The Freedom Fighting Five

These five transgender and GNC leaders are revolutionizing advocacy in Sacramento.


Ebony Ava Harper is a Sacramento-based, nationally recognized human rights activist and Director of California TRANscends, a statewide initiative that works to promote the health and wellness of transgender people throughout the state of California.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, when the news is full of worrying statistics and advice on social distancing, there is a bright light to be found in the acts of kindness of everyday people like our five transgender and gender-nonconforming superheroes that will restore your faith in humanity.

On Wednesday, March 18, 34-year-old Monika Diamond, a Black transgender woman and business owner, was gunned down in the back of an ambulance in Charlotte, North Carolina. 19-year-old Yampi Méndez Arocho was murdered two weeks ago for being himself, a transgender, Puerto Rican man. 2020 just started and Yampi's slaying marks the third transgender or gender non-conforming (GNC) death this year.

Last year, we buried 26 trans people, and a majority were Black transgender women of color, like me. Another terrifying prospect (based on a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights): 1 out of 8 transgender women of color will not live to see age 30. With many of these trans murders, unreported and unsolved, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) calls overall violence against transgender people a crisis of epidemic proportions.

While California has some of the most progressive transgender protection laws in the country, transgender people are still facing discrimination and harassment in record numbers. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey California State Report, 76% of the transgender respondents had experienced some form of mistreatment, from verbal harassment to being prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity to even physical (or sexual) assault. 55% of respondents experienced some form of mistreatment by law enforcement, and 33% of them reported having at least one negative experience with their healthcare provider. Unfortunately, due to significant instances of underreporting and very little data, we believe the numbers are even higher.

The transgender experience is not a phenomenon or trend. We've been around since the beginning of time—ancient texts from 4,500 years ago document gender-nonconforming people. We know many indigenous tribes historically call us "two-spirits" or the third gender and welcome our community with open arms, but because of mainstream religion and demonization, we've been relegated to the nether regions of society. The demonizing comes from the belief that we are sinful and immoral, a damaging sentiment that creates health disparities and record numbers of trans people experiencing homelessness.

We need to remove the barriers and realize an injustice to a trans woman is the same as an injustice to a cis woman. An injustice to a Black trans woman is an injustice to the Black community as a whole. An injustice to a trans or gender-nonconforming person is an injustice to all. There's no separation; our issues are relatable to any social justice issue today.

Over the last four years, hate crimes across the U.S. against the transgender and GNC community have skyrocketed. After Trump's rollback of transgender rights, now more than ever, transphobia and racism are running rampant. Yes, there have been tremendous advancements with T.V. shows such as POSE and transgender people getting elected to office, and we have advanced in our visibility, but the glaring disparities are still as real as ever.

That's why we thought it was necessary to highlight some rising transgender leaders in Sacramento doing the work to combat violence and discrimination throughout the city of Sacramento and the state of California. These five transgender activists are working towards making Sacramento a safer trans and GNC-friendly place in their respective fields.

So often, we don't get the time to celebrate our heroes and leaders until it is too late. We present this article in the hopes that many more will come in its wake, allowing us at Sacramento Bee Community Voices to honor the myriad of people working tirelessly to make Sacramento a better place.

The Activist

Ayotunde Ikuku

Pronouns: They/Them/Theirs

Photos by Bryant Walton

Ayotunde Ikuku is a 23-year-old Nigerian-American Sacramento native. Witnessing the dehumanization of Black youth, the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the mistreatment of Black bodies while they were in high school moved them to take action. Ayotunde became involved with various movements such as Black Lives Matter Sacramento, Students Helping Honduras (SHH), as well as their current staff position at The Gender Health Center.

From speaking out at local City Council meetings to participating in local actions consistently, as well as participating in various local art/poetry events geared towards GNC and trans youth, Ayotunde has built a substantial online following and is an influential figure amongst Sacramento's queer youth. In honor of Ayo's tireless work and to pay homage to their reverence in this city, last year, they were featured on a Wide Open Walls Mural Festival installation in Del Paso Heights by the well-known muralist David Puck. Now, Ayotunde is forever embedded in the very fabric of what makes Sacramento one of the most culturally diverse cities in the nation.

