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.

An Open Letter to the Pennsylvania Trans Community from the ACLU of Pennsylvania

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It’s a scary time for many communities. It is an especially harrowing time for those who are disproportionately affected by bigotry, structural and institutional racism, and other types of discrimination. We are in awe of those of you who are sharing your stories during Transgender Awareness Week and coming together in your communities for the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I know personally what it means to have to fight for recognition and respect. I know what it feels like to run up against bias, discrimination and institutional barriers as so many of you do. I also know that I have benefited from cisgender privilege, given the issues that the LGBT movement historically has prioritized. The LGBT movement – and, honestly, my own organization – has not always centered the experiences of trans people and the issues facing your communities. We must do better.

In the wake of a devastating election for trans rights and in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, I want to make clear that the ACLU of Pennsylvania stands in support of Pennsylvania’s trans communities. We commit to lifting up your voices and experiences and priorities for change. We will fight for you and with you in the months and years to come.

The indomitable spirit and resilience of trans communities inspire ACLU-PA to become an ally you can count on in all times, good and bad. We are here for you.

In solidarity,
Reggie Shuford
Executive Director
ACLU of Pennsylvania

Viral Photo Highlights Need for Action In Support Of LGBT Youth

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

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“I’m homosexual and I’m afraid about what my future will be and that people won’t like me.”

Sadly, this quote didn’t come from a gay person several decades ago, during a time before most people realized that they had gay people they knew and loved in their lives. It isn’t even from several years ago. The quote is from a young boy, captured in a haunting photograph from Humans of New York with a look of pained anguish on his face, as if he is holding back a well of tears.

In the days since the image was first posted, it has received more than 620,000 “Likes” on Facebook and has been shared nearly 60,000 times. Responses, overwhelmingly positive, have poured in from individuals from across the world, including Ellen DeGeneres and Hillary Clinton.

This week, the U.S. Senate will be presented with a rare opportunity to act to ensure that LGBT students across the country are able to obtain a quality public education that is free of discrimination. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) will be offering the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, as an amendment on the Senate floor. The need for these protections could not be clearer.

As moving as the response to this photo has been, the fears voiced by this boy are reflective of a tragic reality impacting far too many LGBT young people in schools across the country. Discrimination, harassment, and even physical violence continue to play far too large a role in the lives of LGBT students. A nationwide 2013 survey of nearly 8,000 students found that more than 30 percent of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire school day in the past month because they felt unsafe.

Too often, it is the schools themselves that are the problem. The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia have filed a lawsuit, on behalf of a transgender student, against the Gloucester County School Board for adopting a discriminatory bathroom policy that segregates transgender students from their peers. The policy effectively expels trans students from communal restrooms and requires them to use “alternative private” restroom facilities.

SNDA, which is modeled closely on Title IX, would provide critical, explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBT students in federal law. When schools discriminate against LGBT students — such as denying trans students access to restrooms that reflect who they are or barring students from bringing a same-sex date to a school dance — or allow instances of serious harassment to go unaddressed, SNDA provides important legal remedies, including a private right of action, to hold schools accountable.

Schools found to be in violation of the law would also risk losing their federal funding. A half century of civil rights laws have demonstrated that these kinds of enforcement tools are most effective in preventing discrimination from occurring in the first place as well as getting schools to appropriately respond when students are being discriminated against or harassed. At the end of the day, the goal is to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students, not lawsuits (important and necessary as they sometimes are).

While we continue to celebrate a landmark Supreme Court victory for the freedom to marry, we cannot lose sight of all the important work that remains. It is mindboggling to think that there is still no federal law that explicitly protects LGBT students in our nation’s public schools. By supporting SNDA, senators would make clear that LGBT students should be able to look forward to futures full of promise, not live in fear over whether they will be accepted and loved for who they are.

This article is cross-posted at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights

Learn more about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Nondiscrimination work!