Jacksonville woman aims to put the T first in LGBT

By Gabrielle Garay | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Paige Mahogany sits on her dining room table with her phone propped up on a candle holder. On it, her reflection stares back as she streams herself on Facebook live and chats to the viewers. The screen is lighting up and pinging as the followers ask questions and chat back. Little red heart emojis float across the screen as the viewers begin to “like” her words.

She chats about her experiences as a transgender woman, the past, Houston, Texas, old memories, and old friends. But the main topic of discussion is the new amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance that passed recently in Jacksonville, Fla.

On a day focused on celebrating love, the amendment was passed on Valentines Day of this year. Scores of supporters gathered outside of the courthouse for the landmark moment, some handing out candy. The amendment extended Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, making it illegal to fire or deny housing or service to individuals based on their sexual orientation.

The new law means members of the LGBT community can have greater chances of getting jobs, obtaining affordable housing, and having unrestricted access to public accommodations. For many in the LGBT community, passing the amendment by the City Council was a step in the right direction for inclusion, but some like Parks don’t believe it will be enough to change the lives of the LGBT community in Jacksonville.

She recalls being overjoyed, but also saw a dark cloud looming over the excitement.

“I don’t know if that ordinance is going to make a big difference here in Jacksonville,” she said.

In a city where she’s been followed to the bathroom by employees in stores, yelled at while walking downtown, harassed in the restroom while washing her hands, was told rent would be a certain price over the phone, but in person something different or that the apartment wasn’t available anymore, she decided it was time create something for other minority transgender women.

“It’s LGBT, honey,” she said. “The T is last, honey. We’re always last for everything. Healthcare, housing, jobs, whatever it is, we’re always last.”

After she says she had a hard time getting in touch with another Jacksonville-based transgender organization, she decided to create her own — the Transgender Awareness Project (T.A.P.). Her aim is to focus on and work with the minority population of transgender women.

“The girls have to go out there and do what they have to do because there is no help for them here in Jacksonville,” Mahogany said.

Her goal is to get funding for the organization and to create an inclusive shelter for transgender women. She also wants to assist women with funds to complete their GED, obtain a legal name change, promote awareness of the fatality of illegal silicone and have access to contraceptives.

The goal of her new organization is put transgender women first. She is working to bring attention and help to the seemingly invisible population of transgender woman that have to resort to sex work, have to make a GoFundMe just to get bills paid, die from getting illegal silicon injections during transition because they can’t afford surgery, or have to sleep on the street after being denied access to homeless shelters.

“I do not want to sit behind nobody’s desk. I wanna meet folks,” she said. “What’s your need?”

The new amendment to the ordinance couldn’t have come sooner for Jacksonville, which came in No. 15 on a Gallup survey conducted on the top 50 metropolitan cities with the largest LGBT populations. According to the 2015 survey, 4.3 percent of Jacksonville’s population responded “yes” to the question, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?”

Paige Mahogany scrolls through her Transgender Awareness Project page on Facebook.

There are only a handful of organizations that cater to LGBT community in the metropolitan city, with even fewer resources for the transgender community. For example, organizations such as the University of North Florida LGBT Resource Center, teach advocacy and offer community events including free monthly HIV testing.

Another organization, JASMYN, has made a name for itself in Jacksonville offering hands-on work with the youth LGBT population. The organization works solely with young people aged 13-23, but Mahogany says that leaves some feeling left out.

“What about the older girls that pave the way that those young transgender girls say, ‘I wanna be like her’ what about us? You know, what about the girls that are out there homeless that have to go out and pull stunts … You know, you do what you gotta do to survive,” she said. “So the girls have to go out there and do what they have to do because there is no help for them here.”

Although JASMYN does not have services offered to the older population, they are heavily involved in advocacy and worked to promote the amendment.

“From our earliest inception we were started by youth, for youth … that’s our niche,” said Cindy Watson, CEO of JASMYN. “We did some serious soul searching in 2015. We did work on a strategic plan and one of those questions was do we want to expand our focus on the entire community?”

Watson said the organization chose to stick being youth-centered to work with the most vulnerable members of our community.

Despite Mahogany’s doubts about the amendment, there are others who believe the bill is enough to change lives.

“The LGBT community is much happier,” said city councilman Jim Love. “People feel like now they will be treated equal and that is a good thing. So, people feel good so they’re gonna stay here, they’re gonna invest here, and they’re gonna work here.”

Love was one of the three council members that sponsored the amendment, and sees it as helping to cast a brighter and more inclusive light on Jacksonville.

He said that besides the new amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance, there isn’t any other planned legislations geared toward the LGBT community on the horizon. The headlining topic of bathrooms doesn’t seem to have a future in the City Council’s agenda either.

To Mahogany, the amendment isn’t enough, and won’t be until more attention is brought to the transgender community.

The new amendment can help in certain ways, such as making it easier for transgender individuals to participate economically. According to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 30 percent of transgender people report being fired, denied a promotion or experiencing mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity in the past 12 months. The survey also reported that transgender persons experience unemployment at a rate three times higher than the general population, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.

Mahogany is optimistic for the future of the transgender community and her organization.

“Things change, it just takes people to make the change,” she said.

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