The LGBTQ Dignity Project was established as a movement to not only fight for the rights of those in that community in Prince George’s County, but also for Black lives and residents from low-income communities.
So far, the group helped push for legislation approved by the school board earlier this year to hire trained facilitators to address the needs of LGBTQ students.
The group helped organize at least seven protests throughout the county on police brutality and other forms of racism.
It recently joined Heart to Hand to distribute more than 100 meals for low-income families during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“If Black lives really matter, then that should include those in the LGBTQ community,” said Cassy Morris, who along with her wife, Krysal Oriadha, helped create the Dignity Project that plans to officially become a 501-C3 nonprofit organization in the fall. “It’s sad to say in a Black community like Prince George’s County that most of our allies are white. We need to do better.”
One of those white allies, school board member Pamela Boozer-Strother, represents the only LGBTQ person on the board. Last month, she helped craft a resolution that received approval last month to recognize June as LGBTQ Pride Month.
One Black county official has supported the Dignity Project: State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy. Her office established a LGBTQ committee comprised of attorneys and other staff to coordinate meetings and outreach events to address matter from those in that community.
The office created a human trafficking and commercial sex-worker diversion program, which allows individuals arrested for a particular offense will receive legal, mental health and other services.
Those individuals are triaged at the county’s Family Justice Center in Upper Marlboro and referred to three organizations based on their needs and age: University of Maryland Safe Center, Catholic Charities and Courtney’s House, which provides counseling and mentoring for youth and young adults.
Later this year, Braveyboy’s office plans to schedule a virtual LGBTQ justice forum.
“We are one big community,” she said. “We incorporate everybody. I’m very proud of the work we are doing with the LGBTQ community and we believe it’s going to continue to grow.”
The Dignity Project was launched after two transgender women were fatally shot last year in Fairmount Heights.
Although some residents rallied for change and justice in their deaths, group members say more progress must be made.
In the meantime, the Dignity Project seeks support from the county in terms of passing policies that include financial and other incentives for Black businesses to remain and move in the county. Also, provide a safe, brick-and-mortar space for LGBTQ youth.
Ashanti Martinez of New Carrollton, who came out to his family as gay at age 13, also said a LGBTQ liaison in the county executive’s office would show the county cares for all people.
“Having representation in our government … help foster a sense of welcoming within the community,” he said. “Organizations such as The Dignity Project help bring a face to this community and show how normal we really are and how we are just like everyone else.”
All Black Lives
Although census data doesn’t have an accurate or estimated count of those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, Oriadha said anecdotal evidence and outreach shows more people have come out from that community in Prince George’s.
For the first time this year, the U.S. Census Bureau will allow respondents to specify as being part of a same-sex couple. Advocates claims this provides more information on where they live, a particular race and whether couples are raising children. The bureau has acknowledged those identified as LGBTQ have represented “a historically undercounted community.”
David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, is highlighted on a census video to share how that community’s responses are safe and secure.
However, Black transgender women and girls continue to be brutalized, Johns said in an interview Thursday, July 2. His coalition stresses that at least 19 have been killed this year, or at least have been reported to law enforcement authorities.
The most recent death occurred June 30 when police found Merci Mack, 22, shot to death in Dallas. She was the fourth Black transgender killed during Pride Month.
Johns said the meaning of intersectionality must be included in conversations to help people understand a true sense of inclusion. That can involve a person’s race, class and sexual orientation or gender identity. Blacks can be discriminated against based on all those characteristics.
“It’s a lot for Black folks to deal with the trauma that just comes with being Black,” Johns said. “I think we would be better served, or at least less stressed, if we were to give folks more grace and the work of understanding and responding to their fears and guidance and apprehensions, while at the same time helping them to increase their competence.”
Back in Prince George’s, heterosexual and cisgender allies such as Seanniece Bamiro help organize community events and other functions for the Dignity Project.
“When you think of the context of Black Lives Matter, if all of us aren’t free, then we’re not free,” she said. “As an ally, I need to take it upon myself to not just pull a hashtag, or post a picture, but really do the work. It’s really critical for me to show up, for me to help, for me to donate and also post and like pictures to amplify LGBTQ voices.”