In Conversation: Black Trans Activist TS Candii
By Eri Pappas
LA Free Press reporter Eri Pappas Zoomed with TS Candii, a Black trans woman organizer. They talked about Candii’s efforts as an organizer and policymaker, her upcoming events, and hers and Eri’s relationships to the Black Lives Matter movement and to feminism.
LAFP: I want to talk a little bit about who you are, what you do, what the organizing is that you have been doing, and ways in which we can help elevate it. For people who wouldn’t know you, who are you and what are you doing? What’s your mission out here?
TS Candii: Great, hello everyone. My name’s TS Candii — that’s with two i’s, not a “y,” because I never question myself with a “why.” Who am I — I’m a current sex worker. What do I do — I utilize my voice, my face, my platform to elevate the voices of the faceless and the voiceless. I do a lot of policy work. I do a lot of advocating around policy, because that’s where the real change happens. Policies and laws. I was able to force my way at tables and share our demands — the Black trans demands. I do a lot of work with current street-based sex workers, where I just recently founded, and am now the executive director, of Black Trans Nation, where we came about through the Covid-19 pandemic and we are basically a mutual aid financial service. We give short-term, fast cash out to Black trans sex workers that’s out on the streets doing the work. We also do a lot for supporting Black transgender homeless youth from the age of 18 to 35 into permanent and short-term housing, but due to lack of funding, we are basically trying to champion all of the above.
LAFP: Speaking of policy, I saw that you’ve just been appointed to a task force on gender discrimination, so congratulations.
TS Candii: Thank you thank you thank you.
LAFP: What does that mean? What is that?
TS Candii: Oh my goodness, so it’s basically — I’m a district leader for Brooklyn. I do a lot of the — basically, the administration work for presidential campaigns, committees, state level, making sure that Transgender has been included on a city level. You know, the ballots are only male or female, there’s no place for transgender. So being able to make sure that we can include another box for the transgender community so we can basically keep up data.
LAFP: Yeah, that’s incredible. I was looking at that list of new appointees and I see that there’s nonbinary individuals in there as well. It’s so well represented. That’s incredibly exciting, and I think that that developed since I first reached out to you, so that’s incredible.
TS Candii: Thank you.
LAFP: The way that I had previously known you is through Black Trans Nation and through the Walking While Trans Ban. So if somebody didn’t know what Walking While Trans Ban is, how would you describe it?
TS Candii: Walking While Trans Ban is basically — it’s a law. And the law is “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” Walking While Trans Ban and the “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” is utilized in law enforcement practices as a Stop and Frisk 2.0. So a lot of trangender women are suspected because of what they are wearing. Or because of — some transgender have an Adam’s apple, or because you’re too masculine, or because the 45th just wants you in the street. You don’t get charged for prostitution on the record, which leaves them more vulnerable to sell sex. So the Walking While Trans campaign — we are basically demanding the “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” to be repealed, to be removed out of law. No one should be charged for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution,” because it’s been utilized as a weapon against the Black and brown community.
LAFP: And that’s one of the pillars of Black Trans Nation, right?
TS Candii: Yes.
LAFP: There’s also another organization I found you linked to that is Make The Road. What is that one? Is that still active?
TS Candii: Make The Road — I do a lot of work with them as far as coalition work. Make The Road is a great organization for the Latinx community, and it’s basically an organization that is member based, just as Black Trans Nation is member based. It’s just a unity, and they have a lot of Latinx transgender women that have been profiled, stopped, harassed, frisked for this charge and with us basically being a coalition together, amongst other organizations, we’re able to be power in the people.
LAFP: How long have you been involved in organizing?
TS Candii: Oh my goodness. In the state of New York, I’ve been involved in organizing for two years.
LAFP: Are you from New York?
TS Candii: No, I’m actually from Tennessee. I’m from the south. So I’m from, like, the Jim Crow laws where I basically ran away from the Jim Crow laws to come to a more “progressive state.” But I’ve come to figure out it’s, like, a fake “progressive state.” So.
