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  March 11, 2017

Trans-Forming Baltimore

Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with community organizers with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center in Baltimore (GLCCB).
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EDDIE CONWAY: I'm Eddie Conway, coming to you from a community center in East Baltimore.

I have here with me now Kenneth, and I want to know what happens here in this center. Kenneth, if you will, can you tell me what this center does, and what's your role in it?

KENNETH MORRISON: Absolutely. We are the GLCCB, which is the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore, and I'm the co-director. We've been around for 40 years, so we've been a pillar in this community and this city for a while. We're most known for our annual PRIDE festival, which attracts over 30,000 LGBT individuals from around the region. So, we've been doing a lot of great work for about 40 years.

EDDIE CONWAY: You know, one of the things, if you service people all over the state, and Westminster, wherever. In your estimation what's the population in the transgender community?

MIMI DEMISSEW: I really couldn't speak to that. I don't know what the actual population is. I know that... yeah. Sorry.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Did I ask that question wrong?

MIMI DEMISSEW: Well, I guess the data that I have in my mind is, because of the work that we do, we also do a lot of work, I'm sure Kenneth, or Kevin, or Keisha, may have mentioned it, we also do a lot of work around HIV reduction. And so I know those HIV numbers. I know what those numbers... how those numbers are heavily concentrated amongst black, and Latino, transgender, and MSM... black MSM, and Latina MSM, so...

But as far as to say what is a transgender community population, or what's the SGL population, it's hard. I don't even think... I'm not sure if that's... been recorded.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. What's MS...?

MIMI DEMISSEW: Men who have sex with men.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. All right.


EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, so that means... our audience will want to know if they don't.


EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Thank you.


EDDIE CONWAY: This seems to be a very nice-looking space here. Would you walk around here and tell me what this is? I appreciate the fact that there's books around here, and a book exchange. Kindly explain to me what we're seeing, as we walk around?

KENNETH MORRISON: Oh, absolutely. So, we'll start in this particular area. One of things that's really important has become the history of the center, is that we recognize that this center has not historically been open and inviting to all community members. So, we've been working –- I've been now as a co-director for about a year and a few months –- and so, we've been working over that short period of time, to really make this center open, and run and owned by the community.

Just to start, the free book exchange, is the opportunity for individuals who feel like they have something to contribute, that is important to emphasize the LGBT spectrum, so like, you find the history, you'll find novels, you'll find a lot of great information that will be important for the LGBT, especially that you may not find typically accessible in other spaces.

EDDIE CONWAY: Mm-hmm. Let me just back up a minute. I heard you say it hasn't been in the past, open to all members of the community. Could you explain that a little bit?

KENNETH MORRISON: Yeah. One of the things that we are really focusing on now is that this center needs to be more inclusive. The center has a history of really catering to middleclass white, gay community members. That has been a really oppressive shadow on this center, and therefore a lot of community members felt unwelcome to the center.

So, we've recently, with new leadership, recognized that we have to change the face of this organization. We have to redirect the priorities of this organization, and started focusing and catering to people of color, transgender individuals, young people, et cetera.

And we're Baltimore City. We recognize the need. The need is not hidden, the need is not some abstract concept, that the need is really clear, and that we had to redirect our priorities to meet the needs of this city. That's what we're focused on now, and meeting the individuals where they are.

KEVIN HOLT: My main focus is to help our community get services and resources throughout... in the community, so health disparities is going on here in Baltimore City. Housing is going on here in Baltimore City. Well, our family members don't have housing, and we are that resources to help them try to find their housing, and get what they need to make sure they have a healthy life. So, my focus here is to make sure our family members, and we say "family members", most people say...


KEVIN HOLT: ... Yeah. Most people call them clients, or patients and stuff. We call them family members, because when you walk in here, you're family with us.


KEVIN HOLT: And that's to break that stigma of providers, and not saying this is a clinic. We're not. We're here to help you get to your healthiest point of view in your life. And so, that's my primary job. I started here two years ago as a volunteer, and then started their first outreach department here at the GLCC, and then I moved up to being an actual case manager.

KENNETH MORRISON: We also highlight LGBT artists, so every three months...

EDDIE CONWAY: Oh, this... over here?

KENNETH MORRISON: So, there are two different artists we're highlighting right now, but yeah, every three months, we select a different artist and we showcase their work. They're kind of given a platform for them to be able to celebrate their talents and their skills, and so this is just an example of young LGBT artists, showcasing their work.

But for our programs, and to be important to kind of... at some point, look at the wall, the program wall. But, we have four areas of programs. When we talk about programs and services, I can kind of show you the space some more, too.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Let me see the space.

KENNETH MORRISON: Absolutely. So, when we talk about programming, we're talking about four areas. We're talking about advocacy. An example of advocacy, while we walk... the restroom is interesting, because we have, as you can see, we have gender-neutral restrooms here. And so, around advocacy, a new thing that's happened where the Trump administration has just recently reversed the Obama administration's decision to allow transgender students to use restrooms that align with their gender identity.