Ayotunde says, "The mural is so affirming for me and it's meant to be affirming for others, in whatever ways it can manifest my queer, non-binary, Black essence transmuted into a public tribute not only to be consumed, but to say: people like me exist, and we will thrive despite our adversities."

Ayotunde is inspired by their Mother, Shannon. "I am most inspired by my Mother and my peers," they said. "My mom has shown me love and support that has never diminished or ceased due to my identity and has exemplified a great model encompassing ambition, affection, and resilience among adversity. She has also shown me the importance of boundaries, both directly and indirectly, and these are all elements that I harness in the way I occupy spaces."

Ayotunde is on the move to dismantle systems of trans and GNC oppression, and they have no plans of slowing down; they're just getting started.

The Political Strategist

Lauren Pulido

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Lauren Pulido is a world changer, advocate, writer for OutWord Magazine, political transgender rights advocate, and staffer in the California State legislature. Throughout Lauren's life, he has dedicated himself to deploying a progressive agenda fueled by morals and personal values that align with his message of compassion, advocacy, and inclusive visibility.

In 2016, Lauren was elected to the Sierra College Student Senate Board, and from there he began pursuing a journey into activism and politics. After graduating with a B.A. from Sacramento State in 2019, Lauren assumed a staff position with California's progressive District 7 Assembly Member Kevin McCarty. During his first four months in the California State Legislature, Lauren facilitated raising the Transgender Pride Flag over Sacramento's City Hall as well as California's State Capital for Transgender Day of Remembrance; this was the first time in our nation's history that the Transgender Pride Flag went up over the C.A. State Capital.

Lauren will forever dedicate his life to embracing the Movement, living authentically, and breaking down barriers to help build a society focused on equity and protecting our most vulnerable and valuable communities of people. Not very often do you see compassion and politics intersect, but compassionate politics is what fuels Lauren's life.

He's very close to his mother, Tammy Chance, and grandmother JoAnn Chance, and says they are his inspiration. "Without these two women, I would not even be half the person I am today," he said. "The strength, generosity, selflessness, and ever-loving spirit of these two wonderful women never ceases to amaze me. Their loving embrace and genuine purity are obvious, and they show it effortlessly. They are my beacons of light in any dark situation. They're all I could ever ask for."

Lauren plans on taking his compassionate politics statewide and advocating for trans people that have little to no support.

The Organizer

Nghia Nguyen

Pronouns: She/Her/They/Them

Nghia Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American organizer who journeyed as a refugee to the U.S. from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in the late 80s. Nghia organized Sacramento's first-ever Trans March, called The "#GiveUsOurRoses" March, which was well attended by transgender people from all over the state, with some even flying in from out of state to attend the trans rally at the California State Capital. In the daytime, Nghia is program coordinator at Gender Health Center and at night, she's organizing rallies, taking in and feeding unhoused trans people and supporting her life partner and their four-legged babies.

Nghia is in the fight for trans liberation for the long haul. "The Movement will not be won only in the streets; everyone has a role to play in this. People who care, people who feed, people who protect the base. The road may be where revolutions can begin, but it must also start in hearts and minds," says Nguyen. "Be humble. Neoliberalism has manufactured a lot of ego, individualism, and selfishness in us. We tend to hurt each other often, and some compassion and humility can do well in the struggle for liberation."

Nghia's inspiration is her sister Alyssa Pariah, and the youth. "The youth inspire me; they inherited a world that my and the generation before mine have left them, and they see the mechanism of this purveyor of violence firsthand, and they are and have to be more resourceful to the brutal world," Nghia said. "We owe them so much, and listening for their lead is best. Along with looking forward to the future for inspiration, I look back as well; I stand on the shoulders of giants and movements that have been doing this work for so long."

Nghia is a tremendous inspiration to so many in Sacramento and will continue to push those in power to see trans people as people.

