We are currently living in a world where the limits on love, relationships, and gender are ever expanding, and while members of the LGBTQ+ community are afforded more safety and freedom than they were decades ago, there’s still work to do to protect the lives and rights of transgender youth and adults. Trans women of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by violence, especially Black trans women. This year alone there have been 18 known murders of transgender people, who were mostly transgender women of color.
This is why the continued work of advocates, activists, and allies who are vocal about, and committed to protecting and improving trans lives is important. Valentina Rosario, coordinator of the Trans Equity Project—the only for-trans-by-trans program of its kind in the area—is working to connect trans individuals of all ages to vital resources and providing them with a safe and affirming space to live their truth.
In this interview, Valentina discusses her advocacy work and what we can all do in order to better support and protect the trans community.
How did your advocacy work, which centers around transgender individuals and their experiences, begin? How does it enable you to give trans folx access to critical resources?
When I was 14 or 15 years old, I got involved with Galaei (a queer Latin@ social justice organization) and the youth program, and through there I got professionally involved with a former employee who is now my mentor. They supported me through my transition. I wanted to help youth transition, and help them feel comfortable in their bodies, and at their schools, and help them find jobs. I got involved (in advocacy) through a nonprofit organization and finding an awesome mentor.
I’m doing this on different scales, and through my employment as the coordinator for the only for-trans-by-trans program in Philly. Outside of my job, I’m part of different community advisory boards for HIV within the trans community, and trans individuals in prison, doing things like getting trans women bras in male prisons. I’m also vocal about the decriminalization of sex work and how it would impact trans folx in Philly. I also do competency trainings within the community, which consist of different presentations for different environments; there’s one for trans students and employees, which educate on things like pronouns, terminology, and what micro-aggressions against trans people look like.
How do your lived experiences as a trans woman, and specifically as an Afrolatinx trans woman, inform your work as an advocate and leader in the community?
I’m a (racial) minority being, trans is another minority. I’m the only transfeminine employee at my organization. I’m able to talk about inclusivity. I grew up poor in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood. I have lived through sex work, survival sex work, racism, and poverty. My voice is powerful voice and I use it to advocate for individuals who don’t know how to advocate for themselves.
Tell us about an upcoming initiative that you’re working on.
It’s an initiative through work, but was completely my idea; it is a visual campaign to bring trans bodies to the front, without just talking about death or our struggles. The campaign will talk about our everyday lives. We’re advocates, mothers, fathers, children, cashiers, and doctors. We’re just people and I want to highlight that. The campaign will also include an awards ceremony to honor trans individuals who are doing the work.
How do you make trans individuals feel seen and heard?
I hope to make them feel seen and heard, by meeting them where they are and being relatable, and not just making them feel like just another client. I go to graduations, and I work with trans youth. I had a client call and tell me they were 60 days sober, and I had someone thank me for helping them find housing. That’s how I know that the work I do makes people feel better.
What are some needed services or resources for the trans community, that in your experience, Philly should be offering?
We need housing that is specifically for trans individuals, trans-specific schooling where youth can transition safely, education and support for trans individuals in foster care, and training local employees to be trans-competent.
What is your favorite thing about working with the trans community in Philly?
The stories that I get to hear, where I learn so much from the individual. Philly is so segregated within its neighborhoods, but doing this work you meet so many people and you get out of your neighborhood, and wake you up a little bit more. Not everything is so black and white.
What are some of the biggest issues facing the trans community right now? How can cisgender individuals be better allies for the trans community?
Stigma is always the biggest one, stigma around our occupations, around our sexuality, and around our health. People think all trans people have HIV, are sex workers or are on drugs or are uneducated. These stigmas are harmful, cis people can educate themselves, and fight to get more resources for trans individuals in prisons, help them secure employment, and work to decriminalize sex work. Advocate for trans individuals.
What brings you joy within the work that you do?
Knowing that when I help somebody, they’re getting that same feeling that I felt when I was younger. Knowing that I helped somebody, feel whole, and treated them like a human, everybody deserves that.
My Philly Neighbor is a project done in collaboration with Broke In Philly, a news media initiative among 19 local news organizations to provide in-depth, nuanced and solutions-oriented reporting on the issues of poverty and the push for economic justice in Philadelphia. Know someone who you think we should feature on the My Philly Neighbor series? Nominate them!