Today is Day 21 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to join Black & Pink’s pen-pal program and help provide a support system for incarcerated LGBTQ individuals. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
My name is Shaylanna Brittney Luvme AKA “Queen City Shay.” I’m an incarcerated transgender woman in the state of New York. I am 25 years of age. I am currently serving a 20-plus year sentence. I was accused of robbery and assault. However, I only defended me and my boyfriend. There’s no self-defense in New York State.
Unfortunately, my family chose to neglect me when I came out. My mother is coming around after almost nine years, my father does not like the fact that I’m trans and he refuses to talk to me.
Writing with Reed from Black & Pink as a friend has been a very big part of my progression. Having a pen-pal from Black & Pink gives LGBT prisoners someone to confide in and it also lessens our chances of harassment by staff because they will notice that we have a non-department civilian to hear our complaints. My experience of queerness and being in the prison industrial complex is horrifying. I’ve been groped, threatened with sexual abuse, targeted, and more.
I look at the pen-pal connection as a source of comfort and also an open door to share knowledge and facts between two people.
—Shaylanna B. Luvme
Writing to Shaylanna over the past three years has been a pleasure; she is certainly one of my most steady friends. She grew up in Buffalo where I attended college, so we had that in common right off the bat. As we’ve written over the years about my life and her life before she was incarcerated, it’s become clear that we had different life opportunities.
The criminal legal system, or prison industrial complex (PIC), disproportionately impacts lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people, particularly poor/low-income LGBTQ people of color. Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and free-world allies who support each other. We are outraged by the specific violence—harassment, assault, and many forms of abuse—of the PIC against LGBTQ people. As Anastasia, a transwoman prisoner in Arkansas, wrote, “You struggle daily…and no matter what, you are at the mercy of the administration, so therefore cannot escape the feelings of anger, hopelessness, isolation, and abuse.”
Currently Black & Pink’s free-world membership is primarily Boston-based, though we are in the process of creating chapters in other cities. A crew of volunteers meets weekly to respond to the hundreds of letters we receive from LGBTQ prisoners each month, and we print a monthly newsletter with majority prisoner-written content and mail it to over 2,400 LGBTQ prisoners nationwide. For many, this will be the only piece of mail they receive, having been cut off or forgotten by family and friends. Mail can literally save lives. When prisoners receive mail, it sends a message to guards and other prisoners that someone on the outside is paying attention and could take action if they are harmed. It also boosts spirits and helps prevent self-inflicted harm.
You can help! One of the best ways you can support prisoners is by becoming their pen-pal. Black & Pink has a pen-pal program, and there are hundreds of LGBTQ prisoners in need of someone to write with. By becoming a pen-pal and writing about the regular things in your life every other week, you can make a huge difference in someone’s life!
Sign up here to get more information about becoming a pen-pal.
I’ve benefited greatly from writing to Shaylanna and sharing stories and feelings with this wise woman, and it is good to know that I’m doing something to support queer and trans people who have been trapped behind bars. I hope you’ll put your love into action today and sign up to learn more about Black & Pink and our pen-pal program.
Shaylanna B. Luvme and Reed Miller are pen-pals and are also both part of the Leadership Circle for Black & Pink, an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other as well as advocating for and providing direct service to LGBTQ prisoners across the United States.More >
Today is Day 20 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to investigate what the immigration detention system looks like in your area. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
In November 2011, I was driving home after an HIV benefit, when I was pulled over for not having a license plate light. I was dressed in drag, wearing jeans, high heels, a wig, and a cute shirt. The police officer gave me a sobriety test, which I passed, with heels on and everything. But I had been drinking a little that night, although he was going to let me go, a second officer pulled up, and they decided to take me in.
I was thrown into the jail, in drag. The people who were detained were playful, whistled, and even friendly, but the harshest looks I got were from the police officers. Early the next morning, around 4:00 AM, I was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center. My mother was trying to help me, and had sent money to a friend for my bond, but they told her I had an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold. This meant that they had identified me as undocumented, and they would not let me out. I spent the next 120 days in jail.
In detention, there is little privacy. I was paid only $1 for an 8 hour work day and some of the guards were racist and homophobic. Despite all of this, the hardest thing was not being able to see my family.