The Advocate

Christina Arias Phillips

She/Her/Hers

Christina Arias Phillips was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in sunny Puerto Vallarta. She graduated from the University of Guadalajara, where she majored in Multimedia Engineering. Christina migrated to California in 2016. She currently works as the Bilingual Outreach Coordinator for the Sacramento LGBT Center, and is the first-ever transgender Latina to be employed there. Christina is an advocate for human, transgender immigration, Afro Latinx, and Latinx rights throughout California and Latin America. She's always fighting the good fight on the advocacy battlefield, trying to obtain more resources for transgender Latinas needing work and education opportunities, as well as any additional support they need to thrive. Christina says, “My work for my trans immigrant communities is especially important right now. They face a lot of obstacles in search of a happy, safe life. I work closely with the Latinx community, but more closely work with the Trans Latinx community to help reduce barriers and empower them by sharing knowledge and experience just as my trans sisters did for me."

Christina is inspired by influential trans leaders and her husband. "I'm inspired by powerful leaders like Maria Roman, Bamby Salcedo, Ebony Harper, and my husband Adam Phillips who is the support behind my success, as well as my close friends Danny Love, Camila, Cristina & Valentina who are fierce women and helped me to become who I am now."

The Spiritual Leader

AmunDayo Edwards

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Pastor AmunDayo Edwards is the Founding Pastor of the Integrated Praise Spiritual Center, located in North Sacramento. He is the West Coast Regional Assistant for TransSaints of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. TransSaints is a ministry within The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries designed to connect Transgender faith community leaders, clergy, seminarians, and other leaders for training, empowerment, mentoring, and peer support. AmunDayo started his TransSaints work alongside the late great Min BobbieJean Baker (who was a known activist and daughter to Miss Major Griffin-Gracy). It was Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries and civil rights leader, Bishop Yvette Flunder, who had the vision of starting a transgender leadership coalition because she saw little to no support for trans leaders in faith-based communities.

They have built communities of transgender spiritual leaders throughout the country. Now, as the Co-facilitator and West Coast Regional Coordinator for TransSaints, AmunDayo is focused on ensuring trans people are not just visible but also hold critical positions in spiritual communities all over the country.

"One mantra that keeps me humble and connected to the fight for transgender spiritual liberation is, I Am You! Essentially, if I remember that all my siblings are a reflection of me," he said. With that mantra, he's bringing humanity back to a spiritual community that has been long rejected and broken. He's connecting trans people throughout the country to a deeper spiritual life and leadership in religious communities.

When asked what he's inspired by, he said, "In terms of the work, BobbieJean Baker. She had a heart for the work, and no matter how hard it got, she never gave up on the fight for all Transgender people of color. Bishop Flunder is another inspiration because she sees our worth even when we do not. My wife, because she stands beside me despite her fears. Lastly, love inspires me. It is because of my love for people, my people, I am willing to stand on the front line to ensure freedom for all of us."

You can learn more about TransSaints by going to their website, www.transsaints.org.

For more resources on how you can support the transgender and GNC community, go to www.transgenderlawcenter.org.

How to Be a Transgender Ally

In a time when trans people's safety, security, and integrity are subject to attack, here are the top 10 tips to being a good transgender ally.

In today's destabilized political climate, social progress in inclusivity and acceptance can seem glacially slow. On January 22, 2019, the Supreme Court allowed President Trump to ban transgender persons from serving in the military, despite a federal court ruling against it in 2018. LGBTQ+ activists condemn the ban as cruel and prejudiced, but people outside the queer community can play a crucial role combating transphobia.

Trans allies can enlighten cultural attitudes and shift discussions away from ill-informed or maligning stereotypes. PFLAG defines transgender as "a term often used to describe an individual whose gender identity does not necessarily match the sex assigned to them at birth." An ally, in the words of UC Berkeley's Gender Equity Unit, is "someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own; reaching across differences to achieve mutual goals."

In a time when trans people's safety, security, and integrity are subject to attack, here are the top 10 tips to being a good transgender ally:

1.Never "out" a transgender person.

You wouldn't want your most personal information shared freely with strangers. Demonstrate the same respect for the personal lives of your friends. This includes being sharply aware of your surroundings when discussing trans topics before mentioning names, as you could expose your friend without meaning to.

