Victims No More: A Chicago Trans Group Fights Back

victimsnomore

In 2008, 18 year old Angie Zapata had just begun living. Having transitioned only 2 years prior with the support of her loving family, the trans Latina teen was finally happy — able to live out her life as the young woman she knew she was. However, this happiness was short lived.

In July of 2008, Angie met 31 year old Allen Andrade via a social networking site. The two eventually met in person and spend three days together in Angie’s apartment. Somewhere during their time together, Andrade discovers that Angie is trans. He subsequently begins to beat her, first with his firsts and then with a fire extinguisher.

The trial that followed Angie’s murder marked the first time that Colorado’s gender identity-inclusive hate crimes law had been applied in the investigation and prosecution of an anti-transgender murder case. This trial, and problematic media coverage surrounding it, was even the focus of Alan Domínguez’s documentary “Photos of Angie.”

Unfortunately, Angie is not the last to lose her life to senseless acts of violence. Every year, on November 20th, the trans community honors those who have lost their life to hate. Every year, one by one, the names of the mostly trans women of color are read aloud in memorial services held throughout the world.

In light of all the violent acts they face, the trans community is often painted as helpless victims. One Chicago group, however, wants to change that.

Taking place at the John Baran Senior Center of the Center on Halsted, SEED (Self Education Empowerment and Defense) is a free self-defense program designed for people of all abilities, particularly geared for trans, queer, and/or female-identified people, since those at the intersection of these identities often face higher rates of physical harassment and violence.

This program, made possible through collaboration between Soy Quien Soy: Trans Empowerment Collective and the Center on Halsted, will teach participants the skills necessary to avoid violent confrontations and stay safe and in control of their surroundings. But unlike many programs and services directed to the trans community, the idea for this program came organically.

“At some of our first meetings our members voiced that self-defense is a vital issue within the trans* community,” said SQS co-founder and SEED instructor Van Binfa.

Additionally, what makes this program unique in the city of Chicago is that it will be run bilingually (in English and Spanish) by Van Binfa and Zuri Rose, two trans Latin@s.

“Trans* individuals are constantly aware of their surroundings and safety in public spaces,” says Binfa. “That state of heightened awareness and caution can only be understood from the perspective of someone with that lived experience. Seeing others within the community carry themselves with confidence and strength is the ultimate message of resilience and hope.”

According to Binfa, this type of programming is gravely needed in the trans community. It is only recently that trans and gender-variant specific self-defense workshops have been made available.

Recently, the University of Illinois at Chicago hosted a series of safety and wellness workshops for the trans community. Additionally, there are several self-defense programs throughout Chicago, however the cost of attending these programs is often prohibitive for many trans people, who despite having employment protections in Illinois still struggle to maintain a job due to anti-trans discrimination.

“We are often the targets of physical/emotional violence and harm. This harassment is something trans* individuals unfortunately come to expect, but often don’t receive information on how to safely approach potential threats to their safety.”

Recent findings show that he is right. Released earlier last year, “Injustice at Every Turn,” the first national transgender discrimination survey, found that 61 percent of all trans people have been physically assaulted and 64 percent have been sexually assaulted.

The rates are much higher for trans women, especially for Black and Latina trans women.

Through this program and through his work with SQS, Van hopes to change the dominant narrative of violence that often mars the trans experience.

“We aim to decrease the high rates of violence and maintain our community’s strength and resilience through empowerment.”

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Danny Olvera

The queer femme first-born of Mexican immigrant parents, Danny is no stranger to sticking out. A native Chicagoan, with a complicated relationship with LA and San Antonio, Danny can be found dancing arhymically on the dance floors of a queer Latin@ nightclub near you.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Danie-Clarke/100000726948768 Danie Clarke

    Myself as an older trans womyn i have tried to stear clear of the prejudice and have dressed down to stop unwanted advances or to seem to outlandish in public. I am strong but not as strong as many who might do me harm. I can only pray it doesn’t happen to me while i am my mothers caregiver.

  • Tubamby

    I love it!!! I am so glad that people are being educated about self defense and how to take care of one self!! Thanks so much!!