Ignite Talk at the Women and Girls Foundation's Crossroads Conference on Tuesday, March 10, 2015.
I wasn’t “out” at work, so there were a lot of things I went without. Without health insurance that covered my health care needs. Without the safety, security, and freedom of living unapologetically in my truth. Without the support of my identity. THE ONE THING I DIDN’T HAVE TO GO WITHOUT WAS THE SUPPORT OF MY FRIEND, IAN. In January 2013, Ian really wanted to help me raise money for a surgery I so desperately needed so he suggested I start an online crowd source fundraiser for me to have chest reconstruction surgery, which cost $6,100. When the account was created, it connected to my email address and contact list. Within hours, emails about my trans identity and need for funds to pay for my medical needs had been sent to almost 7,000 people who I had known as long as 25 years.
I was petrified. I feared what people would think about me. Would they think that I had lied to them? Was I obligated to tell folks about my gender identity? Did it really matter? I had learned that it did matter. In fact, I knew that the group experiencing the highest murder rates in the World were, and are, trans women of color. And, trans men of color occupy the highest suicidality rate in the World. I was afraid. Afraid to be out in a system that had done its best to reign me in, take away my power, and strip me of my innate identity.
In truth, White supremacy has sown seeds of violence and erasure in the lives and experiences of people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Policy and legislative platforms have intentionally neglected to protect and serve these same communities -- as the individuals creating these policies reap the harvest of benefits on the very back of our maimed, exploited, and pillaged bodies.
As a Black and Native American man of trans experience, it is imperative that I acknowledge my full identity and live unapologetically in my truth as a man who stands at the crossroads of 7 syllables called intersectionality. The very fibers that compose my cultural identity are the basis of everyday systemic violence for me and people who look like me. Over the past several years, I have grown to understand that the Western culture in which we live and operate was designed – designed by men who do not look like me and had the intentionality and awareness to ensure that this system, a system built on genocide and forced free labor, would not provide the tools and resources for queer and trans people of color to thrive, excel, and be affirmed in their identities.
With that in mind, I invest in community by providing tools and resources for healing and restoration to deliberately shift paradigms and design initiatives to build sustainable change and to contribute to the movement and motivation of young people. Young people are our future; our health care providers, guides, humanitarians, teachers, ministers, activists, and leaders. And, it was with this vision that Garden of Peace Project was born -- to uplift, uphold, and empower the narratives and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals and to address the lack of education, employment, healthcare, and housing, and the violence that impacts us all. When Garden of Peace Project was founded, our focus was activism and advocacy. It didn't take long for us to see the pain and trauma that has been inflicted throughout the community.
12: The average age a trans child is thrown away from their home
30.6: The average of the 12 trans women of color murdered between June 2014 and December 2014
50: The percentage of trans patients who report having to teach their doctor how to treat them. Imagine, going to the doctor with diabetes or high blood pressure and the doctor asking you what your treatment plan should be.
For the first two years, Garden of Peace Project was self-funded -- this is not sustainable, nor a long-term plan. With contributions and actions of solidarity from our community, Garden of Peace Project will continue to celebrate and honor the lives of queer and trans people. The lesson I learned from Ian was that I don’t have to tackle life’s obstacles alone and that I cannot continue to do this work without financial resources and tools. I have to speak up and speak out about my needs and the needs of the community. The way internalized White supremacy is set up looks like internalized shame, fear, and insecurity.
As an indigenous person, it is imperative that I embark on the journey, both as an activist for the community and as a Soul in my personal life, to dismantle White supremacy as a collective and cooperative that operates with the full knowing that ten pair of hands investing in and manifesting both literal and figurative spaces where queer and trans people of color are empowered to be brave enough to live in their authentic truths and speak power to their destinies. Revolution looks like leveraging your positions of power and privilege to contribute our work. If you can financially support us, do so. If you can spread the work about Garden of Peace Project, do so. We each have a role. This is what standing in solidarity with this fight looks like.
Over two years later, I know that I made the right decision -- and I never imagined that I would feel this liberating. The decision to live as my full Self means that I live in each day organically; knowing that I am a majestic, holy, and royal King with the capacity to speak truth to power and lay claim to what I chose as the calling to my life before I came here. Fighting for liberation is the evolution of Self and majesty of Spirit.
What does your liberation look like to you?
