CultureSex & Gender

the new collective bringing rent parties back for black trans & gnc youth

December 20, 2019
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When a Black person was struggling to pay their rent during the Harlem Renaissance era, they might have a rent party where they cook for guests, charge at the door, and welcome any musicians or poets in the neighborhood to lend some free entertainment. It was a creative Band-Aid solution for a blatant discrimination issue in a city that treated most Black people like they were never meant to survive there (including the Langston Hughes’ and Zora Neale Huston’s of the world). Now, 24-year-old community organizer Asanni York is picking the tradition back up for New York’s Black trans and non-binary community (who are four times more likely to be unemployed than the general population). And they’re organizing in an era when it’s becoming more common to ask peers for help paying the bills.

York started throwing rent parties under the Instagram handle Forthegworls this past summer. Two of their friends — a Black trans woman and a Black non-binary femme — who York says are “visibly queer” had been struggling to find jobs for months and ran out of ways to pay their rent. York thought back to the Harlem Renaissance rent parties they’d read about as an African American Studies minor at Princeton University and realized they were in a good position to leverage their love for party throwing to pay their friends’ rent. The party came together at lightning speed when York posted invites on July 1 for a 4th of July party. Soon enough, a friend lent them a roof-access apartment and the party exceeded their $1,500 fundraising goal. Reveling in their smash success at the party, a friend encouraged York to do a new party fundraiser each month because they seem to always know a Black trans or non-binary friend struggling with an emergency bill.

New York State did outlaw gender descrimination in employment and housing in January of this year, but New York Transgender Advocacy Group organizer Tinora Locke says most people outside of the advocacy world are often unaware of the change. “When you go in for an interview, if you’re not perceived to look societally acceptable you’re already at a disadvantage,” Locke said. Their efforts to fight the discrimination issue range from pronoun sensitivity training to convincing companies to nix gendered uniforms and sign quota agreements — or simply convincing them to take up the issue in the first place. Even seemingly simple job search requirements like providing an ID card can complicate an application process if a person’s preferred gender doesn’t match the name and/or gender on a card. And the process to change those official IDs can be taxing (New Yorkers currently have to provide a letter from a doctor, social worker or another professional overseeing their transition to change their gender on an ID).

Outside of the logistical hurdles of the applications, New York can also generally be a harsh place for TGNC people to live. There are serious safety risks like civilian violence and police harassment or false arrests on suspicion of sex work which can take a toll on career advancement. (Additionally, at least 24 transgender people were murdered this year, including Layleen Polanco who died in her Rikers Island jail cell this June.) And even people who have steady employment are often underemployed. A 2018 Anti-Violence Prevention report found that 37% of TGNC New Yorkers with a BA or higher make less than $30,000 a year even though the city’s poverty rate for that education level is 8%.

“After I announced that I would be doing [these rent parties] every month my inbox got flooded with so many requests,” York explained. The next month’s Forthegworls party raised double the money ($3,300) to pay for three Black trans people’s rent and they later expanded into raising funds for gender affirming surgeries as well. When the urgent requests started to outnumber their monthly party-planning goals, they added quick social media fundraisers. “If you’re Black and trans I’m not going to refuse you,” York explained. “I’m just not going to push you away because that’s what the world does to us. We don’t need anybody else doing that to us, especially not another community member.”