November 19th marks the final day of Trans Awareness week, which aims to raise the visibility of trans and gender diverse people and address issues the community faces. It also leads up to Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which calls on us to honor the memory of the trans lives lost due to acts of transphobia and discrimination. It is a time that allows us to explicitly remember and honor their beautiful lives, embracing joy and celebration of diverse gender identities. This day of gathering, togetherness, and community solidarity is reminiscent of a core value at REACH – all people deserve dignity.
“I want my community to be seen.”
Seeing the whole person is why Lizz Petosa Aguilera is so passionate about their work as a Housing Resource Coordinator at REACH. As a non-binary trans-identifying individual Petosa Aguilera is personally aware of the challenges their community faces – especially when it comes to finding housing.
“There are few protections for trans individuals in the workplace,” Petosa Aguilera explained. “This leads to a lot of trans individuals working multiple jobs – survival trades – to get by, which leads to an increased risk of them being involved in the legal system, leading to an increased risk of losing housing.”
This vicious cycle also underscores the significant harm that individuals in the trans community face. The Human Rights Campaign reports that 2021 is already the deadliest year on record for transgender and non-binary people. It’s a pain that Petosa Aguilera understands all too well.
“We’ve had some really horrible incidents and an uptick in trans hate crimes recently, including the murder of Zoey Martinez, a trans woman of color in Seattle,” they lamented.
Violence against Black trans women is especially prevalent. According to the GLAAD, their average life expectancy is 35 years of age, while the average life expectancy of Black cisgender women is 78 years old.
Safety, coupled with other related challenges faced by members of the trans community, like increased risk of mental health or substance use disorders, leads to more individuals living on the streets, especially at a young age. This aspect becomes even more complicated in a state like Washington, which has been declared trans friendly, but is grappling with its own homelessness and housing crisis.
Petosa Aguilera notes that the problem is even more prevalent in Seattle.
“Seattle is so inhospitable to people who have lower or fixed incomes,” they said. “It’s a very hostile city to individuals who do have criminal backgrounds or histories of eviction and homelessness.”
This is why REACH looks at the intersecting identities of the people they serve.
“We’ve got to be really conscious of how we prioritize folks,” Petosa Aguilera stated. “What’s the likelihood that they’re going to be dead before we can get them housed? Are there other places that somebody can go to seek housing? For many of our non-binary and gender expansive folks, there’s not that many agencies that serve them.”
For REACH, helping clients is a holistic and individualized process. The resources provided help ensure that people with mental health, substance use challenges, and other vulnerabilities – like identifying as a trans person – are able to get the support that they need.
Petosa Aguilera says this process allows REACH to see the circumstances of their clients in a new light.
“It’s one thing to tell me that an individual has been homeless for ten years. It’s another thing when you piece together that this individual has been homeless since coming out as a youth and has been living on the streets,” said Petosa Aguilera.
“That’s when we actually see the whole person and what they’ve been through.”