Finding the Path to Transgender Equality

By Naiymah Sanchez, Organizer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Naiymah and Dena Stanley at the 2017 TEAP Convening in September 2017.

Last week, the ACLU hosted the annual convening of its Transgender Education and Advocacy Program (TEAP) in New York City. This yearly gathering brought together seven ACLU affiliates who have identified transgender equality, advocacy, and leadership development as part of their programming goals.

This year, each TEAP affiliate was asked to bring one community member from their state to help shape the directions of the movement in their states. I had the pleasure of attending the convening with Julie Zaebst, senior policy advocate at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Dena Stanley, the director of TransYouniting and a board member of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, to brainstorm on our goals of achieving comprehensive nondiscrimination protections in state law. In Pennsylvania, we have been fighting for comprehensive nondiscrimination for almost 14 years, and we won’t stop now.

At the convening, we focused on not just the goals but the tactics we need to choose that will push us towards winning definitive nondiscrimination protections. Here at the ACLU of PA, we are dedicated to building a stronger coalition of organizations and community leaders to get us where we need to go.

Naiymah Sanchez is an organizer and the transgender advocacy coordinator at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Introducing Naiymah Sanchez

Naiymah Sanchez joined the ACLU-PA in January 2017 as the transgender advocacy coordinator. She is a proud female of transgender experience and previously worked as the coordinator of the Trans-Health information project for five years providing education and advocacy services for transgender individuals in Philadelphia. Naiymah has worked to help the Philadelphia prison system become more PREA (Prison Rape elimination act) compliant since 2015. Part of Naiymah’s initiative is to build coalitions to better serve transgender individuals and the injustice they face. The following is the transcript of an interview conducted by Julie Zaebst, director or the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

Julie Zaebst: Naiymah you joined the ACLU of Pennsylvania in a brand new position as our first Transgender Advocacy Coordinator. What are you going to be doing during your first couple of months on the job?

Naiymah Sanchez: For my first couple of months, I will be touring throughout Pennsylvania, hosting community discussions, also Know Your Rights workshops, and board trainings for ACLU chapters. I want to hear what the concerns are for my community members in different parts of the state and find out how the ACLU of Pennsylvania can work together with community members to make a difference.

JZ: You were the co-chair of Creating Change, the largest LGBTQ organizing conference in the country that took place in Philly a couple of weeks ago now. What are you taking away from that conference?

NS: This year Creating Change was different from the four previous Creating Change conferences that I have been a part of. I was able to attend the conference not as a conference goer but being on the organizing side or welcoming side. But one thing that I have taken away from the conference is the dire need of connecting as community. There were 4,100 people that was registered for the conference. I connected with many of the transgender community members, just letting them know that the ACLU of Pennsylvania has made a commitment to having transgender representation on staff in the state and also transgender or non-binary representation on their board.

JZ: Absolutely. What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles to transgender rights and justice right now?

NS: We’ve seen though discussion here in Philadelphia that criminal justice reform is a main issue and also non-discrimination when it comes to public accommodations, housing, and health insurance. We’re seeing that as a big issue. And that’s just from having a conversation with individuals here in Philadelphia. Ideally within these next couple of months having a conversation with transgender community members throughout the state, we can see if there are any intersections of issues, if the issues overlap or if are there other issues that we at the ACLU of Pennsylvania can tackle.

JZ: What, or who, inspires you to do this work?

NS: Being a transgender woman of color and being subjected to stigma is what brought me to this work. Who? Actually, I can’t pinpoint a single person. There’s many people who have had a great impact on me continuing to be an advocate or activist. Knowing about my ancestors like Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera, also Miss Major as being one of my elders who is still alive. Jaci Adams here in Philadelphia or Charlene Arcila who had the movement here and was working towards equality here in Philadelphia. But being just a transgender woman of color, being stigmatized and also not wanting for the younger generation what I had to go through is really what keeps me going.

JZ: And what do you do when you’re not at your paid job or wearing your activist hat?

NS: My activist hat is always on. That is one thing about me. I need to learn to sometimes take my hat off, but there was a time when nobody was there for me and I don’t want it to be a time that no one is there for someone, you know? And if I could be of assistance to any issue or barrier or conflict or whatever, I’m going to try my best to be that person. But when I’m on my free time I just relax with my animals, my kitty and my dogs. So that’s what I do.

JZ: Great. Thank you. We’re so excited to have you on board here.

NS: And I’m excited to be here.