Trans leadership in Hawai’i has evolved over the past couple decades as we continue to see the next generation of trans leaders take a step into the spotlight. 20 years after the first trans-led organization was founded in Hawai’i, we now see the rooted values that continue to hold our trans folx in prideful existence.
In 2001, Kulia Na Mamo was formed by Native Hawaiian trans women whose goal was to create a safe haven for trans folx to access services and to gain life skills which would help them navigate society. They offered educational life skills workshops rooted in peer-to-peer learning that was designed for building them to a higher quality of life. In the nine years of operation, hundreds of transwomen found safe learning here and have passed these skills on to others as trans elders.
In 2015, Kua’ana Project was built by the former staff of Kulia Na Mamo and the community leaders that were trained and empowered by Kulia Na Mamo before its doors closed in 2010. Kua'ana Project held on to the peer-to-peer learning model and has since been thriving on building the voice of the trans community to heal and empower our own people. Community leaders continue to show up for each other further amplifying the model of “being a sister or brother to our own.” These leaders and volunteers help in many ways: from delivering food to our elders; to assisting with name change and other documentation; to transportation to important appointments. The level of respect and appreciation for each other as they give back to the community has brought out the natural leadership and humanity in each of them. These lessons root us in a bond that surpasses any program deliverable or clinical services anywhere.
It roots us in our own community.
Today, we can see trans-led programs and agencies on O’ahu, Maui, Kaua’i, and Hawai’i islands. Their programs continue to honor our trans-cestors by using core values that are rooted in community healing. This is where we see our trans folx thriving and not just surviving.
In 2021, we can hear the voices of the trans leaders giving legislative testimonies fighting for gender affirming healthcare. Now, its more common to hear the voice of a trans parent cheering their kids on at school sporting events. We also hear the voices of trans-owned businesses and talented musicians on the local news casts holding spaces of honor for their brilliance. This is a community rooted in pride.
Cathy Kapua is an Native Hawaiian trans-woman located on O'ahu, Hawai'i. She prides herself on her leadership and advocacy for future generations of trans and nonbinary folx in the Pacific.
She is a consultant forTSC and is the Deputy Director at Trans Justice Funding Project, a community-led funding initiative supporting grassroots trans justice groups that are run by and for trans people across the United States and its territories.