NEW YORK, New York. -- The crisis unleashed by the coronavirus has brought to light -- and in many cases amplified -- the great inequities that exist in New York City and other corners of the globe. It has exacerbated many of the problems that have historically plagued marginalized communities, leaving many people without a safety net, unable to secure basic needs such as food and shelter.
Though certain efforts have been made by federal and municipal governments to offer relief, there are a number of groups that have had to fend for themselves, particularly those that operate at the margins of legality, such as the undocumented inmigrant population and sex workers.
In Queens, the most diverse county in the nation and a place where both of these groups inevitably intersect, members of the community have taken matters into their own hands, offering crucial aid to those who most need it.
“We are doing the work that the state should be doing,” says Liaam Winslet, the acting executive director of the Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo (CITG), a Queens-based community organization that offers aid to the city’s trans community, many of whom are immigrants and sex workers.
More than any other group, the city's hispanic immigrant community has been hardest hit by the pandemic. According to the most recent figures from New York City, people of Latino/Hispanic origin constitute the majority of deaths from the virus in the city, at a rate of 227 deaths per 100,000 population. In the early days of the pandemic, northwestern Queens ––where Winslet’s organization is located–– was the hardest hit area.
"We are facing a very difficult situation, one that has put us in a visible and specific context about inequalities and poverty,” says Winselt.
TRANSgrediendo was founded by prominent trans activist Lorena Borjas, who advocated strongly for the LGBTQ+ community and became the de facto voice for trans latinx people of Queens. At the outset of the pandemic, Borjas tragically lost her life to COVID-19, something which Winslet says, has motivated her group to keep going.
“Lorena's death has marked us, it drives us to continue to fight, to continue to stand firm, to support the trans community”.
Winslet, a trans latinx woman, has assumed Borjas’ mission, and with the help of her community, is currently aiding over 200 trans women with basic needs like food, HIV testing, funds to cover bills, and more. She recently partnered with Brooklyn-based party Body Hack, to help raise funds for her organization, along with two other groups in Perú and Ecuador.
“We’re incredibly resilient people, we often can find that we can get what we need by connecting with one another,” says Río Sofia, a visual artist and organizer who started Body Hack along with her two friends Syan Rose and Randall Morris.
Body Hack began as a happy hour event in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, offering a space where trans people could convene comfortably with their community, something which has been notably absent from New York City nightlife, Río points out. A year into the monthly happy hours, the group decided to also implement a fundraising aspect into the event, raising money for trans organizations across the country and, at times, the globe.
“We found that there is a spirit of abundance that we can all really tap into,” says Río.” We have been able to redistribute a bunch of resources, without going beyond our communities.”
With the onset of the pandemic and the mandatory pause imposed by New York state, the party has had to migrate into the digital realm. Like many other parties happening during the pandemic, the artists and party goers all convene via Zoom. Yet this hasn’t stopped the group’s burgeoning popularity. If anything, it has boosted it. Their last event managed to raise an impressive $11,000 for trans and LGBTQ organizations in Mexico City, New Orleans and New York, well beyond their $4,000 goal.
“We recognize that the power is in our hands, the state is not coming to save us,” says Oscar Díaz, a queer artist and performer who is also a collaborator with Body Hack. “We don’t only want to focus on the trauma, we also want a place where we can enjoy arts and culture, while bringing people together”.
This month’s edition is squarely centered on Latin America, a region that has also felt the brunt of the coronavirus crisis. Funds are being raised for two trans organizations in the region: Casa de las Muñecas in Guayaquil, which is a shelter and guidance space for trans people in Ecuador, and No Tengo Miedo, a trans feminist collective that offers cutural and education programming for the community. Both organizations have ramped up their aid efforts during the pandemic.
The artists featured on the lineup also come from the three countries, with performances and DJ sets by acts such as Yanna, Gerita y su Chela +Tunanteras, Fr34ky Pr1ncess, and more.
“It’s nice to see how the party's value of making space that's accesible has translated to the digital world,” says Río. “People dancing on screen with their kids, or while cleaning their kitchen –– a space co-created by the people who are in it, inclusive of as many bodies as possible.”