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This is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney admitted to practice law in your jurisdiction after hearing all of the facts and circumstances in a particular case.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Carmen's Place

This week, the New York Times featured "Carmen's Place," a shelter for transgender youth, in its moving piece entitled "After Working the Streets, Bunk Beds and a Mass. There are several small shelters for LGBTQ youth in New York City, but Carmen's Place is the only shelter in New York City targeted to transgender youth, whose needs are different. While Father Louis Braxton, an Episcopal priest who runs the shelter, is doing the best he can with almost no resources, it is obvious that, in order to help these youngsters, more people need to get involved. Here is the Carmen's Place website, which gives the history of the shelter, the services it provides, and the volunteers it needs.

With all of the recent discussion of ENDA and other legislative proposals, it may seem that getting these bills enacted into law is the be-all and end-all of transgender activism. It is not. But that's where most of the money goes, and few people are moved to donate to the down and out. Yet, while Law is an important tool, getting a box of tools is not the same thing as putting up the building, nor, as Audre Lourde said, will the master's tools ever dismantle the master's house. Those of us who live in comfortable surroundings may not realize what it is like for those who live a hundred levels down, a jungle of the streets into which the law rarely penetrates. We may not even be aware that such a place exists, though it is found in the same streets on which we walk.

I recently served on the Ph.D. dissertation committee of an anthropologist who interviewed over one hundred transgender activists in the U.S. One of the most surprising findings was that most of them are not even aware of the others, and they often work in very different spheres. For example, the middle-class educated types mostly spend their time on legislative initiatives or theoretical policy work. They often know little about transactivists from the lower class, whose activism often takes the form of direct services for people living below the poverty line, such as assistance in obtaining public benefits and addressing homelessness, outreach for streetworkers and PWAs, and grassroots base-building against police brutality. The disconnect is not surprising, given the severe stratification of our society by gender, class and race.

While working with Senators and corporate execs is to get policy concessions is extremely important in order to begin to create employment opportunities for transpeople, it is important to recognize that such efforts will primarily help the already-enfranchised, the already-educated, and the already-employed. Those whose lives have already been marginalized need more than a law from the statehouse - they need a place to stay right now, and help getting some education that will give them a job that pays a living wage, how to manage money, how to make a life. Most of the money goes to the middle class activists who know how to work the middle class for donations, and those activists focus on what they know - legislative change. But Carmen's Place, and other places like it, should also be remembered by those of us with money and other resources.

For my part, I contacted Father Braxton, made a donation and an offer of help providing tutoring. I hope to become more involved in the coming months, and I'll keep you informed about the shelter. Some of the residents of Carmen's Place have posted their stories in their own words on this blog. Carmen's Place Myspace Page shows some of their pictures. The Queens Chronicle also ran an interesting story on the shelter before the church in which it was housed closed down. I also spoke to a contact at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project who gave Carmen's Place a positive recommendation. I hope that you will spread the word about Carmen's Place and consider a donation.

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