Over three weeks ago, Ceyenne Doroshow spoke to a crowd of 15,000 protestors at the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn. She is the founder and Executive Director of the grassroots organization G.L.I.T.S. (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society) and during the last several months, she’s raised over $1 million of funds to go toward opening housing and social services centers in New York for the local Black trans community, some of whom have been recently released from Rikers Island, a notoriously unlawful, ill-equipt and unsanitary jail for minor sex crime activity. In late March, more than 160 inmates and over 130 staff members at Rikers had been infected by COVID-19. Many more have died in the months that followed. This has been Doroshow’s focus since the global pandemic first ravaged New York and disproportionately hit the Black community and Black trans community harder than any other. At the rally, Doroshow spoke passionately about the hate and discrimination that her fellow trans community members have always faced. Recounting this struggle brought her to tears before sending out a renewed message of resilience: “We’re fighting and we’re winning.”
Indeed, Doroshow has been fighting her entire life, having been homeless herself in New York, a period of time in which she also struggled with substance abuse. Doroshow has been a sex worker and a performer, but beyond every success and every obstacle she’s faced, advocacy for her trans family has always been her core focus. Doroshow has been doing advocacy work for over 30 years, working with various social service organizations all over New York. Her own group G.L.I.T.S. was founded in 2015 with the intention of providing country-wide support to members of the LGBTQ+ community who are struggling with threats of violence, homelessness, unemployment due to discrimination, the criminalization of sex work, and lack of health care. Doroshow and her team provide career training and certifications, housing referrals, as well as a “TransDignity Post-Release Kit,” which includes hygienic essentials like wipes and deodorant to trans people who have just been released from prison.
G.L.I.T.S. also works in association with CenterLink, an international group of community centers servicing the LGBTQ+ community. Through this partnership, they are able to help with asylum, relocation, and physical and mental health referrals. In fact Doroshow’s first member of G.L.I.T.S. was a young trans woman named Alia Adams from Uganda. She contacted G.L.I.T.S. via Facebook asking for help after being outed by a local newspaper. She feared for her life until Doroshow was able to help get her asylum in the U.S. and she now resides in Albany, working toward a college degree.
Doroshow hopes to be able to do more of this kind of work on an international scale. With more and more funding coming in each day, now she and the G.L.I.T.S. team are looking into new physical centers and housing for Black trans people in and around New York, and hopefully elsewhere around the country.
“There is a general problem when it comes to equity and trans people, people of color, Black trans women,” Doroshow explained over the phone earlier this week. “There’s a problem when you’re trying to sustain and trying to live and, for example, your landlord has the right to discriminate against you and you can’t prove discrimination. It’s hard to prove discrimination. So once again, you’re abandoned by a system and by a community.” Doroshow says that during the first two weeks of the spike of coronavirus cases in New York, she lost around 20 friends and members of the G.L.I.T.S. community. She was devastated, explaining that she even had to facilitate some of their bodies to be picked up and given a proper burial. “I could not let that continue happening to my community,” she says. “We had to create an immediate response.” And so she and the G.L.I.T.S. team got in touch with Rikers Island and helped to come up with a COVID-safe plan to get Black trans men and women out of jail and into safe isolation.
“And here we are today, we are thriving,” Doroshow says. “Those we’ve been able to help, they’re thriving. Some have graduated college through Covid-19, and graduated at the top of their class,” she says, adding: “That’s what makes me proud and that’s what I want, to continue developing these tools so that we can catch people before they fall.” Many of the G.L.I.T.S. volunteers and the general public have also been donating to an emergency relief fund which is helping to bail Black trans sex workers out of jail. “Allies don’t come in color, they’re just allies. If they’re willing to bail people out of jail then they’re more than allies, they’re family,” Doroshow says, doubling down on the hopeful spirit of the movement. “Having a bunch of young people care and just jump in and start organizing around us and helping us do the work—you can’t ask for anything better than that.”