Well, the Trump administration again said that schools have the right to make their own decisions, if transgender students should be able to use the restrooms they identify with or not. For us that was an advocacy issue. So, we went to the school board, and we fought for three main things.

One, is to get a statement that said that Baltimore City believed that transgender students have the right to use the restrooms they identify with. Two, that all schools need training, and that every school should have an adult liaison, or ally, to be able to support students who are LGBTQ.

So, we won, right? So, the school board just recently said they'd agree to meet all three demands. Right? That's kind of the advocacy work that we do.

KIVI SMITH-JOYNER: I'm the Vice-President of Youth Against Oppression. We are a youth-led organization, the GLCCB. We hold group meetings every Thursday from 4:30 to seven o'clock.

EDDIE CONWAY: How many young people are you working with right now?

KIVI SMITH-JOYNER: Anywhere from 10 to 20 a week? Yeah.

EDDIE CONWAY: What are the problems, if it's any among the young, the youth population?

KIVI SMITH-JOYNER: There are several. We have issues with homelessness, we have issues of mental illness, we have issues with education, help with tutoring, homework, things like that. And a lot of self-confidence issues.

EDDIE CONWAY: How is it that the public can help you do what you're doing? Because I know everybody's interested in supporting young people. So, do you have any ideas how the public might engage, or get involved with what you're doing?

KIVI SMITH-JOYNER: Part if it is that when we have a lot of youth, they don't have a lot of role models who are like them. So, it's wonderful when we have a lot of adults come in and talk to our youth about what they do every day, and how they live their lives.

Also, being queer, LGBTQ, whether they be lesbian and gay, bi-sexual, pansexual, trans, gender queer and non-binary, that's what youth needs to see. They need to see themselves in real life and understand that there is life past the goals, and past all the problems that they have.

EDDIE CONWAY: Mm-hmm. Tell me a little bit about your work here.

KEY'AYSHIA TUCKER: My work started about two years ago. I just was a regular community member, and I was walking and in need of a job. What was supposed to have meant just a housekeeping job turned into office management, which led to me now being case manager, in the public health field. Basically, just advocating for the community, specifically trans –- me being transgender myself –- so that was a need in the community, a need someone that represented the community and wanted something better. I saw a vision, and a lot of other people, my higher-ups saw something in me, so here I am.

EDDIE CONWAY: Mm-hmm. Okay, so in the community, have you been networking among the transgender community here outside of this center?

KEY'AYSHIA TUCKER: Absolutely. I rub elbows with a lot of people. Actually, I try to extend myself, be on the trans community, but for... as far as my trans-people, yeah, I have definitely a big networking when it comes to them. I have a big following through social media, and also just by being out there, and events, and, you know, things that are going on in the community.

I also keep my eyes and ears open to what's going on when it comes to the girls of, the trans girls in our community. There's a lot of deaths, a lot of violence towards us, a lot of discrimination. And it's visible even to... you know, for the longest time, we were invisible to LGBGC...

So, I also hear... we have our own trans Baltimore, which is a social support group here that is open to gender binary questioning, trans men and trans women, that... something that has never been here at the GLCCB, and with the help of my staff, we also have and now implemented that, amongst other things, as well as TAG outreach. We are now doing TAG outreach.

EDDIE CONWAY: Explain that, please.

KEY'AYSHIA TUCKER: We go out twice a month, and we pass out safety tools, like condoms, swag materials, such as hand sanitizer, hygiene kit, and we do this kind of outreach out on the Stroll, which is where the girls that into sex working are. That's where we do our outreach at, twice a month, and we turn the center into what is called, Trans Night, where it's open to the trans public, and this is their safe space, and we're here from 10:00 that morning until 4:00 that next morning. So...

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. You know, I heard you say, though, that there's been violence and other harassment and other kinds of problems. Is that pervasive here, and are the police not doing anything about it? Or, what's...

KEY'AYSHIA TUCKER: The police are one of the main resources when it comes to that violence. They are one of the victimizers, the offenders when it comes to...


KEY'AYSHIA TUCKER: the violence.

EDDIE CONWAY: You're saying they're the perpetrators in some cases against the trans community.

KEY'AYSHIA TUCKER: They are one of the perpetrators. I notice that, if, you know, when you had... when you had the police that aren't doing anything about it, who else is going to do anything about it? Like, no one's going to care, no one's going to take the... take us seriously. They don't see us as human. They don't see us as people. We had to fight for rights that we shouldn't have to fight for, when we are just as equal as everyone else.

There's nothing abnormal or normal about anybody, so, I mean, it's just, like, you know, in the trans community, we have to fight extra hard to get respect, and I think it's just sad. But when it comes to the police department, no, they aren't doing anything. You know, and even contributing to the unhealthy lifestyle of sex work, as I've witnessed, where officers have sat on the Stroll, and have solicited the girls, and been the same officer that will arrest her...




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