‘Trans folks in Alabama very much still exist, are still valid and are the future of our state’

The trans community in Alabama is facing one of the most harmful sessions in recent times, with a bill aimed at preventing transgender kids from living their authentic lives, from accessing medical care, and trying to prevent them from just being who they are.  There’s no doubt these bills have kept me up at night, prompted emergency calls from young people, and sparked crisis management sessions with parents of trans kids. I work every day to ensure that transgender youth in Alabama can be their whole selves and live freely. And regardless the outcome of these  legislative attacks on trans youth, such as SB184, trans folks in Alabama very much still exist, are still valid, and are the future of our state. Their potential is what gives me hope.

I work for an organization called The Knights and Orchids Society (TKO) a service organization that helps queer folks, trans folks and anyone in need, find access to life- saving resources and medical care. I began this work over a decade ago because as a born and raised Alabamian I struggled to find support, resources, and community when I myself came out as a transgender man. I started TKO so that no trans young person would have to live through what I did: lack of stable housing, food, medical care, and most of all, community.

Today’s legislative attacks on transgender people make me think of Zuriel, a trans young adult I met near the beginning of the pandemic . After calling all over the state for resources – medical information, transition support, community, anything really – she was referred to TKO and the community in Selma. When Zuriel came to us, she was full to the brim with a thirst for change and connection. Zuriel came out as trans in Montgomery at the age of 19. Unfortunately, she was not received with open arms by either her chosen family, community, or school. She arrived to us having survived bullying, isolation, and many more forms of violence before even considering a medical transition. And while we are proud to have connected Zuriel with housing, transition support, and other resources, the joy I now see in her – two years later – is the brightness that gives me hope for our collective future as trans people.

I recently asked Zuriel, “What do you hope for in the future – our future?” And she replied, “I have been living the light of the community. I feel like me and that feels amazing. I feel a sense of hope that we will all feel this way. I have something to live for and I am looking forward to what’s next, for me and for our whole community – I know this is just the beginning.” She is confident that her generation will find wholeness and joy, regardless of external forces. Her certain optimism gives me a new sense of hope.

I could have been born anywhere in the world, the universe saw fit for me to be born right here in Selma, Alabama; Selma – a town that was ground zero for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Yet, in light of recent attacks on my own marginalized community, I worry that legacy has been dulled. Black and trans youth in Alabama, like Zuriel, seek access to the same treatment as anyone else – that desire for equity and equality is the same pillar that became the backbone of the black civil rights leaders in this very state. But the fight for trans rights does not always receive the same attention or support as other struggles for civil rights.

Despite all of this, Alabama will always be home. I live here because I hope to honor its legacy of civil rights and equality – one that some are quick to forget. My work is my calling, so I do it regardless of any law or policy, and that will never change. Likewise, trans young people in Alabama will continue to answer their calling of authenticity and truth–regardless of any law. The next generation of transgender people won’t have to start from scratch–we already know that to be true. Trans youth are too resilient and they will have the futures they have dream of.  I am comforted knowing that like our ancestors here in Selma, if we can endure the present moment in the midst of the storm, imagine how good the future for trans people will be.

As we look forward, I know  our youth will never forget those who pushed these harmful laws–those that did not want them to thrive. Young folks like Zuri are busy taking care of one another – with or without our help. They are fostering love, collective growth, and mutual support to the most marginalized. Our young people will be the ones that are going to take care of us all in the future. And while the scars of history may heal, even as we continue to do the work of community support and empowerment, those scars will not soon be forgotten.

Quentin Bell is the executive director of The Knights and Orchids Society, a nonprofit organization based in Selma, Alabama, supporting Black transgender, queer and gender-nonconforming people by providing a holistic spectrum of health and wellness services. He has advocated for LGBTQ+ equality for over a decade and is a graduate of Alabama State University.

Zuriel Hooks is a peer navigator for The Knights and Orchids Society and a young trans activist fighting at the intersections of trans visibility and healthcare access. She is also a part of the leadership of The Knights & Orchids Society Youth Ambassadors Program.

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