As a soul, I always hear things literally and figuratively, meaning that I like to see the small picture and the big screen. As I was asked to think about police brutality, I can’t help but, in the small picture, think about the three times that I’ve been pulled over in the past two weeks. And, how the day after I was pulled over in Squirrel Hill and asked, “what I was even doing over there?”, I stood at the Mike Brown rally in front of the City-County building where three White male officers stood across the street and one of the officers had his hand on his gun the entire time. As a 26-year-old Black and Native man, I allowed the fear from this officer’s stare succumb me and refused to speak on the mic.
In the big screen, as a writer, I know that my pen has power. As a speaker, I know that my words are mightier than the sword and my voice is commanding. My demeanor, my skin, my walk, my stature, my perceived gender are all identifiers that increase my chance of death to 2 in 3 by a police officer. The system in which I live oppresses me and my very being. By third grade, 85% of young, Black males are reading below the third-grade level. Yes, this system wants to push you out and kill you off.
And, yes, all of these things are true, painful, and traumatic. When you live in a constant state of pain and trauma, it is imperative that you have spaces and access to spaces where you can express the pain and trauma. Where do we, as Black men, go to receive healing, restoration, and fellowship? Where can we go to express our deepest pains and traumas? Some of us go to church. Some hit the basketball court. Many of us find comfort at the bar or in a substance. For me, I find solace in my fiancée and my mother. For many of us, we find solace in our partners and our mothers.
When I zoom out, I know that we, as men, especially men of color, we find ourselves to be in roles of protection for our sisters, as they bear the brunt of oppression so that we can stand on top of patriarchy. I’ve been called somewhat a feminist. As a graduate of Chatham University, a school prided for women’s right and education, I learned that my masculine privilege had afforded me many opportunities that my sisters struggled to never receive. While White women earn $0.76 to dollar of White men, our sisters of color collectively earn $0.61 to the dollar of White men. When I say women, I acknowledge ALL women. As a queer-identified man of trans experience, I must shout from the top of the mountains for my trans sisters, your trans sisters. Our trans sisters face a 1 in 6 chance of being murdered before the age of 31 – the average age of the 6 trans sisters who were murdered in cold-blood this summer was 30.6.
We are being killed. We are being killed. We are being killed.
In the United States of America, from 2008-2013, there were 94 reported murders of trans individual – 95% were trans women of color. Where is the protection? If White women of non-trans experience were being killed at rates this high, there would be an uprising. My brothers, where are we?
We are being killed.
In 1994, my cousin David Battle III,15 years old, was killed on Federal Street in the Northside. The pain of his death swiftly hit my family. We now had a shared experience with so many of our brothers and sisters. As a community, as a racial identity, we have a collective pain and trauma of loss – loss of body, loss of agency, loss of voice, loss of power, loss of family. What spaces are you creating for the conversations about our pain?
We are being killed.
As my sister, Joy Kmt speaks, “our pain needs a witness”. We need to bear witness to our pain and trauma. Our trans sisters are queens, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, and majestic. It is not their job to tell us about their body or make apologies for being who they are. It is our job to teach our children to do better. It is our job to instill the message that all people deserve to live.
We are being killed.
It is not my job to educate about me to simply have a right to my life. We are fighting for our survival in a system that debates whether my identity is ethical or “if God made me this way”. My life is not up for debate. My right to live my life is not up for discussion. And, as man at the center of a 5-star intersection of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, and so much more, how dare I stay silent in live in the shadows while I bear witness to my sisters perils. The same sisters who hold me, both literally and figuratively. We have a duty to stand up against domestic violence. We have an obligation to speak out against patriarchy. We have an onus to be protectors and providers.
As patriarchy has uplifted the Black males to a position of power, it is imperative that we use our positions of power to uphold the narratives of our sisters. We are being killed. For our collective survival, we have to uphold Kandy Hall, Mia Henderson, Islan Nettles, Marissa Alexander, Cece McDonald, and countless other sisters who have been impacted by the issues that are disproportionately affecting all of us in different ways.
As a man, it’s essential that use my time to speak about coming together. Queer, non-queer, trans, cis, heterosexual, etc., we have to see that if you are chains, I cannot be free. We are fighting for our lives and we cannot be silent. We cannot choose to prioritize whose life means more. We have to step up. We must do better. We must speak out.
And, in the style of my sister, Lourdes Ashley Hunter, I would like to ask everyone stand, gather in a circle, and hold hands with your neighbor, turn to your left, and one at a time tell your neighbor, “My liberation depends on your liberation.”