2. Use the names and pronouns your friends prefer.

Don't be afraid to ask if you aren't sure. If you make a mistake, politely correct yourself, and gently correct others if they do the same. It isn't infringing upon someone's freedom of speech to allow individuals to self-identify and called by that name.

3. Don't make assumptions about a transgender person's sexual orientation.

Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. Gender identity is an individual's own understanding of their gender, and sexual orientation is who they feel attracted to. Transitioning is not an indication of any specific orientation.

4. Be patient.

Transitioning is a long process that may have long phases of questioning, exploring, and experimenting. Individuals may change their preferred pronouns, change their minds about their gender expression, and then change back. Be patient and accepting while they work it out for themselves.

5. Be willing to listen.

Transitioning can also be incredibly frustrating and emotionally turbulent. Be open and accepting when a friend wishes to talk. Respect their space when they ask for it, but make it clear that you're willing to listen.

6. Don't expect transgender people to educate you.

Don't expect your transgender friends to represent the entire community. Make use of resources to understand important issues. Books, films, blogs, and YouTube channels offer insight into the shared experiences in the community.

7. Challenge transphobic attitudes.

GLAAD advises you speak out against anti-trans remarks and backhanded compliments like, "She's so gorgeous, I would have never guessed she was transgender." Challenging these remarks and clarifying why they're inappropriate is a small step towards changing cultural attitudes.

8. Support all-gender public restrooms.

Advocate for unisex, all-gender, or single user restrooms at the workplace, schools, or businesses. Since some institutions still don't welcome gender non-conforming or transgender people, speaking up is one small way to shift attitudes towards acceptance.

9. Advocate for LGBTQ+ legislature.

As PFLAG states, People who are transgender or gender nonconforming can be fired from their jobs under state law in more than half of the states in the U.S. simply for being transgender." There's no federal law explicitly banning discrimination against transgender people, but a plethora of organizations are lobbying for that to change. You can get in touch with National Center for Transgender Equality or the Sylvia Law Project to help the cause.

10. Know your own limits as an ally.

It's never wrong to say you don't know. If you're unsure of what's appropriate, ask. If you don't feel comfortable discussing something, say so, and don't fake it. Otherwise, your reactions can range from insensitive to insincere without meaning to.

Other resources for information about the LGBTQ+ community and their allies include: Transequality.org, ACLU, Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign, and New York Civil Liberties Union.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

The National Importance of Massachusetts' Question 3

Transgender rights are human rights.

While the media is focused on which party will serve as the majority in the House and Senate after the midterm elections, voters in 37 states also have the opportunity to vote on more than 150 statewide measures. Important issues like marijuana, voting rights, fracking, abortion rights, and trans rights, are all on the table this election.

One of the most vital midterms measures is Massachusetts' question 3, a measure that could repeal the state's landmark 2016 transgender rights law. The law was an important milestone in the battle for much-needed protections for the transgender community, ensuring individuals could use public restrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identity, and generally exist in public spaces without fear of discrimination. It was passed with almost 90% support in the state senate and over 75% support in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, and widely celebrated by a large range of LGBTQ+ business and civil rights groups, as well as New England's five major sports teams.

Governor Charlie BakerPolitico

The initiative to repeal this law is not the result of a movement by the people of MA, but rather the consequence of concerted efforts by a small, right-wing, Christian organization called the Massachusetts Family Institute and their allied organization Keep MA Safe. These critics say the law is "ripe for abuse," and could be taken advantage of by sex offenders entering women's bathrooms and dressing rooms with the aim of assaulting and harassing women and children. Debby Dugan, the chairwoman of Keep MA Safe, wrote in a Boston Globe piece last month that, "The way this law is written, an attempt to block someone who self-identifies as belonging in a women's locker room, dressing room, or bathroom — including convicted sex offenders — could result in penalties of up to a year in prison, and fines of up to $50,000 for multiple offenses."

