing in general supported (or not!) your practice of activism?
EZAK PEREZ: Zines have played and still play a pivotal role in our work. Zines are a way for us to gather information that’s not censored and focuses on skill-sharing, transfer of knowledge, tools, resources, building community, dreaming and visioning of a world where we are building interdependence, and valuing anti-capitalistic ways of living and breathing. Zines are a critical tool we utilize in our curriculum, education and organizing strategies. Additionally, spoken word and poetry are skills that many of our members and extended community have used to express themselves at our events as well as during speaking engagements and throughout our leadership programs.
GJLA has an extensive library in our office for anyone interested in exploring any topics ranging from Black trans lives matter, Indigenous/Native feminism, Decolonial liberation practices, prison abolition and the harmful effects of the carceral state, disability justice, self-care/community care practices, revolutionary solidarity, Black and Indigenous Solidarity, tinctures and herbal traditions, kink politics, food justice as well as zines that feature pictures of Corgis, flowers, desert landscapes, trans resilience and so much more — Emerson’s Heaven included! Heaven is a great example of the intersection of art and activism that we’re glad Emerson has shared the book with us and the world.
Q: Do you have any art/activism of your own that you’d like to plug?
EZAK PEREZ: Yes! So many but for now, here are just a few we would like to highlight.
Fatima Malik Shabazz, originally from Brooklyn New York, is a long time resident of Los Angeles and the CEO/President of Fatima Speaks LLC; a transgender led, African American-owned and operated business that conducts cultural sensitivity/competency trainings as well as panel and motivational speaking engagements.
Ms Shabazz is an Activist and advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ+ population as well as a social justice advocate, and as a formerly system impacted individual is a staunch proponent of prison reform as well as political and justice reform.
Ms. Shabazz is a member of several advocate/activist organizations locally and nationally, including Gender Justice LA, All of Us or None, The Unique Women’s Coalition, Time Done, Black and Pink Leadership National Council and member of Black and Pink Los Angeles Chapter.
Ms.Shabazz is also involved as a member of the Advisory Board for Prison Health News based in Philadelphia and remains active in various organizations in and outside the state of California.
Ms.Shabazz has a clear and precise focus on creating safer and more inclusive spaces for the LGBTQ+ community as well as creating stronger social justice reform policies and policy advocacy that will make life better for communities directly and sometimes adversely impacted by these policies, which include but are not limited to prison reform and women’s reproductive health policies, hate crime laws, and school bullying.
For bookings or more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org @fatimaspeaks9 on Instagram.
Art created for Trans Day of Resilience 2016 by Matice Moore in collaboration with Gender Justice Los Angeles.
Féi Hernandez (b.1993 Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico) is an Inglewood-raised immigrant trans non-binary visual artist, writer, and healer. Féi is an Advisory Board Member of Gender Justice Los Angeles and was one of the artists for Forward Together’s 2019 Trans Day of Resilience Campaign. They are a Co-Founder of ING Fellowship which provides mentorship to Inglewood youth working on projects to counteract gentrification and was also a femmetor for the 2019-2020 Seeds of Liberación (SOL) leadership development program for young transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people in Los Angeles. They are a certified Reiki and Akashic Records practitioner who utilizes a decolonial approach to ancestral energetic healing. Féi collects Pokémon plushies.
For booking or more information follow Féi Hernandez on Instagram: @fei.hernandez
Below are poetry pieces created in collaboration with Fei Hernandez images which you can find more info at: https://www.instagram.com/fei.hernandez/?hl=en
Care not Cages:
when we say care, not cages, we do not mean more state surveillance and policing. we mean elimination of systems of global capitalism that rely on harming humans, non-human animals, and lands in order to exist.
we do not mean replacing prisons, detention centers, juvenile halls, and jails with open-air encampments. we mean no encampments.
capitalism and care cannot coexist. we mean abolishing the entire carceral state. we do not mean folding more identity categories into the existing carceral state. we do not mean women presidents, Latinx border patrol agents, or better relationships between police and the people. we mean no presidents, no borders, no cops. we mean abolition.
dr. ruth wilson gilmore discusses abolition as
green—for and with our planet
abolition is presence, not absence.
physical cages go as we build care.
mutual aid through shared responsibility.
when we say care, not cages
we do not mean the i.
we mean the we.
- Anthony Williams
Black Trans Lives Matter
I only know, life
I only know, life
I only know, living should be
What is a law on the breath, the bones, the body
beckoning to be the free
they already are?
I only know the answer is not love
is not love, is not
love what opens its palms & says,
“You fit here. You belong
pulse hugging no matter
the story starlined
in your hand?”
- Alyesha Wise