In honor of Trans Awareness Week, Houston-based organization The Mahogany Project (a non-profit organization that hosts fundraisers, community nights, and awareness campaigns for LGBTQ+ issues) presented the 5th annual Black Transgender Empowerment Week celebration. The week of events, celebration, and awareness raising was held from November 15th-November 21st 2023 in partnership with VIIV Healthcare, Southern AIDS Coalition, The Transgender District and Lavender Rights Project, ACLU Texas, Bunnies on the Bayou, Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) and Save Our Sisters United.
Black Transgender Empowerment Week is an annual tradition aimed at celebrating and uplifting the transgender community’s resilience and contributions. According to the Mahogany Project, Black Trans Empowerment week is a “heartfelt tribute to the entire black trans and gender-diverse community along with its dedicated supporters, who are committed to forging a brighter future for Black Transgender individuals.”
This week not only memorializes those lost to anti-trans violence, but also advocates for an improved future for the trans community, simultaneously showcasing the creativity and resiliency of Black trans people while fostering unity, understanding, and productive conversation across the community.
The Mahogany Project’s 2023 programming included a variety of community engagement events created to facilitate community for trans people. From partnering with local organizations, to hosting dialogues over meals, to pooling resources, this wide variety of events was curated with the intention to help empower the residents of Texas and support the inclusion of Black Trans people and stories in American history.
The week began with a commemorative Opening Ceremony, where a memorial was held for Monica Roberts, a trailblazing transgender journalist who documented and retold the lived stories of the transgender community throughout history. She started her blog, TransGriot, in 2006, a time when trans perspectives were severely lacking in media. Her subsequent impact was undeniable. Roberts became a public figure for the LGBTQ Community, speaking out against the impact of violence on the trans community specifically. TransGriot received the GLAAD Media Award for outstanding blog in 2018.
Verniss McFarland III, founded The Mahogany Project in April 2017 as a place to reduce ‘social isolation, stigma and acts of injustice in the TQLGB+ communities of color. The Mahogany Project combats social isolation amongst trans people through direct investment in the community. Verniss grew up in the Bible Belt of Houston Texas, where they saw that the black and brown trans people in their community were facing a high rate of anti-trans violence. Through The Mahogany Project, Vernis wishes to unite the community and its allies.
In one of TheBody’s “At Home With” Instagram conversations, Verniss explains that “We have to make places [where] trans people feel welcome.” In 2023, The Mahogany Project has grown to serve as a community center that strives for excellence by distributing resources, providing after school programs, and planning events for trans visibility. It acts as a safe haven for the trans community, and is a site where trans history is protected, celebrated, and preserved.
This year’s Black Transgender Empowerment week also marked the launch of The Mahogany Project’s #WinterGiving Campaign. The #WinterGiving Campaign is a charitable effort that benefits the low-income transgender and queer residents of Houston, providing them with the support, essential items, and food pantry program access that they need. The campaign runs from November 15th to December 15th accepting both monetary donations and in-kind donations of blankets, toiletries, coats, and bedding to be distributed to those in need.
The Mahogany’s Project celebration of Black Trans Empowerment highlights the amazing work that grassroots organizers and community centers are doing all throughout the world in support of trans rights. Their actions, driven by mutual aid, self defense programs, and HIV activism, is a blueprint for other organizations looking to begin and grow their own impact. To connect further with The Mahogany Project, support their work, and join community events, visit their website for more information.