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Lavender Rights Project celebrates its 5th anniversary

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Jaelynn Scott — Photo by Jye Zehring
Jaelynn Scott — Photo by Jye Zehring

The Lavender Rights Project will celebrate its fifth anniversary on September 24.

The organization has seen explosive growth as a legal and direct-services nonprofit serving gender-diverse communities in Washington. In June, it held its first virtual Pride convention, with informative sessions, panels and discussions.

"We disrupt oppressive systems that lead to poverty, housing disparities, and gender-based violence against transgender, nonbinary, and two-spirit BIPOC communities," Executive Director Jaelynn Scott told the SGN.

The predominantly Trans- and Black-led organization has also emerged as a leader on racial and social justice issues. It is home to the Black Trans Task Force (BTTF), an intersectional, multigenerational project of community building, research, and political action addressing the "crisis of violence" against Black Trans people in King and Pierce Counties. Due to the George Floyd protest, the former CHAZ space, and the community donating and raising funds on its behalf, the BTTF has redistributed $100,000 to Black Trans and nonbinary people struggling with life resources, including housing. This dedication to prioritizing the Black and gender-diverse community led to it receiving the Community Organizing Award from the Gender Justice League.

"This year has been a record-breaking year of murders, violence, and anti-Transgender legislation," said Randy Ford, development associate at the LRP and member of the BTTF. "Every year we see more and more reports of Black Trans women being murdered, not only in the United States but globally. Due to COVID-19 and the pandemic closure, this community is even more vulnerable to violence, due to scarcity in employment, housing, and health care.

"Redistribution of wealth and aid is one of the best ways we can protect Black Trans women and femmes. Homelessness and houselessness is a public health crisis, period. And when we invest in the physical, mental, and emotional safety of Black Trans women, we are ultimately investing in ourselves and the greater community."

The organization also provided four of its direct-service clients with rent for six months through a grant from All-In-WA and is expanding its services to prioritize safe housing for Black Trans women and femmes through a new housing initiative, "Everyone Deserves a Home." The LRP, along with Queer the Land and the Trans Women of Color Solidary Network, are the "only organizations in the state advocating for Black- and Trans-specific housing."

"Shelters are not appropriately serving gender-diverse individuals in King County and, even further, are not prepared to analyze the intersections of race, class, disability, and gender expression," explained Ebo Barton, the LRP's director of housing services. "Gender-diverse individuals experience mistreatment, harassment, and violence due to their gender identity or expression in shelters, which inevitably leads our community members to avoid shelters and institutions or incorrectly identify on forms and surveys for their personal survival."

The nonprofit hopes to provide both short- and long-term housing through the acquisition of a former multiunit property. At this facility, the BTTF aims to invest in Black Trans femmes and the nonbinary community by providing services for physical, mental, and spiritual wellness and offering a safe space for rest, work, and meetings. The LRP envisions single-occupancy long-term stays, rooms with common areas, and community-led safety teams — so their residents find security and stability. With all of this support, the residents will be able to preserve their dignity and self-respect and see their own full potential in their lifetimes, according to the LRP's Housing Charter document provided to the SGN.

Ford explained that the LRP has undergone a lot of reorganization and reimagining to prepare for its new initiative. "We are reintroducing ourselves to the community now that housing and direct services have become a big part of the makeup of the LRP," she said. "From 2017 to now, our organization has had a huge makeover inside and out, and we want to share that evolution with you. All September we will share with the community how this organization has transformed, how we're navigating the pandemic, and where we are headed in the years to come.

"We actually have an extensive community survey that we will be releasing soon, that will gauge what resources the community is in need of. With the help of BTTF member Ganesha Gold Buffalo and Policy and Programming Manager Bryan Duncan, there are questions around living situations, health needs, medical needs, etc. Our direct services form has questions asking what support is needed from us, whether it be rent assistance, clothes, food, or social service referrals.

"September 24th is our birthday and we'd appreciate your support as we raise money and awareness to our causes."

The LRP created a Target registry where the community can purchase items to furnish a future home for Black Trans women and femmes. A review of the registry showed that there are gifts as low as $5, so anyone can help bring their housing initiative into fruition. Those seeking to donate items can also drop them off at Gay City or the East Olive Starbucks location.

For those residing in Pierce County, LRP is utilizing its new Tacoma office in the Hilltop neighborhood to accept donations. Due to the pandemic, only new, boxed, or packaged items will be accepted.

"We aspire to be a step toward liberation. We aspire for a world where the gender-diverse are protected," said Natasha Lane, the director of development at LRP. "We aspire to be connected to the community in ways we haven't seen before... and continue to press forward an agenda and advocacy that prioritizes our communities."