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Building Solidarity for Black Trans Austin

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Black Trans Leadership of Austin provides direct relief to the Austin community.

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By Claire Misfeldt, Photos courtesy of Black Trans Leadership Austin

Black Trans Leadership of Austin (BTLA) started with unfulfilled needs in the community. According to a study conducted in 2015, Black transgender adults face higher rates of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and housing discrimination. Several Black transgender leaders in Austin met in September 2020 to figure out a way to provide community and solidarity to the houseless population. 

Leadership in BTLA

Co-founder and board member Lais Milburn uses her professional experience in health finances to help programs and community initiatives run smoothly. However, Milburn does not hold an official title within the organization because BTLA believes all leaders should hold equal roles.

“We all believe in this non-hierarchical model within BTLA,” says Milburn. “So all of us have the same role. There are no leaders here, ’cause we’re all leaders in our eyes.”

The Black Trans Leadership Mission

The initial mission of BTLA started with the intent to provide inclusive housing for unsheltered Black transgender adults. An issue that the COVID-19 pandemic made worse. Because of the pandemic, many LGBTQ shelters had to limit their capacity and LGBTQQIA2S+ people of color had their work hours reduced

However, BTLA’s leaders are now more involved with providing direct assistance to the Austin transgender and non-binary communities. The organization hosts community events, like food drives, and gives out microgrants that can cover monthly bills. While it’s no longer the primary mission, BTLA hopes to do more toward inclusive housing as the organization grows.

Winter Storm Response

BTLA provided direct assistance to the local community shortly after winter storm Uri. They collaborated with Austin Black Pride and Out Youth to provide warm meals for the unsheltered or or those who still had no electricity. BTLA also used their Instagram stories to ask their followers to donate to other local organizations that were providing food and shelter. 

“At a time when the system failed us, it felt nice to be a need in the community that felt very direct and very important at the same time,” says Milburn.

Community Leadership Awards

On June 10, BTLA was one of six local organizations celebrated at the University of Texas’s Community Leadership Awards. The Office of the President and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement hose the ceremony. This year it was held entirely on Zoom. Many of the other organizations have operated for years, making BTLA stand out as the youngest organization.

“It showed us that our hard work is being watched, noticed and celebrated. Which is really rare for a lot of trans people in general,” says Milburn.

What’s Next for Black Trans Leadership

In their first year, BTLA’s leaders accomplished so much for their organization. As they move forward, they hope to expand existing programs that provide microgrants and collect data on gender nonconforming in Austin. They’re also hoping to create programs that could provide job training and inclusive health to shelterless Black transgender Austinites. With vaccination rates going up, BTLA’s leaders plan to host more events in person that would celebrate and uplift the Black transgender community.

“We are all coming together to make a more clear vision for the future. And it definitely includes more connections to Black trans members in our community,” says Milburn. “We definitely see secure, safe housing for Black trans folks in the future as well.”

How to Get Involved

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Donations to BTLA go directly to their emergency and crisis fund. The fund provides direct relief to cover grocery and housing bills. They’re also collecting donations for the S.T.A.R Housing and Land Trust. These funds help tenants facing eviction due to gentrification. Out Youth and the University of Texas also partnered with BTLA to create a questionnaire that collects data to prioritize the Black transgender community.

Milburn encourages conversations that can inspire people to acknowledge and fight against anti-Black and anti-trans practices in everyday life. She urges Texans to hold elected officials accountable and pay attention to the anti-trans legislature that could jeopardize the livelihood of transgender people.

BTLA commits to providing relief to the Black queer community in Austin and “de-commodifying” human needs. To learn more about them and their mission, visit the BTLA website and follow them on social media.

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