PTWC Logistics’ expert wants to use their “position as a way to elevate the voice and experiences that the conference has over time failed to lift-up”
By: Chris Gilmore/TRT Reporter—
PHILADELPHIA—The Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference (PTWC), the largest Trans Conference in the world and a program of the Mazzoni Center, has hired a very insightful individual, Dani Murano-Kinney (they, them, theirs), to a lead as Logistics Coordinator. Immediately, Murano-Kinney engaged in dialogue with this reporter, which made for a very compelling conversation that showed their care and incredible sense of giving to those whose voices are often silenced. That is what Murano-Kinney strives to do and bring to the PTWC.
With the limited amount of time spent with Murano-Kinney, it was apparent that they empathize with others’ pains and erasure, something that even kept them up at nights, in an effort to improve trans, non-binary and intersex people of color’s experience at the next PTWC. Even Mazzoni’s Director of Communication, Larry Benjamin, had much to say about Murano-Kinney.
“This will be the fourth conference I am assisting with and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see leading this event,” said Benjamin. “I am so excited to see what this twentieth conference will look like under Dani’s leadership.”
Honoring the legacy of the conference’s founder, Charlene Arcilla, Murano-Kinney strives to bring inclusive and robust BIPOC community programming to the conference in 2021. One of their priorities is to “examine the ways the conference content” and plan “structures, that have historically failed Black and Brown members of the Trans community.” Their goal is altruistic, “to do more to recognize and honor the often-overlooked roots of PTWC, which was founded and led by a Black Trans woman.” And, honoring black trans women, who are and have been disproportionally murdered for many years, tells us what Murano-Kinney is about.
To further their goals for the conference, Murano-Kinney said they will be working closely with the Interdisciplinary Review Committee (IRC) to ensure that it continues to “represent the community by incorporating new voices through more robust recruiting initiatives.”
In this exclusive Q&A with The Rainbow Times, Murano-Kinney discusses their new role at PTWC and what attendees can expect going into the 2021 conference, amidst the greatest pandemic this country has seen.
TRT: Dani, what is your background in terms of race and ethnicity and can you tell us a little bit more about yourself so that our audience gets to know you better?
M-K: I am white, which comes with a set of biases and limits to my understanding of awareness; something I always try to work against. I am non-binary and trans and I’m also autistic. Above all, I hope to use all of my time, my energy, and my skills to serve the trans community and its many intersections. That’s not something I say lightly or for vanity. I want to see the trans community flourish and thrive, which is what brings me to this conference.
Q: Walk us through how you got to be Mazzoni’s pick for this position. Did you apply for it or did they find you?
A: I did apply to the position, which I found when I was going to the website to actually look for a way to volunteer for the conference, after having attended previous conferences. The question of how I got to be Mazzoni’s pick is a question that I quite honestly don’t have a full answer to, which is true of many folks who go through a protracted & rigorous hiring process. I can say that the process took time; there were multiple interviews, with multiple parties from the Mazzoni Center’s team involved. I’d submit a number of materials including, exhaustive work sample reports, to demonstrate the level of competency I possess when it comes to large-scale programming logistics. In these reports, I demonstrated the sheer volume of logistical work I did on a single program, which itself was part of a massive, overlapping slate of programming, each of which had the same needs. I think from where I stand, it was the intersection of this programming experience with my careers as a trainer, educator, sensitivity reader & consultant. It’s an intersection that I think really becomes foundational to this work.
Q: Tell us why you are the right person to ensure that people of color have a voice, participation and equal space at PTWC 2021?
A: I don’t think I’m comfortable using a term like “the right person,” for a lot of reasons. I want to be very clear, I have this job, but I am not a monolith of the trans community nor is this my conference. I can instead say what I’m going to do and what I’ve been doing.
This is one of the biggest focuses of my energy before I even got the first interview. I’ve spent so much of my time seeking out every podcast, every article, every Facebook post, every Twitter thread, every essay, every vlog, and talking to as many peers as I can leading up to this moment, and I continue to do so. This work has been all to try to take in as much as I can, to understand the ways that the conference has previously failed Black & Brown members of the Trans community. I want folks to know that I take this very, very seriously. I’ve tried to understand and feel the pain that has come from the community. I’ve lost entire nights of sleep, trying to process all of that pain, and I do that so I can try to let it inform my decisions. I want to use my position as a way to elevate the voice and experiences that the conference has over time failed to lift-up. I want to use my position to heal relationships that have been strained or broken in the past and I can say for sure that I will do everything that I can in this effort.
Q: Would you say that with you at the PTWC, PoC would have more workshops and exposure? How do you go about doing that?
