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Last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming over nearly every aspect of life, activist Ceyenne Doroshow achieved a goal that had been years in the making, helping to secure a housing site equipped with 12 apartments for members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are facing homelessness.
Doroshow, who's been called the “Godmother of the Black Trans Lives Matter” movement by GQ and was recently chosen as a grand marshal for NYC’s 2021 Pride March, has campaigned for decades on behalf of the Black trans community, sex workers rights, and more.
“You’re always on the grind to help somebody else and that itself can make your dream heavy, but you know if you have the right team, and I have an awesome team, it helps me create the dream, it helps me develop and build a brand of what I think humanity should have done for us a long time ago.” Doroshow told Oxygen.com in a video interview. “Why did a Black trans woman have to go through so much to create what a city never did?”
Doroshow is the founder and executive director of Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society, known as G.L.I.T.S.. The grassroots organization, established in 2015, focuses on providing resources from health services to stable housing for LGBTQIA+ people.
An interior designer, who lives within G.L.I.T.S. house and asked to use the pseudonym Nadiv, said having your own space can be freeing.
“You have full and free range to do whatever you want,” Nadiv said.
In June 2020, Doroshow spoke to a crowd of thousands at the Brooklyn Liberation March and announced fundraising for G.L.I.T.S. surpassed $1 million.
The donations helped G.L.I.T.S. purchase a housing property in Queens, New York.
“I couldn’t believe the work that led to that,” Doroshow said. “Even that day, I was having a problem leaving the house because I was so emotional.”
Doroshow recalls feeling scared and nervous, adding “people forget that I’m human."
“My accountant was texting me ‘Girl, what are you doing out there?,” Doroshow said. “To get that notoriety for the work that I’ve done for a lifetime over 30 years of busting my ass to make sure somebody else gets to live better than me. That takes a lot and then to have to pour out into the community during a pandemic the words that they need to hear. ‘I love you.’ It goes so far. … You’re able to change somebody’s life if you’re able to show them the positivity they need. It’s so common, but so hard to get.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as the virus hit jails and prisons, Doroshow mobilized with G.L.I.T.S. to help pay for bail for Black trans women and men incarcerated at New York City's infamous Rikers Island jail and get them safe places to stay, according to VOGUE. Doroshow previously served time in prison for a prostitution charge and has advocated for the decriminalization of sex work.
“I already started receiving the phone calls from jail and that was a lot,” Doroshow said, recalling the pandemic's impact on people behind bars, as well as in their own communities. “It just broke my heart to hear these girls and boys say that they’re were gonna die and then sitting here and being in harms' way in my own home and I’m about to go through the fight of my own life for other people and I wasn’t safe, but I had to have a direct response.”
Doroshow says volunteers helped create a bail fund, which also went to renting Airbnbs for safe isolation.
“A place where they’re not put into another cell, but made to feel like this chance out, is a chance not to go back,” Doroshow said.
The fund also helped with getting clothing, money to obtain a license, and other needs, Doroshow said.
“If you do the numbers, you know, recidivism in New York City and all across the world, people go back to jail often,” Doroshow said. “It’s just cycle they have been handed and the way the system keeps pulling them back in. This was designed to keep them out … not everyone is going to want to shelter in place.”
Doroshow says the pandemic brought about tremendous loss for her community and loved ones.
“This was hard,” Doroshow said. “Me and my staff, have spent a year going through some pretty traumatic stuff. I myself, along with my family mortician, have buried more people than I can even say throughout COVID, but being that person to call to say 'Can you please get them we can’t afford to' … that’s everything.”
Doroshow says G.L.I.T.S. housing not only provides a place to live, but somewhere to thrive.
“We want community to feel like they’re home for once,” Doroshow said. “Nine times out of 10 the statistics wind up that our community winds up homeless … because landlords are transphobic, homophobic, hateful, or the neighborhood is not for them, or the NYCHA project is not for them. Here is something designed to keep them in a holistic area, in a safe space. A community with a thought in mind, which is to protect all, love all, and to live.”
She began her advocacy work after experiencing homelessness herself, feeling public agencies had failed her. Doroshow says she went from being homeless to working in a shelter.
“It’s one thing to create a case worker, but creating just a case worker really doesn’t help,” Doroshow said. “We need somebody at the high level in our community—in all levels—the judicial system, the hospitals, the psychologist, all should reflect us. So that was my dream, because I didn’t have that access when I was young being transgender, being homeless...going through addiction problems because of the before."
A goal for G.L.I.T.S is to place residents in the open apartments and help establish a fund for educational scholarships, Doroshow said.
“One is to fill the whole building with our people,” Doroshow said. “The other is to get a scholarship fund. I believe if we get scholarships for all of them, there is the potential, we might be looking at politicians or people stepping into places where we’ve never been before because they’ve gotten held by the education they’ve been entitled to their whole lives, but a scholarship allows them not to pay this horrible debt.”
Doroshow envisions G.L.I.T.S. creating a community with every aspect accessible to residents, including being able to possibly own the apartment units.
“My future vision and we’re in the midst of working on this now [is] a health facility built in, with a restaurant, built in with a museum, and a therapy place and skyrises above it. Apartments not only to rent, but apartments our community can buy for low income so they own a piece of G.L.I.T.S. and they own a piece of their lives. They’ll never have to move. It’s what we need. We have [gone] a lifetime without having equity. A lifetime. It’s okay for everybody else to have their pie, and their cake, and their all of it, but it’s not okay for us. And even if we do have it, we have to live with the prejudices of life."
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