Although I will never forget how hard it was to be in detention, I am happy that I was able to be out as a queer person. I feel like it gave courage to other people who were also LGBTQ. We would get together, and would talk back to those who were harassing us. It taught me to stand up for my dignity, and to support fellow LGBTQ people in detention.
Thinking about the stories that I heard in detention always make me cry, which is why I try not to talk about it, or think about it. I remember the pain, the isolation, the separation from my family. I continue to organize because I remember all the people that were in there, how much my family suffered, how badly we got treated, and because I have lost so many friends. This is a fight for all of us. The strength that my family showed me and the stories of those still in the detention center are what gives me the will to face my fears.
Angel Alvarez is 23 years old, a self-identified undocu-queer, and currently lives in Phoenix, AZ. He has been in the United States since he was one year old. He has been involved in his community and in the migrant justice movement for many years.More >
Today is Day 19 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to write to your members of Congress and tell them that we need compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
My name is Ravi Ragbir, and I am a longtime resident of the United States, as well as a community activist, father, and husband. Despite being heavily involved in my community, I live with the constant threat of permanent exile casting a shadow over my life.
My immigration story began when I came to the U.S. from Trinidad in 1991 on a visitor’s visa. In 1994, I became a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) and my daughter, Deborah, was born the next year. Based on a single conviction for fraud, I was detained and ordered deported in 2006 by an immigration judge—without a hearing on my family ties and contributions to this country. I was subject to mandatory, indefinite detention for years in New Jersey and Alabama, far from my community and young daughter.
Through my own struggle to remain here, I became active in supporting other immigrants who were facing similar challenges, and I later met, fell in love with, and eventually married my wife Amy Gottlieb, a U.S. citizen and fellow immigrant rights activist. Though I am eligible to become a permanent resident based on my marriage, the Board of Immigration Appeals recently denied my request. I am currently appealing this decision so that I can remain with my wife and daughter in the United States, the place I have called home for over twenty years.
Immigration reform must keep families together. Click here to tell your representatives that you support compassionate immigration reform.
My detention and ongoing deportation case have deprived my daughter of a breadwinner and parent, and left my entire family feeling helpless and hopeless. My daughter has suffered the most through my detention. Despite my release from immigration detention, Deborah still does not feel secure because she knows that I can be deported if I lose my appeal. Deborah once confided in me, “Somewhere lurking in my mind, a voice tells me: well, don’t be happy — your dad could be leaving tomorrow so get ready to say goodbye.”
After I was released from immigration custody, I joined Families for Freedom, a network of immigrants facing and fighting deportation. I have also trained other advocates, allies, community organizers, and elected officials about immigration issues and how to reform the deportation system. I meet regularly with policymakers to discuss detention and deportation policy, and I know how important it is for our elected officials to hear from people like you to ensure that immigration reform is compassionate and respects the worth and dignity of all human beings.
For today’s action, contact your elected representatives, and demand that we stand on the side of love with immigrant families! Click here to take action.
In 2010, Ravi became a fulltime organizer for the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, one of the largest coalitions in the city focused on immigrant rights, with over 20 faith-based and supporting organizations, representing over 3,000 New Yorkers. Ravi is also part of the larger Trinidadian and Indian diaspora and he volunteers his time to visit churches on Sundays to speak at services about the impact of immigration policies on the community.More >
Today is Day 18 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to ask your members of Congress to include the Uniting American Families Act in comprehensive immigration reform and help keep binational LGBTQ families together. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
Ten years ago, I participated in the 2003 Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, journeying from San Francisco to Washington, D.C with the goal of gaining legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants. The Riders included citizens, asylees, legal permanent residents, and undocumented immigrants. Inspired by the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, we too wanted freedom to ring for our families. During this third week of the Thirty Days of Love, when we “Move Beyond Borders,” I am reminded about this journey that, for me, meant crossing borders of attitude, identity, and geography.
I participated specifically to express my hope for a comprehensive immigration reform solution that included same-sex partners. Though I was not the only LGBT Rider, I was the only one vocally advocating for the plight of binational couples. I brought my own bias and stereotypes with me: I saw many other Riders as raised on farms far away from any modernity, and therefore narrow-minded. I was terrified that I would be rejected by them or, even worse, physically attacked. I was dominated by fear, and my fear made me into that which we were trying to eliminate.