LAFP: And you’re in Brooklyn now.
TS Candii: Yes, currently.
LAFP: As far as organizing in New York, was there something specifically that led you to go down that path? Or was it just a series of recognizing injustice?
TS Candii: Well, I’ve been finding that I was actually profiled and stopped and frisked for this particular charge, not knowing that it was actually a platform or that it was actually a law that they were trying to repeal, remove this law. So due to me being affected by the law, and realizing that it’s my identity. And it’s killing us. I had to. I was forced to speak up and speak out and fight back.
LAFP: It sounds similar to what I was speaking about with Lexii. It’s just that at a certain point it’s enough. Something that was incredible for me — I was attending a lot of events and trying to educate myself as much as possible — and it was fascinating to me the difference between when I would go to events that were led by Black trans women, it was completely inclusive, and then when I would go to marches that were just Black Lives Matter, I understood why there’s been a lot of backlash on the Black Lives Matter movement not being inclusive of everyone that it blankets. Is that something that you experienced as well?
TS Candii: Yeah, most definitely.
LAFP: It’s that, and then it’s also the feminism movement. Because that’s something else that I talked about with Lexii, and that has been on my mind, especially the contemporary feminist movement that surrounds #MeToo and Time’s Up and all of these things. Me, in my experience and falling immediately into the blanket of women that are totally supported by that — when I think about that, I think of, like, Reese Witherspoon and elite white women who are fighting back for their own justice, but I don’t think that it’s completely inclusive. Do you have any opinions on that, and are there ways in which we can invite the Black Lives Matter movement and the women’s movement to be more inclusive of Black trans women who fall into both?
TS Candii: Yeah, great. So first off, we have to focus on de-stigmatization, de-stigmatizing. Due to stigma, Black lives don’t include transgender lives. Because of stigma. Because of faith-based, because of laws, because of the 45th, due to 45th constantly throwing us out, or before the 45th. They were never included by the Black lives because we were never accepted by our own community, because of who we are. We were thrown out by the Black community into the street. So due to the separation and the segregation and the oppression that’s based on our communities, it leads us to depression. So the ways in which we can unite and reunite is by de-stigmatizing. It’s by focusing on stigma. It’s trying to figure out: why are they not involved? Why when it’s a cry out for Black lives, why is it not the same cry out for Black trans lives, when Black trans lives die at a 7 to 10 to 20 times higher rate than a Black life? An officer can kneel on a neck and it’s a riot, but a Black transgender woman can be raped, beat, and shot and killed by an officer or thrown and killed by an officer or killed by a community, or whatever, we don’t hear that cry out. It’d be a cry out every week. It would never be a peaceful day. If we get that same cry out that the Black Lives Matter do for the Black Lives Matter, for Trans Lives Matter, they would not rest. They’d be tired. They would not have the opportunity to rest because you’ve been to one event, and then you’re at one or two more the same week. At least with Black Lives Matter, at least when a killing do happen, their cry out is more effective than our cry out.
That’s why it’s important. Sometimes we don’t even get an opportunity to get in press. Sometimes we don’t have the means or the resources or tools to even get a crowd of folks to come out and support. We have an event coming up, the Love and Happiness March. It’s hard to get press to actually come out and give us coverage. And press is free — it’s in the amendment, it’s free. So it’s hard to get people to actually put in press positive things about the Black Trans Lives. Because every time you look up in press, it’s death. And it’s the cry out.
LAFP: So the Love and Happiness March — tell me about that.
