KICK Tackles Tough Issues in Weekly Discussion Series
By Crystal A. Proxmire
Originally printed 12/1/2011 (Issue 1948 - Between The Lines News)
Transgender sex workers and Detroit's Red Light District was the topic of discussion at Live and Learn, a weekly discussion group hosted by KICK.
Members of KICK, mainly black gays and lesbians of all ages, gather at The Center in Detroit (41 Burroughs St) each week to share food and enjoy frank discussions about topics that affect them. Sometimes the talks are lighthearted, like the upcoming "Holiday Recipe Night" on Dec. 6 or "Tis the Season to be Merry and Gay, Tools for Enjoying the Holidays" on Dec 13. But other times topics touch on the core of community problems, such as an evening of "Coming Out Stories" held Oct. 11, "Dating, Commitments, Polyamourism and Everything Else" held Oct. 18, and "Sex Sells" Parts I and II, held Nov. 22 and 29.
On Nov. 22 the group heard from Bre Campbell, a 26 year old transgender woman from Detroit who earns her living doing HIV testing for the Horizons Project. Campbell talks with sex workers who come in for testing, and also is friends with other young transwomen who sell sex as a way to earn their living. "In the community I feel like a minority because I don't do sex work. In a way it is glorified and there are a lot of young transgender women that do fall into that stereotype. In the transgender community it is so glorified. I feel that because I don't participate in certain things, I act like I think a lot of myself....And I do. But it's not that I'm up here looking down. I think a lot of everyone who is out there in our community," she said, adding that "while there are a lot of young women that sell their bodies, there are also a lot of transgender women that don't. The majority of transgender people have other jobs and a lot you wouldn't even recognize as transgender. It's just that transgender sex workers are out there and that's what people see on the street and on TV. The rest of us aren't as prominent."
Though she doesn't participate in sex work, several friends and acquaintances do. "I've been in a room and friends say, 'um... there's a guy coming, can you hide in the bathroom or sneak out the back?' and I don't want anything to do with it so I say 'see ya later' and leave. I get stopped on my way out, and I say 'no, you're not here to see me, she's in there.' And that's it. That's just how life is for some people."
Campbell said she feels lucky that she "passes" as a woman and that she was able to find a job doing something she is passionate about, helping others. She credits waiting until she was 24 to begin the process of transitioning with her ability to get good work and make good choices. "If I would have transitioned at 16 I would not be here right now," she said. "Because I was older it gave me more options."
At Horizons she works with sex workers who are as young as 13 and 14 who test positive for HIV. "I know a 13 year old girl who was thrown out of her home and had nowhere else to go. She's living in a home with other transpeople. This girl is HIV positive. Heavy into drug use. And she feels like if she goes into care people won't understand where she's coming from. But there on the street, it's normal. She sees the older girls on the stroll and so that's what she does too."
Some sex workers do it because they enjoy it, and it affirms their attractiveness as a female, while others do it because they don't have any other way to get by. "When you are 13 years old and there is nowhere else for you to go, it may sound glamorous and the money might be good, but it is not a choice."
"What is it that these women need? We know it is a problem, but what can we do to help?" These were some of the questions raised by Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of KICK, and discussed by nearly 30 attendees.
"I can't speak for everybody, but if I could do anything for the black transgender community it would be more programming to help them get jobs and get ahead, medical, housing, substance abuse help and a transitional style charm school, teaching girls how to better themselves. ...There are a lot of girls who want to be treated like women but they don't act like it."
Discussion participants also watched a short video about violence and discrimination against the transgender community, and read a handout titled "How is sexual health a human rights issue for LGBT and sex workers?" They discussed perceived disparities in how prostitutes are treated by the police, compared to how the police treat the john, or the customers. And they talked about the risks, including the recent murder of a transgender sex worker
"We want to understand why people are doing this, and how we can help," said KICK board president Tiffany McLean. KICK held two discussions on the topic and as a group hopes to set up more of a community dialogue by inviting sex workers to come to the table and share their needs and concerns. Those involved with Detroit's LGBT sex worker industry who are willing to talk at a future meeting or forum, or just to share information privately, can contact KICK at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to building community dialogue, KICK is planning a Holiday in December fundraiser for Saturday, Dec. 10 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the First Congregational Church. Tickets are $75 or $125 for patrons.Find out more about KICK at http://www.e-kick.org.
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