Advocates are escalating their demands for a $15 million Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund in the 2023 New York State budget to provide dedicated resources for programs serving trans and non-binary individuals.
State lawmakers, non-profit leaders, and community advocates gathered at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights on March 16 to rally support for the fund and outline the dire need for the money at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the health, economic, and social needs of the most vulnerable trans and non-binary New Yorkers.
The movement behind the fund kicked off in January when eight trans leaders sent a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul asking the state to borrow from the playbook in California, where lawmakers passed a bill pumping $13 million into health services, cultural initiatives, mental health programs, and housing for trans and non-binary folks.
So far, the New York Senate’s One House budget has allocated $1 million — just a fraction of the funds the community is seeking. And while there are indeed government funds directed to LGBTQ services, many have stressed that the funds are not always reaching transgender and non-binary New Yorkers. Funders for LGBTQ Issues revealed in 2018 that transgender and gender non-conforming people receive just four cents of every $100 directed to LGBTQ causes.
“Investments for the LGBTQ community have historically failed trans New Yorkers for decades,” said Shéár Avory, a New York City community organizer for the New Pride Agenda, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group. “We appreciate our New York State allies in the Legislature for allocating funding to the LGBTQ community, but when you look at how those funds are allocated and given, the fact is that the trickle down effect is not working. We are being left behind.”
Queens Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, who also spoke at the rally, echoed Avory’s remarks.
“Across systems and issues, we see the disparities that exist for our transgender and gender non-conforming community,” González-Rojas said in a written statement. “While I am glad that we have appropriated money in our budget resolutions for LGBT services and programming, it is time that we prioritize the T in the LGBT community. Transgender New Yorkers deserve a separate allocation of resources that is for them and decided by them. We urge our leadership to include a $15 million allocation for a Transgender Equity and Wellness Fund in the enacted state budget.”
Among other lawmakers, State Senator Jessica Ramos of Queens joined advocates at Diversity Plaza and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz of Queens also voiced support for the fund. By January, there were at least a dozen elected officials on board, including other out state lawmakers such as Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn, Harry Bronson of Rochester, and Daniel O’Donnell and Brad Hoylman of Manhattan.
Sean Coleman, the executive director of Destination Tomorrow in the Bronx, pointed to the widespread transphobia permeating the nation as he underscored the need for extra resources.
“For a state that is the birthplace of the LGBTQ Rights movement, establishing a fund to protect our most vulnerable New Yorkers is the right thing to do, at the right time,” Coleman said in a written statement. “With anti-trans legislation being introduced in statehouses across the country, New York once again must lead by example.”
Elisa Crespo, the executive director of the New Pride Agenda, noted that the state is willing to send billions of dollars into stadiums and roads while “trans-serving organizations continue to fight for crumbs.” Coleman and Crespo were among two of the people who signed the letter in January calling on the governor to establish the fund.
Bianey Garcia, an activist based in Queens, also spoke out in favor of the fund on Twitter, saying it is “of the utmost importance” that the state provide assistance for the well-being and equity of the trans community. Garcia then revealed that coins were thrown at activists from a subway platform.
Yesterday during our rally at JH, coras & pennies were thrown at us from the platform of the 7 train.
Transphobia is real in our neighborhoods and it is hitting our community very hard.
— Bianey Garcia 🦋🏳️⚧️👠 (@BianeyGarcia_) March 17, 2022
TS Candii, who heads up Black Trans Nation and helped spearhead the push to repeal a discriminatory loitering law last year, is encouraging elected officials to move quickly.
“The time is now,” TS Candii said. “New York State has the most progressive diverse lawmakers in its history. A pledge to save black and brown TGNC lives with equity, resources, and opportunities gives us hope to live another day.”