.. of burying young Black bodies
.. of living with the fear that comes with walking out of my front door
.. of driving with the fear of the police
.. of watching White people cross the street when they see me
.. of White women clutching their purses a little tighter
.. of thinking that I'm going to lose my life before age 30
.. of my chest hurting and sighing to relieve the pressure
.. of living in a World that tells me I'm worthless
.. of imagining that my parents and partner will bury me
.. of being anxious
.. of living in heightened trauma
.. of feeling like my value doesn't matter to anyone who doesn't know more than my skin color
.. of wondering what people will remember most about me if I leave this Earth too soon
.. of deciding my experiences based on the level of pain I can endure on a given day
.. of the scowl the White mom gives when their White child smiles at me
.. of folks only speaking about my body
.. of ignorance and bigotry
.. of not having a space to grieve all of these losses
.. and, then being called angry when I let a little of my pain out
.. of being pushed out, cast away, and being forced to live in the margins
.. of being tired
A few weeks ago I attended the National TransFaith in Color Conference. While I was there, the Board of Directors and Executive Director, Bishop Tonyia Rawls, suggested to me that I host one of the Regional TransFaith in Color Conferences here, in my hometown of Pittsburgh. As many folks are aware, my goal is to partner and collaborate as much as possible. Together, we can make this a great conference and one to be remembered. I'm certain that as we work on this conference together, relationships will be built and networks will be created.
The Pittsburgh Regional TransFaith in Color Conference has a goal of bringing together local folks from the area, professionals from all over, faith leaders, folks of all colors, folks of all ages, students and those concerned about the trans community and all that the trans community entails. Each one of you that has been invited brings something new to the table. One of the best President Barack Obama quotes that I have heard was, "if you're not at the table, you're on the menu." President Obama said this to say that when you're not present, your importance is eaten, overshadowed and overlooked. Please, be at the table to present your groups, your passions and your issues.
At this point, there have been 32 people invited to this meeting and each one of you has much value. I'm thrilled to see where we can go when we are all at the table. It is my hope that from this meeting, folks will have the opportunity to meet new folks, learn about a new issue and begin new partnerships and collaborations, with this TransFaith in Color Conference and beyond.
As a practicing Nichiren Buddhist, it is important to me that we include folks of all spiritual practices, religious, non-religious, atheist, or agnostic. All voices are important and I want to be sure that the conference reflects that.
Come ready to present ideas, experience with the group, and learn!
(If you do not wish to be a part of the TransFaith in Color planning group and wish to share what you would like to see at the conference, please send me a private email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
If interested in planning, please contact me!
Michael David Battle
Founder, Garden of Peace Project
From a very young age, my paternal grandmother told me, "Birds of a feather flock together", "your friends are a reflection of your values" and "when you silently sit and watch others spew ignorance, you give the world permission to do the same to you". I learned then that it is my duty and obligation to stand up in the face of injustice, ignorance, and prejudice. There is no guilt or qualms when I state that I am intolerant of intolerance. I will not accept the ignorant, misinformed, hateful, prejudice, and hurtful views of others in my life. That does not mean that I will not accept those that are misinformed or ignorant in my life, but their views will be challenged, as I do not believe that being prejudice against others is acceptable in my life. If others hold ignorant views and are unwilling or closed to understanding things another way, I do not want them or their views in my life. I do not say these things to say that I am perfect. I have my flaws as well. I am prejudice and stereotypical. However, I am open to hearing other's points of view. If someone states something opposite of what I believe, I will hear it, even if I do not agree. If one states something that resonates and rings true within me, I will surely allow my opinion to be changed.
As human beings, we want to belong and be loved by others. We seek any qualities, gender, race, disability or something simple like a sports team, interests, or astrological sign, to find that camaraderie. When one feels a part of something, one begins to feel nurtured. Unfortunately, once a part of something, the group begins to band together to seek out those "other" than themselves. In addition to the camaraderie, based on similarities, that humans seek, humans will also find any reason to hate another group.
What we have failed to realize is that as a human race, we will not progress until we recognize that another's suffering is our own suffering. When one's neighbor is persecuted for their religious beliefs, it is no different than the suffering one felt for ethnic intolerance. When another suffers the pain of being a gay man, it is no different than those suffering because of their race. Unfortunately, too often we suffer our own pain because of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, nation of origin, etc., but when we see or hear the prejudices stressed upon another group, we are silent. The persecution that the other group suffers does not affect us in that moment, so we don't feel compelled to stand up.
My grandmother had a saying that had the greatest impact on me as child: "You are the company that you keep". If one is with prejudice people and raises no concerns about their views, one is no different than those around them.
Michael David Battle
As a lecturer, writer and advocate, Michael David Battle’s vision is to ignite others and move them to action through courageous conversations, exploring vulnerabilities, and collectively manifesting spaces of healing and restoration.