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The activist behind the Okra Project wants to remind you that Black Trans Lives Matter, too

Violence against the Black trans community isn’t just an LGBTQ+ issue—and activist Ianne Fields Stewart is here to remind you, in case you forgot.

The activist behind the Okra Project wants to remind you that Black Trans Lives Matter, too
Ianne Fields Stewart [Photo: courtesy of the subject; rawpixel]

Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation is doing a special three-part series covering specific issues within the ongoing protests for racial equality. Every Thursday this month, we’ll be spotlighting the creatives and professionals using their backgrounds, skills, and platforms to push for lasting change.

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The fact that the ongoing protests for racial equality have rolled into Pride Month is a coincidence that will hopefully spotlight the glaring and persistent issue of violence against trans women of color.

In 2019, at least 26 transgender or gender nonconforming people in the U.S. were victims of fatal violence, the majority of whom were Black trans women—and those are just the cases that were actually reported.

This year isn’t looking any better, with at least 14 deaths so far. Despite the rampant murders, the black trans community is often left out of the larger conversation of racial inequality. During this recent wave of protests alone, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, and Riah Milton have been murdered, yet the focus and mainstream media attention has largely been on the deaths of cis black men, namely George Floyd.

It’s easy for some to push violence against the Black trans community squarely into an LGBTQ+ issue—and it certainly is. However, it’s also a race issue that can’t be ignored.

Ianne Fields Stewart is one of the many voices at the ready to remind you.

Stewart is a New York City-based black transfeminine actor and dancer working at the intersection of art and activism. She’s also the founder of The Okra Project, a collective that targets food insecurity within the black trans community. The confluence of the recent murders and attacks on trans men and women during the larger movement for racial equality—all while COVID-19 is still very much a threat—has given Stewart a new perspective on her activism.

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“For me [it’s] a constant reminder of the necessity of learning how to organize in the moment and being specific with how we organize,” Stewart says on the latest episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation. “It’s understanding that organizing can’t look like it’s always looked in the past.”

In this episode, Stewart details her journey from Broadway hopeful to fierce activist, how she’s tailored her activism in the era of COVID-19, what she doesn’t want to get lost in the push to end violence against the trans community, and more.

Below are snippets from the Creative Conversation with Stewart. Be sure to listen to the full episode below or wherever you get your podcasts.

Say more than her name

“I did not create transphobia, therefore I cannot undo it. And so I think that it is the work of cisgender people to be radicalized in their own gender exploration. It is the work of cisgender people to undo what they have created. What I can say, however, is that I think that for me, a disturbing trend that I’ve seen is Nina Pop’s name be left off of the list of people who have been murdered by state-sanctioned violence. I’ve been really invested in us really reexamining what we define as state-sanctioned violence, because for me, state-sanctioned violence is any form of violence that is permitted by the state, [including] Iyanna Dior, who was beaten up by a large group of men and whose video was circulated, yet nothing was done to address these assailants.”

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Want to make a change? Be specific

“The one thing that I can definitively offer for anyone who wants to do any organizing work is specificity. The reality with why The Okra Project has been so successful is that our vision and our mission of who we serve and why we serve them is incredibly specific. And it keeps things simple. If you’re black and trans, welcome. If you are not, here are the ways that you can support us and support our work. And we have received death threats for the fact that we’re so specific. I wish that I could say that’s not true. But we’re called reverse racist. We’re called all kinds of things for being specific about who we serve and saying, ‘No, no, no. We didn’t say POC—we said black.’ But what we continuously say to folks is if you want to do your own Okra Project, do it. This model is not copyrighted. It’s very simple.”

Leverage your privilege

“I’ve built my entire vantage point on, ‘Oh, you thought that I wasn’t going to say anything? Oh, that’s cute. So you thought that you were just going to get some pretty little, hot, high-yellow girl to come in and she would just smile for you? Oh, no. That’s not going to happen.’ I recognize that there are so many things about me visually that give me access to places that I will never even be aware of because of colorism, because of beauty privilege, because of so many different reasons.”

Listen to the latest episode of Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Google Play, or Stitcher.

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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