In August of 2019, I had the pleasure of attending The Fund for Resilience, Equity and Engagement (FREE) Convening organized by AIDS United. It was such a great opportunity to spend time with folks I personally admire for the work they do throughout the country. I could hug them (we were able to do that before COVID-19) and learn about their projects, dreams, and issues as nonprofit service providers.
One of the sessions gave me special pleasure. It was my first time meeting Claudia Delfin and Gilberto Pérez from El Paso, Texas. I learned about the groundbreaking interventions they are implementing along the U.S.-Mexico border—how they are integrating their work with trans folks from both sides of the border through their organization, Alliance Border Collaboratives (ABC). As a faculty member of Transgender Strategy Center, it made me so happy to learn ABC wanted to get technical assistance with us, and I got even happier when I was offered the opportunity to be the provider!
Technical assistance for nonprofits is one of the strongest services we provide and one of my favorite tasks. So, I started getting busy. During pre-planning work, I got to understand in more detail what services ABC provides, such as addressing the disparity in access to quality substance abuse and violence prevention services in border communities, increasing access to rapid HIV testing, and other focused work aiming to strengthen their communities (you can read more about them on their Facebook page). I also learned about concerns and difficulties they are facing. With that information we put together a work plan.
I had the opportunity to go to El Paso and see in person the amazing work ABC is doing. It warmed my heart to witness the great, compassionate services they offer to immigrants, folks of color, people who use drugs, and LGBTQ individuals. While meeting with their colleagues in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, we clarified what the issues of trans women were on the other side of the border and started to draft a plan to conduct a needs assessment. This led to the development of a “creating consciousness” campaign with authorities and business owners in the city (who happen to hold a lot of power there). We are already looking at possible ways to fund this project.
While enjoying the amazing city of El Paso (and their great food—best tacos!) I had the opportunity to have my first brainstorming meeting with local transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNCNB) community members. Through guided conversational exercises, we were able to harvest information about their most present issues: violence, isolation, discrimination, poor community understanding of what a trans experience is, health care, education, employment, and housing.
These conversations led to more brainstorming with ABC, where we decided to plan a visibility campaign. This will be the second part of this work. During my next trip, I will collect short stories from community members with a photographer and design artist. We will create a visibility campaign to normalize trans experiences in El Paso with the messaging, “We are part of this city.” The campaign will be launched with a press release and an advocacy day where we will visit lawmakers, on the city level and talk about issues we face as a community.
The other super cool project I got to do was to meet with a large group of service providers from the city. With the same conversational approach, I learned about their level of understanding of TGNCNB folks and their challenges as providers. Out of these findings, we highlighted the need for training the service providers, and so in my next visit to this beautiful city, I will deliver a training developed from their needs and crafted for their services.
Doing this work has not only affirmed my commitment to my community. It has also helped me understand how different the situation of trans folks can be dependent upon their geographical location. As always my heart is filled with joy to get a chance to help the people I love the most: TGNCNB folks, sex workers, immigrants, and free spirits of this world.
I am so grateful for this opportunity through TSC!
Cecilia Gentili is a Trans immigrant activist, a faculty member of TSC, and principal of Trans Equity Consulting. She specialize in strategic planning for young nonprofits, training and event facilitation. Her work is rooted in her history of sex work, drug use and incarceration as a transgender woman.