Gigi Thomas: “I am a survivor of violence”

Every year we mourn the loss of members of the trans community on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Yet what happens to transgender women of color when they face violence and survive it?

In October 2015 Gigi Thomas survived a violent attack on her life. After waiting 16 months in a Maryland jail, Gigi will face murder charges at trial on February 27, 2017. Gigi has written to BPPP saying, “I am a survivor of violence, now I’m fighting to get my life back.”

Advocates in the D.C. area, where Gigi is a well-known representative of the LGBTQ community and social worker, have maintained that the charges she is facing are an injustice. One person quoted in The Washington Blade last year said that the case must be understood against the “backdrop of black transgender women being killed in large numbers across the country because of their gender identity. Gigi knew about that as an activist and she fought back.” Casa Ruby, an organization led by transgender women in D.C., will be attending Gigi’s trial to show community support for her.

Concern about Gigi’s case is pouring in from around the nation. Ceyenne Doroshow, a transgender leader who is also the founder of GLITS and advisor to SWOP Behind Bars, has supported scores of community members who have ended up behind bars and has had the experience herself. “As a society we have become used to hearing the news of another transgender woman being killed,” she notes. “In this case Gigi did not die. She lived. She is one of our leaders surviving. I will be traveling to be in court so she knows that she is not alone and that we continue to recognize her as the leader she is.”

Other advocates have expressed similar sentiments linking what has happened to Gigi to high profile cases where transgender women survived brutal attacks only to be punished by the courts. “It is important that every black trans woman fights for her life and that together we are not erased,” notes Monica Jones, who like Gigi is a social worker and a black trans woman. “Here is how the system works. We are supposed to be erased, by the police, by the courts, and by cisgender men who commit violence against us. Gigi refused to be erased and she is still here. Now she is suffering the consequences of fighting for her life. Gigi’s case highlights, just like CeCe Mcdonald’s case, the value the courts place on cisgender lives and the costs imposed on transgender women.” Monica Jones is founder of The Outlaw Project at BPPP.

Gigi’s ability to assist people is legendary in the D.C. area. One woman who was the beneficiary of Gigi’s professionalism and commitment to helping people in need recalls, “I was at a fork in the road of my life. 9 month old on hip, no money, no people… Gigi showed up looking so beautiful, strong and loving. She was so safe and strong. Six weeks later due to her support and guidance I had my own two bedroom apartment. Gigi Thomas leaves love in her footprint and I am privileged to have met her. I would never have been able to become an advocate for human rights without meeting her.”

During the long wait for her trial date Gigi has continued her advocacy for the communities she cares about, joining the advisory of SWOP Behind Bars, a group dedicated to supporting incarcerated sex workers, and the advisory of the Best Practices Policy Project. “I’m advocating behind bars for transgender rights,” Gigi wrote to us, “keeping myself grounded in spirituality, and lifting up the spirits of others behind bars by giving them peer counseling, or even just a word of advice. I’m getting involved in programs to keep myself motivated.”

Representatives of SWOP USA have compiled information about Gigi’s achievements. In addition to working at many organizations in the D.C. area such as HIPS and being a founding member of several organizations including Different Avenues, Gigi was awarded a Bachelor’s degree from the University of the District of Columbia. She then worked at Family Medical Counseling Services until 2012, when she left to pursue a Masters in Social Work at Howard University as a full-time student. She graduated as an MSW in Spring, 2014. She worked as a job specialist and case manager at Jobs Have Priority, an agency in Greenbelt, MD, from the time she graduated until her arrest in October 2015.
If you plan to attend on February 27, please do not hesitate to email bestpracticespolicyproject [@] gmail.com to receive more information about our plans and to be connected to others. Please also keep in mind that Gigi’s trial date has been delayed several times before so keep your travel plans flexible if possible. If you are unable to attend but would like to assist, then please consider donating to the fundraiser for her legal support.

Women’s March 2017: As Expected, the Erasure of Sex Workers Rights

UPDATE January 18, 2017: Yesterday wording affirming the rights of sex workers was returned to the Women’s March Statement. The attempt to erase the presence of sex worker rights and sex workers’ voices in feminist spaces was reversed because of widespread public outcry. We must be honest with ourselves that until the criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers’ lives and work ends, sex workers can be erased with the stroke of a pen, one phone call to the cops and by putting up another piece of anti-sex worker legislation (yes, it is so easy to pass those laws under the guise of ending trafficking). The threat is always there. And so resistance is needed daily. We honor the fortitude of Janet Mock for her clear statement on why she wrote the line, “…and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements.” And how and why she rejects the “continual erasure of sex workers from our feminisms.” Historically and today the people who have primarily stood up boldly for sex worker rights have been transgender women of color. We remain committed to highlighting the leadership of transgender people of color for the rights of sex workers.

