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?
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.