By Eri Pappas
TS Candii and
Lexii Foxx, both of whom are Black transgender women and organizers within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement in New York, Zoomed with the LA Free Press to talk about their work.
TS Candii, the Founder and Executive Director of Black Trans Nation, has been an organizer in New York for two years. “I’m from the South,” she said. “So I’m from the Jim Crow laws. I basically ran away from the Jim Crow laws to come to a more ‘progressive state.’ But I’ve come to figure out it’s a fake ‘progressive state.’”
Candii’s activism is focused on policy, especially surrounding Black trans sex workers. A pillar of Black Trans Nation is the push to repeal the Walking While Trans Ban, or the law that criminalizes “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.”
“I was actually profiled and stopped and frisked for this particular charge,” Candii said. “And it’s killing us. I was forced to speak up and speak out and fight back. So the Walking While Trans campaign — we are demanding the ‘loitering for the purpose of prostitution’ to be repealed, to be removed out of law. No one should be charged for ‘loitering for the purpose of prostitution,’ because it’s been utilized as a weapon against the Black and Brown community.”
Lexii Foxx began organizing just this year. While in Detroit for a Prayers retreat, she learned that a friend of hers, a fellow Black trans woman named Layla Sanchez, had been murdered.
“We were advocating for trans women that had got murdered and died, and people kind of didn’t even really care,” said Foxx. She was lighting candles and putting up pictures of the people that had died around the church. “I hadn’t spoke to Layla Sanchez in just a few months,” she said. Then she realized one of the photos she was holding was of Layla Sanchez. “I put it up, and I was right in front of the altar and everything, and it really tore me down to know that she had died.” This was the impetus that led her to begin organizing.
“I hope that I can impact in some type of way. I’m a real person. And I’m going to tell you real things. And world, I hope you’re ready,” said Foxx.
According to HRC, at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed in 2020 alone, a number that is likely higher because these instances often go unreported.
“The life expectancy of a transgender woman, Black, is 35. I want to be able to make the legacy of saying that I’m past 35. I’m 29 now,” said Foxx.
Both Foxx and Candii commented on the ways in which the general Black Lives Matter movement has excluded Black trans people.
“Why when it’s a cry out for Black lives, why is it not the same cry out for Black Trans lives, when Black Trans lives die at a 7 to 10 to 20 times higher rate than a Black life?” asked Candii. “An officer can kneel on a neck and it’s a riot, but a Black transgender woman can be raped, beat, and shot and killed by an officer or killed by a community. We don’t hear that cry out. It’d be a cry out every week. It would never be a peaceful day. If we get that same cry out that the Black Lives Matter do for the Black Lives Matter, for Trans Lives Matter, they would not rest. They’d be tired.”
Foxx said, “Black Lives Matter, that is a perfect message. Because our lives do matter. But there’s a twist to it. I honestly don’t believe those same people that chant every day that Black lives matter are still all the same people that will fight for this Black life. Because I’m a Black life. Am I not? I’m a Trans woman, so, oh, it’s a problem now. But I thought Black lives mattered.”
“We have to focus on de-stigmatization,” said Candii. “Due to stigma, Black lives don’t include transgender lives. Because of stigma. Because of [stigmas of faith], because of laws, because of the 45th, or before the 45th. [Black Trans lives] were never included by the Black lives because we were never accepted by our own community, because of who we are.”
Foxx plans to create a video project emphasizing Trans visibility. “People need to know that we are here,” she said. The message she wants to spread is a plea: Stop Killing Us.
Much of Candii’s work is similarly focused on ensuring trans visibility. She has just been appointed to the King’s County Task Force on Gender Discrimination, and plans to use that platform to ensure that there is room made for transgender people within city politics. This includes advocating for a checkbox for trans and nonbinary people who don’t identify with the male or female boxes on ballots.
Candii spoke about Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old Afro-Latinx trans woman who died on Rikers Island in 2019. According to the Gothamist, Polanco was incarcerated for selling sex, with a $500 bail she could not pay. Polanco had epileptic seizures while in solitary confinement, where she was left unchecked by staff for increments of up to 41 minutes when she was required to be visited every 15 minutes. In a video, guards can be seen entering her cell and laughing while calling her name. The city of New York has agreed to a settlement of $5.9 million to Polanco’s family, but the fight is not over.
“They’re thinking, okay, they’re just gonna get the money, they’re going to sit down and be quiet. But you’re still not saving our lives,” said Candii. “Our lives get more safe when you’re changing the policy and the laws that are criminalizing us.”
Candii has been focusing on repealing the Walking While Trans Ban with her organization Black Trans Nation, but intends to continue her work to decriminalize sex work altogether. “There’s still so much fighting going on to most definitely repeal Walking While Trans, and then the bigger umbrella — which is what Layleen was actually incarcerated for — which is selling sex,” she said. “Keeping the policing out of sex work can help save lives.”
With so much news coming out of the trans community centered on murder, arrest, and brutality, many trans activists are also focusing on finding ways to put positive coverage of Black trans lives in the news.
“It’s hard to get people to actually put in press positive things about the Black trans lives. Because every time you look [us] up in the press, it’s death,” said Candii.
Candii is helping organize the Love and Happiness March, which will take place in New York on Saturday, September 19, beginning at 3pm at Stonewall, and marching to Pier 46. There will be live music, giveaways, and celebration. Candii said, “We want to do something that’s going to be full of joy. Full of love, full of happiness. To be able to dance through the streets and people look at us and wonder why they’re dancing and they’re getting killed every time they turn around. You know, to show that we’re still here, and just to love each other and dance with one another. So that’s why we’re having the trans march. Just to give love back to one another.”
This article preserves the work of TS Candii and Lexii Foxx in their own words, as their own experiences. The entire transcript of LAFP Reporter Eri Pappas’s interview with each activist is found with a click on their name. Both include their own mission, and a more complete discussion of their and Eri’s relationship to Black Lives Matter, the feminist movement, and intersectionality.