Transgender Activist in Michigan Works Toward Inclusion and Education For All
Oftentimes, when someone begins to live their life authentically as the person they know themselves to be, one of the biggest sources of support is the community they find who have similar shared life experiences. For Brenden Watts, this support was found in a national advocacy group, the Transgender People of Color Coalition (TPOCC).
“I started w TPOCC when I started transitioning,” Brendan says. “ I knew someone that was working with them, so I got in contact with her and started volunteering at different events and functions.”
Eventually, Brenden’s role changed from being a volunteer to taking on more significant responsibilities, and these days he helps the group expand its national footprint through a variety of endeavors,
“I do workshops for different organizations, schools, and other groups that request information and education — sometimes it’s related to legal issues, other times policy, and everything in between. I also run social media [for TPOCC], and with that I try to highlight all sorts of different things that affect the trans community.”
As a black transgender male, Brenden says he makes himself intentionally visible in order to help combat stereotypes that exist regarding his identities.
“Because there are stereotypes that come with being a black man, I feel I often have to prove myself more by just being present in certain spaces. People automatically assume that I’ve had a certain upbringing as a black male. I try to break out of traditional gender roles as well. I want people to think outside the box when they meet me, then think outside the box when they meet others, and hopefully those interactions help certain perceptions fade away.”
Currently, Brenden lives in Michigan, where there are no statewide protections in housing, employment, or public accommodations for LGBTQ people. There have been bills submitted in the state legislature that would enact these protections, but none have yet been scheduled for a hearing. For Brenden and thousands of other LGBTQ people across Michigan, non-discrimination protections would provide security in the face of attempted discrimination, and allow them recourse should it be encountered.
“Non-discrimination protections give hope to people in the sense that just being who you are won’t affect your housing, going out to eat, or providing for yourself,” he says. “It’s a big fear of mine, that right now people have leverage to discriminate without laws in place. Knowing someone has that power to affect me and others because of their misunderstanding of who I am, and out of ignorance…it’s not a good feeling.”
While he lives openly, Brenden does worry about finding future employment in the face of no protections.
“I’m concerned that something about my past that will hinder me from getting another job, or hinder me from doing something I love to do, which is working with people and making a difference in their lives.”
However, for the time being, Brenden is pleased that his role as a advocate allows him to provide information and support for a variety of communities.
“Working with different kinds of people is a way for me to reach my own people and help bridge the gap between my communities [people of color and LGBTQ people],” he said. “I see that people can become more open-minded – I’ve seen people treat others differently after they learn new information, and their language and mindset changes. It’s great progression.”
Continuing to educate people is Brenden’s ultimate goal, and through speaking out and living honestly, he provides a strong example for both LGBTQ people and those seeking to learn more about LGBTQ issues.
“I feel like if I can make you understand certain things, you have no excuse to not use what you learn to build a better relationship w people around you who are different,” he said. “I also want to teach my community how to challenge itself. It doesn’t hurt to put in the effort to give someone a clear understanding of who you are; in fact, it can benefit them personally, so then they can use the same methods to understand who they are inside.”
Special Thanks to Our Partners:
This profile was produced in collaboration with the Trans People of Color Coalition, which exists to advance justice for all trans people of color. The organization amplifies stories, supports TPOC our leadership, and challenges issues of racism, transphobia, and transmisogyny. Learn more here.