A Reflection on the Unconference and Transfolk

Last month, I attended the Decolonize: A Skill and Knowledge Share Unconference. The opening presentation was led by Ximena Ospina of @Undocuqueer. One of the things I loved about her opening was that she addressed the intersections of the LGBT+ community and the undocumented community, something I had thought about rarely in the past, but that all of a sudden made so much sense.

According to The Williams Institute:

  • There are 267, 000 LGBT undocumented adults in the in the US

  • There are an estimated 267,000 LGBT-identified individuals among the adult undocumented immigrant population, approximately 2.7 percent.

  • Relative to all undocumented immigrants, LGBT undocumented immigrants are more likely to be male and are younger.

  • 71 percent of undocumented LGBT adults are Hispanic.

  • 15 percent of undocumented LGBT adults are Asian or Pacific Islander.


Add on top of those distressing facts, the Center for American Progress found that

  1. Transgender women are disproportionately detained in immigration centers,

  2. are often housed with men,

  3. are disproportionately victims of sexual assault and harassment,

  4. are not provided with life-saving medication, and

  5. are often put in solitary confinement and are less likely to win their asylum cases if they are detained.

Ximena spoke to the difficulty of being an undocumented transwoman fighting for justice at an acclaimed university while keeping her mental and emotional health whole. She brought up a slew of #FACTS that I never thought about: “Why was the LGBT movement centered on white men getting married?” Great, marriage equality happened. Now what? “What about people of color? What about the undocumented folk? And what about working to understand their everyday struggles, finding solutions to problematic legislation, and everyday discrimination that threatens their safety and livelihood?” Good questions, Ximena!

At The MC, we learned quickly that white, gay men have a completely different experience than queer POC, simply because of their skin tone, class, and lack of access and support systems. Want to fight us about it? Exhibit 1: Our previous CEO at the sexual and reproductive health organization we worked for was a gay, white man and his privilege showed in every decision he made: in his treatment of minority women and his ability to reign supreme and dominate every conversation because he was a part of a marginalized community. Other examples? Easy, from Caitlyn Jenner to Jennifer N. Pritzker, (the 1st and only transwoman billionaire), it’s easy to see why undocumented queer can’t find support or solace in a movement that has allowed white, transwomen who just happen to be Republican serve as the voice of the trans community. Let’s acknowledge how white privilege trumps any other intersection of identities.

As women of color, why should we care about any of this? Because as women of color, even under systemic oppression, we still benefit from our identity as cis women. Not in all spaces, but privilege takes many forms and if we are to stand together, in solidarity, we need to center the most “marginalized” or living at the most intersections of humanity. So while this administration continues to try and destroy us all, educate yourself on the struggle of trans folks, how we can support the work currently happening to ensure they aren’t erased, and that we vote to and continue to elevate the voices of trans people everywhere. Transfolk want what we all want, to thrive and live with dignity and respect.

So what can I do? KR and conference attendees shared their knowledge:

  1. Don’t ask trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) folk to do work without pay. They suffer from job discrimination the most and generating income is a struggle. If you want to support the trans community, pay them for their services, buy their products, and elevate their voices above yours.

  2. Work on yourself and on your understanding of the gender spectrum. Attending informational lectures, workshops, and other events organized by non-cis folk is a great place to start.

  3. On that note, STOP asking transfolk to educate cis women, which tends to happen a lot in women-centered spaces. Do your own research and work to educate yourself before putting the emotional labor on others. It’s not their job to make you care. You should care so find the reasons why.

  4. Hire trans/GNC groups or nonprofits for events to discuss the complexity of these spaces and issues. You can’t or shouldn’t have a conversation about any group without them in the room.

  5. Lastly, and yes, we do have to say this- use their preferred pronouns. It’s really easy and we shouldn’t have to say it but here we are. Missed their pronoun or forgot to ask? Use “they” as a general rule.

With that said, support the work of La Raza for Liberation being led by KR. They are working every day to build community for all trans/GNC POC (and allies) and they’ll be in your town soon!

Doris Quintanilla