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January 17, 2017: The presence of anti-sex worker rights advocate Gloria Steinem as co-chair of the Women’s March this weekend in Washington, D.C. meant that it was almost certain that the Women’s March would back away from its surprisingly forward thinking statement on sex work.The original statement read, “We believe that all workers – including domestic and farm workers – must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage, and that unions and other labor associations are critical to a healthy and thriving economy for all. Undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections, and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements.”

Today advocates noted that the Women’s March Statement has been changed to remove any mention of sex worker’s rights. The statement now reads, “Undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections, and we stand in solidarity with all those exploited for sex and labor.”

It is not so much that Steinem directly put pressure on the Women’s March to erase sex workers’ rights organizing from the page–though she most certainly would have–but more that the agreement to place an advocate who has so clearly spoken out against both the rights of transgender people and sex workers as a co-chair means that these issues are contested by the groups and advocates in the lead. In 2017, failing to recognize sex workers’ rights in the United States is simply unacceptable. Honoring both sex worker and trans leadership is the way forward.

#GivingTuesday for Transgender Leadership for #SexWorkerRights

Organizations in the United States working for the rights of sex workers face significant barriers to funding including a foundation sector dominated by the belief that sex workers need saving rather than rights and limits because of priorities. Sex worker-led organizations in the United States received just 1% of global non-governmental grantmaking for sex worker rights in 2013.

Sex worker-led organizations in the US have continued to exist–and have achieved tremendous victories–through the personal sacrifices made by sex workers who have worked for years at a time as unpaid volunteers. The death of Sharmus Outlaw, a renowned black transgender leader for the rights of sex workers, in July 2016 reminded us how unsustainable this approach is. Her friends and colleagues had to fundraise to make up a shortfall for her funeral expenses.

Sharmus story is not an exception. It is not unusual to learn that some of our most important transgender leaders of color do not have enough to pay their bills in life. Nor is it unusual that we have to pass the hat to raise funds to bury our leaders when they die. What we have learned in 2016 is that it never was possible for transgender leaders of color to live for years without fair payment for the incredible work they have done for sex worker rights. Here are some suggestions for this #givingTuesday2016 to invest in transgender leadership of color for sex worker rights.

  1. send a tax deductible donation to BPPP to support program work led by Monica Jones and invest in the development of her new organization The Outlaw Project. All individual donations received between today November 29 and December 1, 2016 will be earmarked for this purpose.
  2. donate to this private fundraiser to ensure that #GigiThomas, local D.C. hero for sex workers and the trans community, has legal representation that conveys her experience as a transgender woman of color who fought for her life.
  3. and lastly, maybe you’d prefer to pay someone for their work, rather than donating? A suggestion is to hire a sex worker. Next time you or anyone else you know would like a sex worker to speak to a class, be a panelist at an event, present as a keynote or give a training, pay that person with a speaker’s fee, honorarium, and provide–if you can–a per diem and accommodation. US sex worker leaders don’t get paid (remember only 1% of global funding reaches US sex worker-led organizations), time spent sharing their experience with you is work. Pay them what you think any expert in their field should be paid. Sex work is work. Presenting to a college class is work.

 

Monica Jones Speaking Tour

Human rights advocate Monica Jones will be traveling to the NYC area for meetings and events associated with the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking. Ms Jones will be speaking to her experience as transgender leader who was arrested by a misguided anti-trafficking initiative called Project ROSE and about the campaign she lead to raise awareness of the rights violations perpetrated by police, social workers and services providers in the name of ending “sex trafficking.” Her work on these issues sparked global awareness of the rights violations experienced by transgender women of color in the United States as a result of anti-trafficking policies. During her campaign she was joined by leading advocates such as Janet Mock, Laverne Cox and many others. A video of Monica and Laverne Cox at an event at the Herberger Theater Center organized the ACLU and sex worker rights organizations in defense of Ms Jones is available here.

Ms Jones is available for speaking engagements the NY/DC/PA area December 5 to 14, 2016. She is a dynamic speaker who has presented on transgender rights, HIV/AIDS, feminism, sex work, social work, and the law at events during the Commission on the Status of Women in NY, the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, International AIDS Conferences in Melbourne, Australia and Durban, South Africa, and the Association of Women in Development in Brazil. Ms Jones is the recipient of the SPARK! Authentic Life Award in 2015, was honored as one of the Trans 100 in 2015 and received the Diversity Advisory Committee of Phoenix College Award in 2012. Ms Jones is the founder of The Outlaw Project, an organization based on the principles of intersectionality to prioritize the leadership of people of color, transgender women, gender non-binary people and migrants for sex worker rights. She has presented at universities across the United States introducing students of all levels to key issues relating to transgender experience, rights, sex worker rights, workers rights, gender justice, the law and social work. Ms Jones may be contacted by email at monica6022006@gmail and by text/voice to (602) 483-9772.

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