Because sometimes family looks different in the queer community.
By Jorge Paniagua
When Mariana Marroquin, the current program manager of the Trans Wellness Center in Los Angeles, immigrated to the United States from Guatemala approximately 20 years ago, she was looking for refuge.
The harsh, anti-transgender environment that Marroquin was constantly subjected to in the Central American country was rampant. According to a report detailing the constancy of human rights violations against transgender women in Guatemala, made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, “the high number of murders and other violent attacks against transgender individuals is stark evidence of the very hostile and violent environment for the transgender population that persists in Guatemala.”
Marroquin said that she was not a part of a close-knit transgender community while in Guatemala because, according to her, there wasn’t one.
“I didn’t know any community then,” Marroquin said in regards to her time living in Guatemala. “And then I came to this country looking for safety and I find my community, but my community was struggling.”
Although she is aware that the transgender community has made noteworthy progress in the past 20 years, Marroquin knows that there is still “a long way to go.” Yet, not only is Marroquin optimistic about the future of her community, but the program manager remains in gratitude as well.
Last week, the Trans Wellness Center and The Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Center, in association with the Unique Women’s Coalition, hosted the annual Transgiving Dinner Party, an event which successfully embodied Marroquin’s two aforementioned sentiments — optimism and gratefulness. The event featured a free dinner, inclusive festivities and an overall vibrant celebration of the diversity within the transgender and gender non-conforming communities.
“A lot of transgender and [gender non-conforming] people have experienced rejection from families, from work, from schools,” Marroquin said. “So we need safe spaces to celebrate who we are. I think this is a call for our community.”
Approximately 200 guests were present at the event, which was funded in-part by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. The event welcomed all transgender and gender non-conforming people of any background, including homeless folks.
“A lot of people that we are feeding here tonight are homeless, jobless and it’s sad because it is part of the trans-narrative,” Abdullah Hall, Artistic Director for Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, said. “We forget that a lot of them out there have no homes, no jobs but most of them have college degrees — most. So, it’s just living your life as a second or third class citizen. So, walking away from here, I would love people to feel that love and that thankfulness of the thanksgiving season.”
Hall, who identifies as gender non-conforming, humorously remarked that he used to describe himself as a “gay black man with a lot of sugar in her tank.” However, after working closely with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, Hall came to find that he suppressed his own “duality” throughout his life.
“I always suppressed being gender non-conforming, gender non-binary and felt that suppression a lot in the gay community,” Hall said. “Because I was never being my true, authentic self. Even among my gay brothers, it was always ‘you’re too fem,’ ‘you’re too this,’ ‘you’re too that.’ In the trans-narrative spectrum, I found that wholeness – that completeness – right there, which I am so grateful for finding.”
The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, which currently has 38 members who identify as either transgender or gender non-binary, performed four songs at the Transgiving Dinner Party. One song, “I shall miss loving you,” was dedicated to all of the transgender lives lost to prejudice and hate. The event came a day after Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to memorialize those have been murdered as a result of transphobia.
“Overall this [event] is all about unity and empowerment,” Ambassador for the Unique Women’s Coalition, Kyler O’Neil, said. “This event is a wonderful tool to bring all of us together so that we can know that we are not alone. It’s difficult to find a heavy transgender presence, it’s a lot easier to find a cisgender heterosexual world, or a gay world, but as far as trans – it’s a little difficult to find us. It’s far and few in between.”
Aside from a banquet-style dinner and live performances, the event included appearances and short speeches by transgender advocate and therapist Valerie Spencer, as well as Cassandra James, the first transgender actress to star in a daytime soap-opera, “General Hospital.”
The 18th annual Transgiving Dinner Party served as a welcoming and inclusive environment for transgender and gender non-conforming people to unite and congregate over dinner, music and merrymaking.
The Trans Wellness Center, located at 3055 Wilshire Blvd. #360 in Los Angeles, has been operating since late April 2018. The center provides comprehensive resources and services for transgender and non-binary people. To find out more, CLICK HERE.