Solutions NOT Punishment Coalition and the Trans* Leadership Connection Internship Program
The 2nd Annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit in 2011 was my first LGBT conference and first experience with the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC). I remember it so vividly, because my feet were hurting so bad as I made way to the event. I decided to buy a pair of Sperries that were a size too small, instead of buying these cute all black pumps from Bakers. I was excited and full of gratitude that I was walking onto Capitol Hill, and speaking the truth that so many of my fellow LGBT youth in Virginia desired. I was fearful of the conference because I did not know what to expect, but I had made the trip from Norfolk and something in me told me that it and NBJC would be blessings to my life.
During the first session of the conference, Cheryl Kilodavis, author of the children’s book, “My Princess Boy,” shared with the audience “I love my baby and whatever he decides to be, whether it be a woman or gay, I will support him!” These are words that trans* and gender non- conforming individuals long to hear from our fathers and mothers, and what a blessing for her child to grow up with that kind of understanding and support. She shared with us the story of the Princess Boy! Her testimony and passion to reach parents like her was what I needed to realize that healing and support was possible for my mother and I. Her baby’s freedom reminded me of my own and reminded me of what I was destined to fight for; love for women and children who are like me.
After Kilodavis settled in her seat, the beautiful and gracious diva, Valerie Spencer, took her place on stage. She sat down at the panel table and without noticing that I had been watching her since she took the stage, she spotted me and gave me a wink. In the introductions, Valerie declared “I am a transsexual woman and I am not your sexual fantasy!” (To date, I will throw that line out because it is so true!) The panel lasted an hour, but it felt like Valerie and I had our own conversation. At the end of the session I rushed to the front and helped her down the steps of the stage. We posed for a few pictures and she led my arm to the corner of the room. She said to me” I was just looking in the audience for my girls and I didn’t see anyone and then I saw you!” Later at the reception, “Auntie Val” and I spoke again and she asked me, “so where are your heels?” Nervously I responded, well I knew that I was coming to the White House and I thought it would be inappropriate. She replied, “Inappropriate! All of these gay people here and you think it’s inappropriate to be yourself. Child! This is home and we are family. You should feel safe to wear your heels and be yourself here if nowhere else.” Before the reception ended she told me that the next time she saw me, I better be wearing heels! Since that moment forward, I wore my heels every chance I got! I left OUT on the Hill that year TRANSFORMED! I was no longer fearful of my truth and no longer ashamed of wanting to live it.
It takes real confidence to lead. You can fake it, but someone will see you, and someone will follow. And when that happens, you want to lead with your best self, your whole self, and most importantly, your dignified self.
Thank you NBJC for holding space and providing the tools necessary for me to acknowledge my power; and thank you Sharon Lettman- Hicks for holding my heart and telling me to own it!
What I am I up to now:
Toni-Michelle Williams serves as the internship coordinator for the Solutions NOT Punishment Coalition (SNaP Co), a social justice and trans advocacy organization out of Atlanta, GA. The internship, The Trans Leadership Connection Internship (TLC), sponsored by SNaP Co program is designed to empower and mobilize Black trans* folks in Atlanta, who has an interest in trans* advocacy, and reforming Atlanta’s criminal justice system. TLC will release a report in November 2015, that highlights the negative interactions of the Atlanta Police Department (APD) and Atlanta’s trans* and gender non-conforming community in order to foster policing practices that respect all people.