Billboards demand respect for transgender women

July 21, 2014

(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
A billboard at 2317 S. State St. in Chicago.

Ten billboards targeting misperceptions about transgender women are up on the South and West Sides of Chicago.

A pair of anonymous high-heel clad legs is paired with this message: “She’s just walking, not working. Respect transgender women.”

“I think the biggest stigma is that trans are street workers,” said Danielle Love, a peer outreach educator for TransLife, a program of Chicago House. The nonprofit advocates for the transgender community and is behind the billboards.

“My own personal story to tie into that is just 15 years of if I’m walking to a store and I get stopped by the police and they say what are you doing? Where are you going. Why are you out here?” Love said. “Just by those questions and the fact I was pulled over, that already says right there a lot.”

The intent of the campaign, which kicked off in July, is to blanket areas where there are fewer resources for transgender women who face many societal and health barriers. Soon posters will go in doctor’s offices and health clinics. Firebelly Design did the billboards pro bono.

Lex Lawson, housing manager of the TransLife Center, acknowledges some transgender women engage in sex work.

“That is work and that’s valid work. It’s survival. There’s no shame in that. This is more to say that that’s not the only thing trans women are. They are more than sex workers and if they are, we need to examine why people feel that’s the only option they have,” Lawson said.

It’s hard to quantify the local transgender community in Chicago. But Chicago House encounters individuals who have difficulty accessing housing and employment. National research from a few years ago found widespread discrimination against transgender people.

“All we want are equal rights as everyone else. We are employable. We are your neighbors,” Love said.

is WBEZ’s South Side Bureau reporter. nmoore@wbez.org Follow Natalie on Google+,  Twitter

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