TS Candii: So yes, the Love and Happiness March is a march that we’re organizing at Stonewall, and we’re gonna march from Stonewall to three locations, and the final location is going to be Pier 46. We’re gonna have live content — we’re gonna have live trans rappers, live trans singers out there performing. We’re gonna have a wig giveaway, we’re gonna have raffles, we’re gonna have makeup giveaways, we’re gonna celebrate our lives, we’re gonna celebrate being human, we’re gonna celebrate being alive, we’re going to celebrate being Black, we’re gonna celebrate being trans. Because there’s so much hate and there’s so much crying and there’s so much pain. And we want to do something that’s going to be full of joy. Full of love, full of happiness. To be able to dance through the streets and people look at us and wonder why they’re dancing and they’re getting killed every time they turn around. You know, to show that we’re still here, and just to love each other and dance with one another. So that’s why we’re having the trans march. Just to give love back to one another.
LAFP: When is that?
TS Candii: It’s September 19 at 3pm.
LAFP: Wow, that’s amazing. There’s just something radical about choosing to talk about love and joy. Especially this year, when it’s so shrouded by so much tragedy. Another thing I wanted to ask you about — I know that there’s been a lot of movement towards change surrounding Layleen Polanco. Is that something you can talk to me about, if somebody doesn’t know anything about it?
TS Candii: Layleen Polanco — she was mixed with Black and she was mixed with Latinx. I say this to say that she was a beautiful transgender woman. And surviving in the states — Layleen, as well as other transgender women like myself, with transition, sometimes, it’s hard. And trying to find work and at the eye looking like a woman but when it comes to identification, identification not matching who you are, it leaves us more vulnerable to not getting a job. So Layleen had a lot of issues of employment due to her identifications, which forced her into sex work. So when she started doing sex work, she was charged for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” Which is the suspect. When she was charged, she had a bail, a cash bail of $500 that she couldn’t make. So she was in solitary confinement. She got arrested because she missed court and she had a warrant out for her arrest. And when she was arrested for her warrant, she was brought into a cell where she was found dead in solitary confinement. So her family just recently got a $5.9 million dollar settlement, which is the largest settlement that New York State has ever offered. And even though her family got $5.9 million dollars, that’s good, but at the same time they still did not save lives. Money is not going to bring her back. And they are still invoking the law that she was arrested on. They say this, Layleen, that, but they still are not repealing and taking away the laws that criminalized her. So we are upset about that. We have a reso that’s in city council that we’re trying to push and we need them to move on it. They’re not moving. They’re thinking, okay, they’re just gonna get the money, they’re going to sit down and be quiet. But you’re still not saving our lives. Our lives get more safe when you’re changing the policy and the laws that are criminalizing us. So I say that to state that there’s still so much fighting going on to most definitely repeal the Walking While Trans, and then the bigger umbrella, which is what Layleen was actually incarcerated for, which is actually selling sex, which is not the Walking While Trans, which is one of the hugest pillars that Black Trans Nation fights for.
LAFP: So what is that that you’re fighting for, as far as selling sex?
TS Candii: The decriminalization of sex work. So that’s to remove the criminal laws around selling and buying sex. That means no police involved. It’s equal to doing hair in the kitchen.
LAFP: Are there policies that already exist that people can use to help support these changes?
TS Candii: Oh, yes, most definitely there’s a policy that’s instated. I actually introduced that policy last year, a for-decriminalization bill. We can start bringing more awareness to the bigger bill, which is the decriminalization of sex work, which is — we’re not hearing a lot about the decriminalization of sex work just yet, because to be honest I haven’t been really vocal about just yet because I’ve been trying to repeal the smaller grapefruit, which is the “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” If we can flick that right on off, which is the starting point — if we can knock the starting point out, then we can focus on the bigger picture, because the for-decriminalization of sex work, that’s going to be, like, a five year fight. So right now what we’re doing, which could be awesome as well, is we’re doing teach-ins in New York about the Stop the Violence in the Sex Trades Act, so we can keep some noise up, so that we can keep articles up, so that we can keep it in the news, in the airwaves. Because I think that it’s great to at least show — they’re doing teach-ins, they’re educating communities, they’re making sure comms is correct. It can always bring more awareness, but it can massage progressive politicians into being more progressive, and actually stand for the Black trans community. And understanding that removing and keeping the policing out of sex work can help save lives.