Halfway across the country, homophobia came out in full force when a fellow Rider expressed displeasure with my messages of LGBT inclusion. This propelled the Ride leaders to organize an LGBT training, and I was asked to participate to translate between English and Spanish. During the Q&A portion, the older man who had complained about me came to the front of the bus to speak, and I found myself in the awkward situation of having to translate for him as he chastised my purpose for being on the trip.
The other Riders rose to my defense. I was particularly touched by one woman. Earlier in the trip, I insisted we celebrate her husband’s birthday. It was quite a party, but her husband was very quiet the whole time. Later his wife told me that he had never ever had a birthday party. He was so moved that at a distance he looked catatonic. It was this woman who spoke the most eloquently in my defense. Her words touched me so much that I sank into my seat and began to cry. I stopped and dried my tears as quickly as I could; after all, I was helping to lead a workshop. When I slowly arose and looked at the crowd, I was once again taken aback; their eyes were full of tears as well. I realized that my fellow Freedom Riders didn’t just tolerate or accept me. They loved me! And I realized that I also loved them. It was then that I realized the promise of those around me, and clearly felt freedom ring.
Ten years later, we are still seeking not just a solution to our broken immigration system, but also one that includes same-sex couples like my spouse and me. As we now appear closer than ever, please join me in sending a message of true inclusion to your members of Congress, urging them to make sure LGBTQ people are not left behind. As we break down borders of geography, let’s tear down all the barriers to keeping families together. Click here to send your message today.
Marta DonayreMore >
Today is Day 17 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to explore the gender binary by not using gendered pronouns for one day. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
This past Christmas Eve, I took my 7-year-old to a local Christmas pageant, where our neighbor was playing Joseph. After the service was over, there were cookies and cider and small talk. At one point, I realized “Joseph” had come back from the bathroom, but my child hadn’t. Feeling a bit of the adrenaline that comes from the fear that your child might be lost, I jogged towards the bathroom where my child had last been seen.
In that slightly charged moment of just wanting to be sure of my kid, from behind me, I heard a voice yell, “LADIES ROOM… LADIES ROOM!!”
This was an example of what some of us call an encounter with the “gender police.” Well-meaning people make assumptions about my gender, particularly near the entrances of gender-segregated areas, like bathrooms and locker rooms. In this case, a complete stranger felt themselves better qualified than I myself am to know my gender—even through my winter coat in a dark hallway.
Some of us just don’t fit your stereotypes of what “male” or “female” look like. For many transgender and gender non-conforming people, these situations add stress, sap energy, and force the development of strategies to navigate every day needs like using the bathroom or moving through airport security.
I ignored the voice, which is how I typically handle such incidents, and continued with the task at hand. Long story short, my kid had found a friend from school and was chatting with them in the other room. All was well.
Or was it? Did I feel welcome in that church and inclined to return? Did I feel like people there would likely understand my story? Did I feel loved? No. It cast a memorable shadow over my evening.
So, what does it mean to show “love” to those of us who live at the boundaries of gender?
Yee Won Chong, an asylee from Malaysia, gives some straight-forward advice in the TEDx talk “Beyond the Gender Binary” (11 minutes):
1. Assume that everyone knows what bathrooms they are in.
2. Do not assume everyone goes by “he” or “she.”
3. Ask yourself “Would I want someone to ask me that?”
4. Do not tolerate anti-transgender remarks or humor.
5. Be open to thinking in new ways. Start thinking outside the gender binary.
Today, I invite you to explore the boundary that determines the gender binary. Can you go 24 hours without using gender-specific pronouns like “he” and “she”? What would it feel like to try not to make assumptions about the gender of people you meet? How would it make life harder? Or easier? Challenge yourself to avoid pronouns for the day and share your experience on the Transfaith Facebook page!
Chris Paige is executive director of Transfaith/Interfaith Working Group, a national non-profit led by transgender people and focused on issues of faith and spirituality. Transfaith works closely with many allied organizations, both secular and religious, transgender-led and otherwise, to equip and cultivate diverse expressions of gender-affirming spiritual vitality.More >