On May 12 and 13, the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative held an inaugural event in Atlanta for their new leadership cohort, Motivate, a program for trans-masc individuals seeking to “combat stigma and discrimination, help end trans violence and HIV, promote sexual health and equity, and provide access to work opportunities, professional development, and education.”
The program launched this May, four years after ELEVATE, a “fellowship advancing public health leadership for trans women of color.”
Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, Tori Cooper, prioritizes “economic empowerment, capacity-building programs, public safety, and expanded public education campaigns” to provide trans people with opportunities for equity and to educate non-trans, or cisgender, individuals on trans issues. Cooper’s career in advocacy spans 30 years of service, from volunteer roles to founder and executive director of Advocates for Better Care Atlanta, LLC, and was the first Black trans woman to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
“Motivate is the first of its kind. On a national level, it is a leadership development summit that was created by and to serve black transgender men,” Cooper said in an interview with Georgia Voice.
Already, Cooper said, cohort members have used some of the leadership skills to advocate for themselves.
Cooper said of the eight members chosen for Motivate, “At least three of them have contacted me since—again, [the inaugural event] was only two weeks ago—and told me how they already used some of the skills for negotiation to either get contracts or to make the contracts better for them from some things that they were working on.”
In 2021, Cooper told NPR, “My goal as an individual who’s part of a collective is to make sure that we are bringing more equitable health outcomes and even the playing field [to] increase people’s capacity to live healthily and happily.”
The first Motivate convening consisted of eight members and five facilitators and focused on teaching hard and soft leadership skills.
“There’s always this seat at the proverbial table that we talk about,” Cooper said. “We give folks information and tips on how to be invited to that seat. Then, what to do once you get there and then what to do with that seat. After, how to pass that [seat] along and create a new table.”
According to Emory University, Metro Atlanta has the fourth-highest rate of HIV across major U.S. cities, and “some zip codes in the Atlanta area have rates of HIV/AIDS that are six to eight times higher than the national average.” The epidemic in our city indicates a lack of access and support for its residents, a problem that the Motivate leadership cohort hopes to correct. As a part of the Transgender Justice Initiative, Motivate has a goal to provide access to healthcare for people with HIV/AIDS with the help of Black and Brown trans-masc advocates in the South.
“It’s important for people to use the vast network of resources that [the Human Rights Campaign and the Transgender Justice Initiative] have. We encourage people to use the resources to equip folks with all the tools that they need to be better and to live better lives,” Cooper said.
The Transgender Justice Initiative operates under four pillars: public safety, capacity building, strategic communications, and economic empowerment. According to HRC, the Motivate program “is advancing the next group of Black and Brown trans advocates in Atlanta,” and it arrives during an unprecedented and increased hostility against trans individuals. While conservative and anti-trans legislators claim they are “protecting the children” from learning about queerness and transgenderism, their ideology causes violence and ends innocent lives.
Ashley Burton, a 37-year-old Black trans woman, was tragically killed earlier this year on April 11 in Atlanta, GA. While Fox 5 reports that Ashley’s family believes “her being transgender had nothing to do with her murder,” a 2022 report from HRC found that “approximately one-third of trans and gender non-conforming people with known killers had their lives taken by” someone they knew.
As of May 25, 549 anti-trans bills have been introduced in 49 states, where 76 have already passed according to Trans Legislation Tracker. Compared to the 26 bills passed of the 174 bills proposed in 2022, there has been a 15% increase in passed anti-trans bills. Georgia legislation passed SB 140 on March 23, which bans gender-affirming care for minors and prohibits certain surgical procedures.
Following the destruction of property in their stores and threats of terrorism on employees, Target released a statement announcing they would be “removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.” Bud Light also faced immense and bigoted backlash after featuring Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman who rose to fame for documenting her transition on TikTok, in an ad campaign.
“As Charles Dickens wrote, ‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’ There is far more positive visibility for trans and non-binary folks than ever. Along with that comes far more acceptance of trans and non-binary people,” Cooper said. “But at the same time, we’re also living in a world and have to navigate systems where there’s more anti-trans/ non-binary legislation across the country than ever. So, how do we take the good, and reverse the damage before it’s done?”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, “The transgender community is beautiful, strong, and one of the most resilient in the LGBTQ community. HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative works with community-based advocates across the country to make impactful changes for trans people.”
The importance of openly supporting and advocating for trans people cannot be understated, especially as we celebrate Pride Month in June.
On burnout within advocacy, Cooper says Motivate teaches its leaders to practice self-care. “One of the tools that we teach them and motivate them to develop, because it is something that needs to be developed for a lot of us, is what self-care can look like. It’s a tool in their toolbox that is going to make them more effective, more powerful, and longer-lasting leaders.
“But to be honest, it is one of those things that I don’t practice as well as I preach. It is difficult to find rest in a warzone. For many of us, particularly those of us who work on a national level, it’s difficult. Certainly, there’s a lot of privilege that comes with being gainfully employed and having a steady income, but I’m still trans and I’m still black and there are people who don’t like me. There are some people who hate me because of one or both of those identities or how those identities intersect.”
To learn more about advocacy and the Transgender Justice Initiative, visit hrc.org/resources/trans-justice-initiative. You can also watch the most recent installment of “Trans Talks” where Motivate member and founder of 100 Black Trans Men, Inc., Dr. Elijah Nichols, and Motivate facilitator and certified health educator, Sybastian Smith, join Tori Cooper to discuss transmasculinity and what it means to be part of the LGBTQ+ community.