A: Again, I think that work starts with listening, and not being proud. It requires me to take an honest look at myself, my own assumptions and biases, and to constantly do all I can to break them down. Off the clock, I spend a lot of my time attempting to know myself in that way, to seek out information and educate myself on the white supremacy that still lives within me, that I may not even notice is there. That’s a process we should all be engaged in and committed to. In this regard, I can only say that I am deeply committed to being taught whenever needed, and I would work to honor those who teach me.
I would like to make visible the Interdisciplinary Review Committee (IRC), who is [made] up of community members from all intersections of the Trans community. They have done and continue to do very important work related to this conference, and I definitely see them as a support system, in this, and many other regards in this work. It is clear that over time, BIPOC folks within the trans community have been let down by this conference; there’s a very justified sense of anger & hurt there. I think this work requires all involved to really own that. Even though I’m not responsible for those things, I do own them, and I hold myself accountable to fix them.
There’s some stuff I can’t say because it’s still being worked out. What I can say is we’re currently working on a restructured rubric-criteria, for the review of submissions, and part of this restructure has included ways of quantifiably boosting proposals for content by BIPOC folks. This is a rubric that our review committees will use in selecting content for the conference. We’re also working with the William Way Center right now, to go through the archives, in the effort to develop content that elevates the story of one of the conference’s leading founders— Charlene Arcila, a Black Trans woman, whose determination, tenacity, compassion, and conviction deserves to be much more widely celebrated & visible. We’re going to keep recruiting BIPOC folks for the IRC over time, to ensure that this continues to represent the same intersections that it does now, and to even expand on those.
Q: Do you support BLM?
A: I do, I think we all should support Black Lives Matter. I think, to speak to the calls for intersectionality, we’ve definitely seen a lot of iterations like ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ I can’t speak for Black trans folks, but I can say that from what I’ve read and what I’ve heard, in conversations about the protection of Black lives, there’s a desire to draw attention to the increased threat against Black Trans folks, specifically Black trans women, who are disproportionately subjected to violence, murdered, discriminated against, and abused. I don’t think the two are incompatible. I think it’s crucial for white trans folks to understand this intersection, just as I’m sure Black & Brown trans folks would say it’s crucial for cis Black & Brown folks to understand this intersection. I think that the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary, and we should all try to skip the extra take-out this week and make a donation to Black Lives Matter chapters in your area among the many other amazing organizations like Black Trans Travel Fund, The Okra Project, and Black Visions Collective to name just a few.
Q: Do you have any words to say as we head into November, a month in which many people mourn the deaths of trans people in the trans community, especially in the trans PoC community?
A: Black & Brown trans people [are] disproportionately subject to violence and murder, so much so that multiple organizations have literally labeled it an epidemic. And it is. Year after year, the number of reported murders of trans folks increase. And I feel compelled to point out that without the commitment and hard work of [the late] Monica Roberts of TransGriot, we wouldn’t even have anything close to an accurate statistic, because too often these murders aren’t quantified properly in wide-scale media because the media, families, and/or law-enforcement refuse to acknowledge the gender of the victim. Even still, we know that the reported numbers are conservative estimates.
It concerns me even more that with 2 months to go in 2020, we already surpassed previous years reported totals back in August, where the reported average was between 28-32. That’s horrifying, and it’s heartbreaking, and my heart goes out to the family, the kin, the friends, and the communities that are shaken and hurt by these deaths. Even from a distance, I feel so much every time a headline emerges with another report. I can only say that this has to end, and that begins by critically breaking down the structures, institutions, and behaviors that have normalized this lack of value for Black & Brown trans lives.
My words are those of love & sympathy, of shared mourning. My words are also a call to our allies outside of the community and for white trans folks to do more whenever & wherever they can. Donate, elevate, and spread folks’ cash-apps, GoFundMe pages, and crowdfunding. Do the same with organizations doing work to help BIPOC trans communities.
Q: What do you think isn’t being done by the government and other agencies that are “allowing” for the onslaught of trans people murders, since they keep happening and the murderers are getting away with it? For instance, Tony McDade’s murder at the hands of police wasn’t even mentioned in the mainstream media, yet it happened two days after George Floyd’s murder.
A: I don’t have immensely kind words regarding the government’s role in these murders. But it’s clear that they’ve failed to create a situation, a structure of justice, or even a set of expectations amongst our population, that value Black Trans lives. All of what there is has come from grassroots movements in the community.
