• Alexandria Jones

Activist Kayla Gore is Fighting Against Insecure Housing for Transgender Women of Color in Memphis

Updated: Apr 22

While Kayla Gore was working at the local LGBTQ+ community center in Memphis, Tennessee, she noticed a frequent issue that the trans community was facing. She heard reports that shelters were discriminating against transgender people.

In an interview with Forbes Gore said, “They were asking about genitalia… They were concerned about the safety of the current residents at their facilities and not the safety of the person who actually needed shelter.”

Housing is a serious issue that the transgender community continues to face to this day. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender people in the United States have been discriminated against when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity. Homeless shelters and social services frequently fail to accommodate and help transgender people who are seeking aid. This includes denying them shelter and inappropriately housing them in a gendered space that they do not identify with.

In Tennessee, the state does not prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Anti-discrimination laws in housing are prevented by the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act passed in 2011. This Act stops local governments from modifying the state’s anti-discrimination practices and amends Tennessee law “to specify that the state’s definition of ‘sex’ refers only to the designation of an individual person as male or female as indicated on the individual’s birth certificate.” This Act is viewed as a response based on animosity towards the LGBTQ+ community.

In Memphis, Tennessee there is a significant deficiency of emergency housing available. Gore, along with her friend, Ellyahnna C. Wattshall, took matters into their own hands and provided temporary housing in their own homes.

Five years later, they founded My Sistah’s House in 2016, a trans and non-binary lead nonprofit, grassroots organization that provides emergency shelter, meals, access to sexual health services, social services, and survival kits for the most vulnerable of the transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer communities in Memphis, Tennessee.

“We’ve had folks come from Chicago, Texas, Arkansas, from the top of Tennessee and Florida, to come and seek shelter,” Gore told Forbes. “It’s a good feeling, but it’s also like, wow people have to travel so far just to be safe.”

As a Black transgender woman who has experienced homelessness, Gore said that there were people around who helped her during that difficult time.

“Other people who were experiencing homelessness kind of showed me how to stay safe, because I’m a transgender woman, I’m Black,” Gore told CBS News. “They taught me how to sleep on top of buildings, how to hide my clothes during the day.”

Gore and Wattshall are now taking on a task that could help change the lives of transgender women of color. The pair began a new project — to build 20 tiny homes for trans women of color to own so they will never have to rent again. They have raised over $320,000 on GoFundMe and purchased a 30-acre plot of land to begin working on building. Their hope is to complete about five homes this year.

“Providing these homes to trans folks is giving them that safety and security. A vast majority of trans murders are associated with people who are experiencing homelessness,” Gore said.

Black transgender women experience the highest rates of homelessness. As reported by USA Today, according to a 2015 report from the National Center of Transgender Equality, over 40% of Black transgender women have experienced homelessness in their lifetimes, compared to one-third of the overall transgender population.

Providing homeownership is a permanent solution to the homeless crisis that the trans community is facing and Kayla Gore is making that a possibility for trans women in need.

“I feel like Harriet Tubman. I feel like I am giving people a pathway to success in life,” Gore told CBS. “Harriet Tubman had to do her work in secrecy. We’re doing it out loud and proud.”

Help Kayla Gore and Ellyahnna Wattshall reach their goal of $450,000 for 20 Tiny Homes for Trans Women by donating here!

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