NASHVILLE, TN – When Ravanna-Michelle Menendez, a transgender activist in Nashville, Tennessee, talks about taking power into her own hands, she means for her community too.
While working at a ride share company Menendez tried to find healthcare. She told me a story about going to New York in 2019 to begin her transition, but when her care fell through she had to act. Upon returning to Nashville, Menendez established access to trans healthcare, known as the WPATH guidelines, for all employees at her then-employer’s headquarters, Lyft.
“I was responsible for standing up to the founders of Lyft,” Menendez told GLAAD. “For me that’s the most accomplished feeling I’ve ever been able to achieve.”
Since then, Mendendez has safely received healthcare in Tennessee, but as of 2023 life saving healthcare for trans people has been outlawed in the state. Menendez still fights. She has helped place over 100 trans individuals into companies that offer trans inclusive healthcare.
New research from the 2022 US Trans Survey says 98% of transgender people on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) said they were “a lot more satisfied” (84%) and “a little more satisfied” (14%) with their life.
“We can’t just sit around waiting for people to futz about in the legislature, when we as trans people can take opportunities into our own hands,” Menendez said.
Many others in Tennessee have expressed the same to GLAAD in a visit to discuss the state of the state.
Take Dwayne Jenkins for example.
“No one should ever scare you from your health and wellness,” Jenkins told GLAAD.
Jenkin’s has been fighting against Tennessee’s staunch anti-LGBTQ and racist systems.
Jenkins is the founder and president of Nashville Black Pride, and the founder of the first Black LGBTQ HIV outreach initiatives (extensions of Nashville CARES) Brothers United Program and Young Brothers United Program. The programs’ missions are to “uplift a generation of (Young) African-American Same Gender Loving Males in Nashville” through professional and personal development alongside HIV/AIDS prevention outreach, awareness, and education.
The need for education is as imperative to Jenkins as ever.
Eighty percent of Americans agree with criminalizing non-disclosure HIV status, according to GLAAD’s HIV Stigma Report. Tennessee is also one of 35 states to criminalize HIV, with disproportionate consequences for the Black community.
With this, Jenkins has organized multiple accessibility points for fighting HIV.
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“One of the things I noticed when I first got [to Nashville] was the voices were available, but they weren’t amplified,” said Jenkins. He moved to Nashville in 1994. He soon started mailing newsletters, growing listservs, along with other connection methods, to thousands of people.
“We immediately built trust with individuals,” said Jenkins.
Where Jenkins has built trust, the state’s government has sowed distrust.
Since 2015, Tennessee has passed 19 anti-LGBTQ laws that censor education, according to HRC, allow misgendering, deadnaming, stripping trans, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people of their healthcare, while still allowing forced surgeries on intersex babies and HRT for cisgender people. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee passed four of these bills last year.
This makes Tennessean and trans activist Saer Olavarría frustrated.
“Look at how ridiculous that is,” Olavarría, a military contractor veteran, told GLAAD.
About one in every 100-200 births are intersex in the US, according to Planned Parenthood.
“Unfortunately, even our medical systems know this, and they force surgeries on babies that did not need any surgeries in order to make their parents comfortable, in order to make society comfortable,” said Olavarría.
Olavarría says that this is dangerous. Trans people know themselves. When individuals “want to make the inside match the outside” they are often controlled, and told what to do with their bodies against their will.
Nevertheless, while Jenkins, Menendez and Olavarría continue fighting for the autonomy of their communities, the effects of legislative harm in Tennessee remain paramount.
Tennessee is one of the top 10 states affected by homelessness, and people working to change this reality.
“We provide shelter for young adults experiencing homelessness. We are also the only LGBTQ+ affirming source of emergency shelter within 200 miles of Nashville,” Corrine Elise, the Associate Director of Engagement of Nashville Launch Pad, told GLAAD.
“In the wake of a lot of the discrimination, and the fall out from that, [there] are a lot of tangible consequences on the young adults in our community,” said Elise.
In 2022, Gov. Lee signed HB 0978 into law, which criminalizes homelessness on state-owned property. In Nashville, 15-30% of the homeless, and unstably housed youth, identify as LGBTQIA, according to 2019 Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency research.
Elise continues to say that there are a lot of “distractions happening and a lot of scare tactics” that deflect from humanity. Her goal is to make humanity the center point of change.
That’s why Jenkin’s says to “stay focused on what you can do” like getting tested for HIV, and getting out the vote albeit “rain, sleet, or snow.”
To check your voter registration go to www.glaad.org/vote.