Nation Builder

The law was written with the expectation of this argument from the opposition, and includes a provision by directing Attorney General Maura Healey, who wrote that if, "an employee of a public accommodation has reasonable grounds to believe that a person, regardless of gender identity, is engaged in improper or unlawful conduct, they should do whatever they would normally do to address the situation, including asking the patron to leave or calling security or law enforcement." This means a person will not be legally liable for discrimination if they intervene in a suspected sexual assault, as long as they had reasonable cause to believe intervention was necessary.

Despite this, critics tend to frame the conversation as though the law protects offenders from legal consequences. But as Justice Healey wrote, "This new law does not provide any protections for someone who engages in improper or unlawful conduct, whether in a sex-segregated facility or elsewhere, nor does it provide a defense to criminal charges brought against someone engaged in unlawful conduct." Also, as many supporters of the law have pointed out, if someone had the intention of doing something unlawful in a public restroom, it is unlikely they would be deterred by gendered bathrooms in the first place.

It's difficult to believe that the people behind Keep MA Safe are actually concerned about the safety of Americans, given the lack of evidence that there is any correlation between assaults and trans rights laws, and the ample evidence that the trans community is constantly at risk of violence and harassment. The sex offender centered argument is a thinly veiled excuse for bigotry, as assault and harassment, regardless of the spaces they occur in, are illegal in the state of Massachusetts, and this law does nothing to change that. Additionally, the anti-discrimination law has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

Healey's office noted that in the 18 other states with transgender anti-discrimination laws, reports of "improper assertion[s] of gender identity have been exceedingly rare." In June, Rep. Joe Kennedy III told Boston.com that there is "not one single incident that they can point to of any sort of assault or danger that's taken place as a result [of the law]". Researchers at the Williams Institute — a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity law — backed up Kennedy's assertions, announcing that they found no correlation between the passage of the 2016 law in Massachusetts and any change in the "number or frequency of criminal incidents in restrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms."

According to Logan Nelson, a transgender Massachusetts resident, the assertion that sex offenders may pretend to be transgender is absurd. "All I want to do is f*cking pee. The claim that sex offenders will pretend to be transgender is just wildly offensive and inaccurate. You can't 'pretend' to be transgender. Wearing different clothing doesn't make you transgender. The whole thing is essentially just an attack and there has been no aggression from the trans community that warrants this. All it is, is a hate infused attack. And of course, trans women of color already have the highest mortality rate in the trans community, so this is forcing them even further into extinction."

While it is clear that the law does not offer any protection for sexual assailants or others who would seek to act unlawfully, it does offer vital protections for Transgender individuals. The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that "more than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color." Additionally, the Human Rights Campaign has reported 22 deaths due to fatal violence against transgender people in 2018 so far, most recently the death of Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier on Oct. 3. Despite these harrowing statistics, the Trump administration has made discrimination against the transgender community a part of their agenda, aiming to define gender based on anatomy at birth and exclude non-cisgender individuals from legal protections.

Fortune

In part because of Trump's harmful rhetoric, even if Massachusetts voters vote to keep the law, there is much work to be done in terms of providing transgender individuals with the rights and protection they deserve. As Mr. Nelson went on to say, "I'm not gonna stop using the bathroom. You know, cause I'm a human being who has to shit sometimes. And even without question 3, I still feel unsafe in bathrooms. I always have. Part of the trans experience is not having your rights respected or heard until they're in question. I have always felt unsafe and I will continue to. All this Question 3 stuff does is highlight the fact that Americans don't want transgender people to exist, that there are so few of us that the 'majority' (cisgender women and girls, men) matter more, and that there is zero education and cultural competency training in regard to gender in politics, the education system, and in popular culture."

While there is alway more work to be done in protecting trans Americans from systemic discrimination and violence, the outcome of Massachusetts vote on question 3 will have heavy implications for the rest of the country. If the referendum is successful in repealing the law — an unprecedented outcome in measures of this nature — supporters say a dangerous precedent could be set for other, less-liberal states where laws against discrimination on the basis of gender identity have been passed. In an America where division is actively encouraged by the President, it is important now more than ever to safeguard the legal protections of at risk communities. While we urge Massachusetts voters to vote "yes" on question 3, it's equally important for all Americans to continue to work to be better allies to the entire LBGTQ+ community.

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.