July 2012 – NCTE would like to highlight the Freedom Center for Social Justice as a part of our Trans Advocate Spotlight series.
While NCTE and other national groups have a lot of visibility, the lion’s share of the work of advancing equality and justice happens at the local and state levels – some of it involves public policy (the focus of our work), but there is so much more that needs to be done.
Too often this critical work goes unrecognized, particularly in the South. One of the organizations with whom we worked to develop the recent report on Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults is the Charlotte-based Freedom Center for Social Justice, which works to expand opportunities for low-income communities, communities of color, LGBT people and youth. Arising out of the Unity Fellowship Church movement, the Center started with a tutoring and career development program for high school students, and eventually made supporting transgender people of color a central component of their work. Recognizing both the broader problems of discrimination and marginalization and the frequent alienation or rejection of transgender people of color from faith communities, the Center launched the annual Trans Faith in Color Conference, now in its third year.
Upon reflecting on their focus on transgender people of color, Bishop Tonyia Rawls, founder and executive director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice, said “I began to ask who am I missing? Where is my social blind spot? I had to own that that was an area that I needed and desired to do more work in.“ She added “this work within the transgender community is vital in my mind. The work with the trans community will be some of the most important in the next 20 years. For far too long this group has been isolated, misunderstood, and underserved.”
As noted, the Freedom Center was one of about a dozen organizations that participated in an advisory group on transgender aging issues that informed our recent aging report, and they brought to our conversations a keen awareness of the intersections of racial and gender justice and economic inequality and the importance of supporting the role of faith in the lives of transgender older adults.
This year’s Trans Faith in Color conference, to be held August 17-19 in Charlotte, has proven to be a moving event for participants. Rawls said the conference has “opened doors to people who are now starting more organizations, working in their faith communities, and stepping out boldly into politics. It is an environment where true empowerment happens and people find their voices.”