Activist 'Miss Major' visits Brattleboro

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BRATTLEBORO — Make way for Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who will join members of both The Root Social Justice Center and Green Mountain Crossroads on Friday at 118 Elliot in Brattleboro for conversation about the rural LGBTQ community, the prison-industrial complex, and the struggle for trans liberation, as well as other topics. Doors open at 5 p.m. The event is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available on a sliding scale of $10 to $50, with no one turned away for lack of funds.

Miss Major, as she is known, has been fighting for the rights of trans women of color for over 40 years. A Black transgender woman, she is a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 and was incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility, a maximum-security, state prison for men in Dannemora, New York, where she was mentored by another inmate, Frank "Big Black" Smith, who had survived the uprising at Attica prison in 1971. Smith helped her realize what she needed to do to help protect her community. Her personal story is an example of resilience and celebration in a community that has been historically marginalized and traumatized.

"I have met Miss Major before," said Alex Fischer, a collective member of The Root. "She is hilarious, sassy, and incredibly wise, ready to call people family who share a similar vision for the rights of trans folks and people of color. She is, without a doubt, a force to be reckoned with and an absolute joy to be around."

While Miss Major is traveling in New England, Fischer said, "for mostly college speaking gigs, she wanted to check out what's going on (in this area), so she offered to do an event for The Root and GMC."

Most recently, Miss Major served as the executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project (www.tgijp.org), a grassroots organization advocating for trans women of color both in and out of prison, that is led by trans women of color.

An excerpt from the TGIJP homepage explains the dangers faced by transgender people: "Transphobia is as deeply rooted in our society as it is dangerous. It exists in all of us, because in America that is how we are socialized — to adhere to a prescriptive set of traditional gender identities and conservative values that leave little room for freedom of choice or individuality.

"Eliminating transphobia, and stopping the violence perpetuated against Black trans women in particular, requires each of us to be daring enough to reflect on how we have all contributed to it, and to be mindful of how we have, whether we are aware of it or not, given rise to an environment in which transgender people are in danger doing everyday activities like walking down the street, going to work, or having a cup of coffee."

HB Lozito, executive director of Green Mountain Crossroads, confirmed the challenges transgender people face in southern Vermont, noting that information from the 2015 U. S. Transgender Survey Vermont State Report indicated that "45 percent of trans people responding were living in poverty, compared with 12 percent of cisgender people (those whose gender identity corresponds with their gender at birth) in the general U. S. population; 63 percent of respondents avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations; 29 percent of those who saw a health care provider reported having at least one negative experience related to being transgender."

Even so, Lozito said, "Trans people are surviving and thriving here in southern Vermont. We have an amazingly vibrant, supportive brilliant community of trans people living in our area who, despite experiencing overlapping oppressions, are making it work, building our resilience together and discovering — and remembering — ways to support each other.

"This time with Miss Major, I hope, will be a time to remind ourselves of the power of our community," Lozito continued, "to hold each other up, and to celebrate our existence and resistance, moving toward collective liberation for all of us together."

Miss Major's visit is yet another example of collaboration between Green Mountain Crossroads and The Root Social Justice Center.

"(The two organizations) have worked closely together for years and support each other's work," Fischer said. "One of the reasons I helped to co-found The Root in 2013 was a result of being denied use of a community space in town for a queer film night when HB and I used to organize queer pubic events in Brattleboro."

"Since The Root opened their doors," Lozito said, "Green Mountain Crossroads has held events there ranging from Friday Night Group for LGBTQ youth to Queer Performance Nights, to Author Readings to Trans Oral History Workshops, and many more. GMC's main focus is building power of rural LGBTQ people, which goes hand in hand with The Root's focus of moving resources to People of Color leadership and working for racial justice in our community."

Two years ago, Lozito said, the two groups partnered on a screening at the Latchis of the documentary about the life and work of Miss Major, entitled "Major!" The showing sold out the theater, raising funds in support of GMC and The Root, as well as for Miss Major's Giving Circle, to support her at this point in her life.

"There are a lot of folks coming from around the state for this event," Fischer said, "and it's a great moment to celebrate our elders and solidify relationships that will move us forward to organize for racial and gender justice. I hope Miss Major's visit brings visibility to the amazing community that exists in this area, that supports queer and trans folks, people of color, and queer and trans people of color."

Many resources are available in the area for LGBTQ people, Lozito said, "with GMC being one of the primary organizations working with LGBTQ people and our allies," as well as The Women's Freedom Center and The AIDS Project of Southern Vermont.

Both The Root and GMC encourage allies to help support the work of their organizations.

"In my role at The Root," Fischer said, "I am constantly learning what it means to be an ally. I am a white person supporting an organization focused on racial justice and people of color-led community organizing. For me, being an ally means doing what is asked of me and stepping out of my comfort zone for people I don't know."

"Take leadership from and listen to LGBTQ people and people of color," Lozito said. "Redirect resources like your time, person power, money, space, food, etc., to people of color and LGBTQ-led organizations and work. Look for ways to support and collaborate, and ways to give folks a break when they need a break."

Fischer noted that an art show, "Art from Behind Bars: An Exhibit of Works by Vermonters in Prison," organized by Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform opens from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 118 Elliot during Gallery Walk on April 6.

"The Root is part of the American Civil Liberties Union Campaign for Smart Justice (an effort taking place in all 50 states), aimed at cutting Vermont's prison population in half," Fischer said. "(Because) Miss Major is known for her work around trans advocacy and prison abolition, this art show couldn't be more timely.

"We are excited to have Nico Amador, community organizer with ACLU-VT, as our moderator for the event's panel portion," Fischer continued. "In true fashion, Miss Major is helping bring so many of us together to strengthen relationships and build stronger movements for liberation."

Tickets for the event can be reserved at www.therootsjc.org or at www.greenmountaincrossroads.org, or by calling The Root at 802-254-3400, or email HB@green

mountaincrossroads.org with questions.

Nancy A. Olson, a frequent

contributor to the Reformer, can be reached at olsonnan47@gmail.com.

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