I think, to your point, we’ve seen a mainstream de-valuation of trans life, specifically Black Trans life and it’s horrific. I think first and foremost, (and this is me being prescriptive for a moment) it takes a large scale reckoning with this country’s history of colonization, enslavement, white supremacy, and cis-normative violence. You can’t solve problems that you refuse to acknowledge, and I think with very few exceptions, most of the folks who make up the government buy into a sensationalized alternative to those histories. I think a government that sits in ignorance of those histories seems to be primed for an individual like Tr*mp to take office. I want to see justice when trans lives are taken, and I want to see their lives celebrated and valued just like is done with any other life that’s taken, but I also just want those lives to not be taken in the first place. That’s a harder conversation, but it clearly requires us to critically examine the police, the court system, and the way we educate upcoming generations about trans people.
Q: How difficult is it to get this in motion with COVID in our lives?
A: I lose sleep about this a lot too. Working remotely, as a baseline challenge, is very present for me. I think it goes without saying that the idea of what the conference will look like in 2021 is really important. So, at the moment, we’re really planning two conferences, to stay flexible and prepared for wherever the world may be by August 19th. As we progress through the year, we’re proactively evaluating the safety & viability of in-person programming and are diligently working to prepare the necessary resources and platforms, in the event that a pivot to a Virtual Conference is necessary. Even at this early point in that work, with what we’ve seen so far in investigating these platforms and resources, we’re confident that if we need to make this pivot, that the programming platform will be engaging and accessible, and will create an exciting and empowering conference experience.
Q: What did you do at your former job at the Museum?
A: How much time do you have? I started in Visitors Services, but as my former managers in that department can tell you, I quickly began to reach beyond the scope of my job description. Only about three months in I was working with then Director of Visitor Services, Kevin Wonder, current director of Visitor & Membership Services Jessica Sharpe and HR to review and update the departmental dress code for frontline VSAs, which prior to the update, was rigidly determined by a binary that we all could see had implicitly transphobic elements. I led a training seminar for these departments a few months later on Trans & Intersex Inclusion in the workplace. All the while, I was working with Public Programs as the Interim Coordinator of Evening Programs, where I oversaw the coordination of weekly concerts in the museum’s Great Stair Hall. From there, I took a full-time position in that department, hopping on right as we entered the final developmental stages of programming for the Designs for Different Futures exhibition; which I also was hired on by curator Michelle Millar Fisher to serve as a consultant on Trans, Queer, & Intersex topics. This programming slate was massive and somewhat unprecedented in scale, with an average of 4-5 programs a week to oversee ongoing needs such as staffing, resources, signage, web content, photography, honorarium fulfillment, onsite logistic, and more. While doing this work, I was also working with HR to review and, in some cases, rewrite application materials and policies related to trans inclusion at the museum.
Prior to lockdown, I had just been brought into a larger task force that was convening to review a number of upcoming policy & training initiatives in this regard. I took as many chances as I could to better the museum in ways that I found were lacking. I owe a lot to Damon Reaves, Claire Kloss, Jenni Drozdek, Michelle Millar Fisher, and Becky Vincent for just how much they let me take on. Damon, in particular, was immensely giving with his time, meeting with me monthly, to mentor and support me in whatever it was that I was pushing for, reviewing my proposals to HR, and even just being an ear when I needed one.
Q: Why the change?
A: That’s a tough question; because I loved the work I was doing at the museum. I think the more that I got to take on top of my responsibilities assisting the Public Programs department, the more I felt a disconnect between my goals and the focus of the position. While I was doing this work at the museum, I was also freelancing as a sensitivity reader & consultant, as well as starting to more consistently do work as a volunteer patient-advocate. It was something I think everybody in the department recognized too, that I was slowly finding this affinity for something different. If I’m being very literal, one day I realized that every lunch break at the museum I spent reviewing exogenous hormone regimens for a masc-of-center person I was preparing some case studies for, to help them with an upcoming doctor’s appointment. And I realized that I’d be spending hours up at night when my partner would go to sleep, doing so much research for folks who needed support in navigating the healthcare system. At some point, I just knew I needed to be doing something more, something directly impacting trans health.
Q: Are you a Pennsylvania native*?
A: I think I’d like to lovingly reframe the question, as I don’t like the use of the term “native” when discussing living on stolen land. I have lived in Philadelphia since 2009, when I moved here for school, but this land belongs to the Lenni Lenape. Before that, I grew up in a couple of smaller suburbs in New Jersey. Since moving to Philadelphia, I’ve continued to be amazed by the trans communities that form here, and have been honored by the friendships and found-family that have from it.
*Editor’s Note: This question was asked to find out about Dani’s roots and was not referring to Indigenous people.
