Storytelling school

Transgender storytelling project showcases joy with ACLU and TKO

There were only smiles at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts recently – on the faces of visitors and speakers and in the photographs hanging on the wall.

The ACLU of Alabama and the Knights & Orchids Society (TKO) held their Black Trans Futures exhibit to show the joy in the lives of black and gay Alabamians. Jose Vazquez, director of communications for ACLU Alabama, said the purpose of the exhibit was to change the types of stories being told about transgender people in the state to give hope to future generations.

“We aim to reject fatalistic trans narratives that only portray trans people as victims of circumstances in the state, or people considering leaving the state,” Vazquez said.

Joshua Baker, TKO’s youth program coordinator, said what most people see about black gay men in Alabam is often heartbreak, pain and trauma.

“But if you walk around today – that’s the thing that gave me chills… there was no heartache. There was no trauma. There was no pain,” Baker said. “And those are all things that exist in our stories. They are faithful to us too, but joy too, hope too, the future too, progress too.

Miya takes a photo of Payton as she then poses for a photo of herself as the ACLU and TKO kick off the Black Trans Futures storytelling project during an arts event at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Ala ., on Thursday, October 27, 2022.

The exhibit featured dozens of photographs of black and queer people in moments of joy. About 50 people attended the event, which began at 6 p.m. with short speeches from ACLU and TKO leaders at 7 p.m.

Quentin Bell, Founder and Director of TKO, spoke about how far his organization has come since he founded it in October 2012. TKO is a Black and transgender-led health clinic and peer support organization which provides primary care, endocrinology and support services for those in need.

“You’re all here tonight means the dream that was given to me, the purpose that was given to me, is now a shared vision,” Bell said. “I think the reason we’re so good at what we do is that it’s a lived experience for us.”

JaTaune Bosby Gilchrist, executive director of the ACLU Alabama, ended her speech by quoting from an editorial written by Baker in April 2022 following the passage of the US Legislature’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Alabama.

“It is our community – so deserving of sweetness and serenity – that is in a position to mourn. It is positioned to strategize endlessly. Whose existence is inherently political and therefore fearsome. I want young people trans and queer know a joy they have to fight for – a peace and freedom they don’t have to work for,” Bosby Gilchrist said, quoting Baker.

Ten young activists received certificates for their graduation from TKO’s ‘Organising School’, which educates young people in activism, legislation and organizing.

Attendees as the ACLU and TKO kick off the Black Trans Futures storytelling project view photographs at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

After the event ended, Bell reflected on the event, the two and a half months of preparation that went into it, and the 10-year journey of its organization.

“You dream about it, but actually seeing it is different,” Bell said. “Knowing that I have touched a life is something special. But knowing that we are constantly making changes in the lives of these babies who have nowhere to go to get the resources and support they need is awesome.

He hoped that highlighting the joy and celebration of black and transgender people would give hope to others facing hostility and hardship. “We are going to have joy,” he said, even if they have to fight for it.

At the end of the interview, he realized that nights like Thursdays are special because they offer a chance to leave difficulties and pain at the door, if only for a few hours.

“I think the hardest part is getting out of spaces like this where everybody gets it and having to go back into the world,” Bell said. “That’s the scary part.”

Evan Mealins is the Montgomery Advertiser’s forensic reporter. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanMealins. Your subscription makes our journalism possible. Subscribe today.