The Gift of Love Is What The Transgender Emergency Fund Of MA Is Giving To Transgender People of Color and Overall, Especially During The Pandemic During This Holiday Season And Beyond
By: Audrey Cole/TRT Reporter—
Chastity Bowick understands the survival instinct at her core. A trans woman of color, she knows all too well the experience of many—experiencing homelessness and relying on survival sex work as she battled for her life. From the streets to the corner office, Chastity now spearheads the Trans Emergency Fund of Massachusetts, providing assistance she once received from the organization to others in similar predicaments.
The Transgender Emergency Fund (TEF) is the “only organization dedicated to supporting low income and homeless Transgender individuals in Massachusetts,” its website read. TEF provides “assistance with homelessness prevention, shelter assistance, nutrition assistance, prescription co-pay assistance, and transportation and escort [assistance] to medical appointments,” among other services, as part of the organization’s programming.
In this exclusive interview, The Rainbow Times caught up with Bowick, who serves as TEF’s Executive Director, and Matisse DuPont, its Organizational Administrator, to find out what the organization is up to this Holiday Season, how they are giving to others in critical need, and how the community can give back to them.
Q: What is the mission behind TEF?
Bowick and DuPont: The mission of the Transgender Emergency Fund is to provide critical assistance and support for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming individuals in Massachusetts.
Q: When, why, and how did TEF come to be? Who was the brainchild behind it?
A: TEF began in 2008 by founder Jesse Pack and a few others who wanted to help a homeless Trans woman. They raised more funds than expected and decided to continue assisting Transgender people in Mass.
Q: What programs and services do you offer to the trans community?
A: The availability of our services is contingent upon available funding. All of our services with descriptions are listed on our website here.
Q: Have the needs of the trans community changed over the years?
A: The overall needs of the trans community have increased on all fronts over the years. This is due to increased visibility and discrimination. We have also become more vocal about what we need for survival, which includes housing, employment, and social services. We need to know that we have access to adequate care.
Q: Do you find that more trans women, trans men, nonbinary, or gender variant folks seek services? Or, is it a combination?
A: We have only recently begun to officially collect demographics information, but generally speaking, trans women request assistance more often than any other group we serve.
Q: How have the needs of TEF changed during the pandemic?
A: We have implemented a wide variety of new services in response to the pandemic. Homelessness prevention requests skyrocketed because of the pandemic, which put a strain on TEF’s available financial services. In May, we implemented a food and personal supplies program with the American Heart Association and About Fresh.
Q: Chastity, serving as the Executive Director, please share a little bit about yourself and why TEFM is important to you as a professional and individual.
A: As the executive director, working for TEF is fulfilling personally and professionally. The work I do is extremely rewarding. As a Trans Woman of Color, I represent parts of our community who need the most love, care, and attention. Continually, I hear about Trans Women of Color being murdered, and it makes me feel the work is never done and there is always more to do.
TEF is personally important to me because I was a recipient in 2012-2013. TEF literally saved my life. After being homeless and resorting to survival sex work and survival drug use, TEF took me off the street and gave me another chance at life. I was inspired and wanted to give back to the community. Since then, I have fought to empower and uplift people in the trans community to not only become social justice warriors and advocates but also lawyers, doctors, and other service professionals. When trans people seek services, we should be able to see individuals like us who understand where we come from.
Q: Trans Women of Color are murdered at disturbingly disproportionate rates and have a greater lack of access to necessary resources for a myriad of reasons. Do you find that to be a true statement in your line of work and experience too? If so, what is TEF doing to help combat that (if that falls into your mission)?
A: Black and Brown Trans Women in the MA community consistently face disproportionate violence and discrimination. We aim to support all transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming individuals in need, but we recognize that Trans Women of Color need critical assistance. To combat this, we have implemented a series with (B)MEN Foundation called Bridging the Gap. This is a dinner discussion where Trans Women of Color can come together with Straight Black Men to bridge the gap between these communities through dialogue. Once the covid-19 pandemic has subsided, we hope to take this program on the road to bridge the gap all over the country.
Q: Are you a 501(c)3 organization?
A: Yes, we became a 501(c)3 organization on April 28th, 2016.
Q: Your team is comprised of multiple people from various backgrounds. Why is it important to you to be inclusive of varied experiences at TEF?
A: A diverse team—in both identity and expertise—makes any nonprofit better for both community service and organizational development purposes. The transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming community in Massachusetts includes a stunning array of people who come from a multitude of backgrounds, experiences, and walks of life. In order to best serve as many people as possible, we need a team that is able to provide multiple perspectives. Additionally, we need team members with many professional skills and expertise to ensure this organization continues to function and thrive for a long time.
Q: What does a world that is equal for the trans community look like to you? How can we get there?
A: Can you imagine it? A world where the trans community is free from physical and mental violence, where we do not struggle to meet our basic material and emotional needs. In this world, trans people have equal access to housing, employment, education, medical care, community, family, friendship, acceptance, admiration, and love. There, trans people’s experiences are not seen as abnormal, but as a mundane part of the human condition, where all people learn from us and see the world through our eyes—a world where we are not looked at as anything other than human.
To get there, we first need space to dream. We cannot dream until we can live free from intersecting material and social oppressions. We must be free from racism, classism, sexism, ableism, ageism, etc. We need to understand how systemic oppressions relate to trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming experiences. We must ensure that all people have access to healthcare, housing, food, and education from institutions—institutions that do not inadvertently cause us harm. Progress in society will benefit the trans community greatly.
For now, we must support those in the direst of straits by providing healthy food and safe housing. People need to put their money where their mouths are and provide financial assistance to our community. We must work with our local elected representatives to provide support to our community. And this is just a start here in Massachusetts. The trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming community needs to stop being used as tokenizing pawns in diversity agendas. All medical and educational institutions must update their curricula to include our experiences and needs, especially intersex individuals. Once the new Whitehouse administration is in place, they need to consult with trans activists and leaders from all major cities across the country to work on adopting federal laws, protections, and public accommodations for trans people. There is so much work to do.
Q: What is your main focus at this time? What are you most proud of?
A: Our main focus is working with the city and state to obtain a physical building for our transitional housing program. In the future, we hope to build a safe house for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people. We are looking to offer more full and part-time staff positions to expand our services and help our community at a greater volume.
We are proud of being able to provide direct services to individuals to prevent homelessness or to support those after escaping homelessness.
Q: How can people get involved with the organization? What do you need?
A: People can immediately get involved by spreading the word about our existence and the work we do. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook and boost our calls for help and community support. To donate, please visit our website.
Founded by Jesse Pack in 2008, The Transgender Emergency Fund is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and is operated solely on donations. To learn more about TEF, donate to their programming, or to get involved, check out their website at transemergencyfund.org.