Q: How do you view voting, BLM and the pandemic’s response?*
A: I think voting is good. Yes. I think at the same time, the structures provided by voting share a symbiotic relationship with rigorous movements of community organizing, activism, and an analysis of institutional structures. I’ve voted by mail, and [I’ve voted] for Biden/Harris. I do so with an uneasy sense, though it’s clearly the only choice. To be clear, it’s a choice between the administration that has continued to attack marginalized communities and will only continue to do so, and folks who are going to still be pretty problematic, but comparatively safer to the alternative. For trans folks, there’s a real tension though with voting for Biden/Harris, especially because not too long ago Harris did some really harmful and transphobic things related to the incarceration of trans people. But let’s be realistic, Biden/Harris give us an option, Trump/Pence will continue their onslaught on our communities.
*Editor’s Note: This question was asked prior to the elections.
Q: And, in terms of the pandemic, do you see the pandemic’s assistance to QTPOC and nonbinary, and intersex people as one that is filled with erasure of the needs of our communities? How had a good government’s response looked like to you?
A: I think, to tie into the COVID aspect of this question we’ve seen all these organizations going above and beyond to support the trans community (and even those in need outside of it) during this pandemic, in the absence of support from the current administration. And let’s be clear, this administration’s response to the pandemic has been negligent and dangerous. I do often see this erasure, in both implicit and overt ways when folks discuss the hardships of the pandemic, where it’s clear that their framing of it is specifically white and specifically cis. They neglect that BIPOC trans folks are exponentially impacted by the pandemic, because of pre-existing barriers to accessing healthcare, housing, employment, and other health & wellness needs. So again, please readers; donate to the organizations doing this work.
Q: Is voting a must, in your opinion?
A: Yes. That is for me, an unquestionable truth. I think at the same time the structures provided by voting share a symbiotic relationship with rigorous movements of community organizing, activism, and an analysis of institutional structures. I see voting and building power through activism & protest [for example] as equally valid strategies of building power. It is also a right, which, for the longest time, has been horrifically kept out of reach for many marginalized communities, and still is to this day for many disturbing reasons. For that reason, I think it’s even more important to honor that. Vote early, vote by mail, and ask your polling places what the safety protocols are.
Q: Is there a hopeful message you have for others out there not being able to cope with COVID, especially members of the QTPOC and BIPOC communities?
A: Hopeful messages feel, challenging, right now. That comes from a real desire in my heart to not paint over the pain and trauma that has been endured, specifically by BIPOC queer and trans folks during the pandemic. Even outside of the pandemic, I feel like we’re all aware of the attacks that have continued to be made against these communities. I could enumerate from memory alone, a tidal surge of hardship & pain that this year has been.
If I’m forcing myself to be hopeful, I immediately think to the ways in which some of the BIPOC lead organizations mentioned earlier are doing incredible work. I think they’re all doing amazing work right now. When I look at just how strong this community can be, with the ferocity with which we close ranks to support each other gives me strength. My sense of hope comes from community, it comes from the orgs doing amazing work, it comes from activists who continue to sustain a rigorous wave of protest, it comes from seeing trans folks on social media trying to help each other crowd fund their needs. My hopeful message is just to know that the community is both sword & shield, now and always, and I’m to try to find every way possible for the conference to be a part of that.
Q: What can you tell our readers to expect at the PTWC in 2021?
A: First and foremost, a safe conference that protects the health of the trans community and the general-public. You can expect that programming will be robust and engaging, and that we’re going to deliver on our goals to make this conference more empowering, welcoming, & supportive for Black & Brown members of the trans community.
Q: On the lighter side: What are three words you’d use to describe you? Three words your best friend or partner may use to describe you?
A: Loyal, Tireless, Tenacious.
Q: Do you think LGBTQ+ media is doing a good, or even fair job at covering trans, intersex and nonbinary issues?
A: I think that the answer to this question heavily depends on the vantage point; in my freelance work I actively seek out this type of media, so to me, there’s a healthy variety of LGBTQIA2+ media to take in. But the fact that I have to do a lot of work to seek out this media means that we have a problem—because some folks don’t have that time. I feel a pain in my heart answering this question, knowing in the back of my mind that we recently lost Monica Roberts, of TransGriot, whose work was fundamental in terms of trans media, and she did so much to inspire and mentor the next generation of journalists and writers. I think a lot [of] sites like this are so vital with a commitment to rigorously telling the stories of trans people on international & global scales alike. I would like to see LGBTQIA2+ media have the same resources and scale of “mainstream” cis-heteronormative media does so that their work can be more visible and reach more people.
PTWC 2021 is scheduled to take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center August 19-21, 2021. But, given the unknowns of COVID-19 and what guidelines on large gatherings will then, Murano-Kinney said they are proactively planning and reviewing options to deliver PTWC 2021 as either a hybrid or completely virtual experience.
“Regardless of what the world looks like next August, we’re committed to providing a space to educate and empower the Trans community, through the conference and beyond,” they said.
To learn more about the PTWC and stay up-to-date with the 2021 conference, check out their site at https://bit.ly/35jOWXj.