By Ernest Owen
Christian Lovehall is a trans activist of color and aspiring hip-hop musician living in South Philadelphia. He is the creator of the Philly Trans March and has been active in recent Gayborhood racism protests. We chatted with the community leader on Trans Awareness Week, identity, and his music career.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a “Ja’Merican” (Jamaican and American) Black trans man from South Philly. I recently moved back to Philly, from living in New Orleans. I’m a revolutionist, entrepreneur, and artist. I’ve been consistently active in the movement toward the liberation of people of color since I was seven years old. I am a certified peer specialist and work as a C.L.E.A.R. recruiter at TIP, the TransHealth Information Project.
How would you describe the Philly experience?
As a trans man of color, living in Philly has its pros and cons. There are many trans men of color living in the city, so there is a sense of not being alone, in terms of population. However, there aren’t many resources for trans men of color, in my opinion. Trans men are often an afterthought in conversations regarding the trans community, but in reality there are many of us, including myself, in need of community and organizational support. Same-gender-loving trans men of color need to be a part of the conversations being had about PREP and PEP. There are trans men of color in the city living with HIV who do not have access to certain resources and opportunities because those resources are often reserved for cisgender MSM and trans women of color.
There’s also a lack of brotherhood among trans men of color in the city, which has been quite isolating for someone like me, who’s actively seeking brothers to connect with for support. In addition, being a Black man period in a major city like Philly has its challenges. There’s police harassment, job discrimination, racial profiling, man-on-man violence that we have to face daily as men of color living in America. And to experience oppression as a Black man, that manifests in ways that are still new to me and can be very traumatic. If anything, for me at least, the Black male privilege that I do acknowledge I have hasn’t gotten me too far in society nor the city.
You are one of the founders of the Philly Trans March. How has the event evolved?
I’m actually the only founder, which is a misconception, but I think it’s important to clear up because our histories, specifically the histories of Black and Brown LGBTQ people, are always being downplayed or re-written for the convenience of others. The first march consisted of a close-knit planning committee of community members who worked extremely hard to make it all possible, resulting in a demonstration consisting of approximately 350 participants. Since my departure from Philly almost two years ago, Philly Trans March has been successfully organized by TIP (TransHealth Information Project). Recently returning to Philly, however, I will be heading the organizing efforts for next year’s event. The power behind Philly Trans March has also inspired the creation of other trans marches around the nation, including the NOLA Trans March and the National Trans March of Resilience.
What are issues still directly affecting trans people in Philly?
Issues in Philly — and all across the nation, really — include the epidemic of trans women, specifically trans women of color, being murdered, and without justice rarely being served; suicides, especially among trans youth; homelessness; job and housing discrimination; and bathroom harassment. There’s also the mistreatment by service providers who claim to provide resources and support for trans individuals, but who only use and tokenize trans people and our experiences for funding, which is extremely problematic. Since the election, I also know there’s the fear of losing access to HRT and trans-affirming health-care that is now a possible and frightful reality for many trans people in the city.
You recently were active in calling for the Office of LGBT Affairs Director, Nellie Fitzpatrick, to resign. You were one of the protestors present at the disruption of her award ceremony, when she asked protesters “where you all are when trans women of color are being murdered in our city?” As a trans man of color, has your stance changed given that she has repeatedly noted her advocacy for the trans community?
No, my stance has not changed. In my opinion, Nellie’s advocacy consists of making public appearances at special events and photo ops. I don’t believe Nellie understands what true advocacy consists of. I feel like she thinks that getting on mics and simply saying the word “transgender” makes her an advocate. She assumes the position of an expert, when the experts are those of us who are being oppressed, those who I have witnessed her turning a deaf ear to. She even asked me, during a protest at an event she was being honored at, where I was when trans women of color were being murdered, not knowing she was talking to the founder of the Philly Trans March. She doesn’t know of nor acknowledge the true leaders in this city who have been fighting and continue to fight for trans rights daily. I also witnessed her attend this year’s Philly Trans March, but leave shortly after a speech was read by an awardee praising Nellie for her so-called trans advocacy. It was as if that’s the only reason she came, to be praised. She didn’t march with us nor engage with the community there, so in my opinion, I have yet to see this trans advocacy she continues to mention.
You’re both a musician and a member of the Trans Masculine Advocacy Network. How does identity shape your activism and artistry?
I feel like I understood that I was a child of hip-hop before I truly understood I was trans — so I think my artistry actually shapes my identity and freedom fighting. Hip-hop saved my life, literally. It provided me with a creative way to express myself, at a time when I was constantly told my voice did not matter. So when I’m advocating, it’s easy to incorporate that influence and stand strong, when people are trying to shut me down. Hip-hop culture also centers around turning nothings into somethings. That mentality has helped me become more self-sufficient and resilient as a person. So even with very little resources, I’ve still been able to organize hundreds of people and create opportunities for my community and foster safe spaces by finding ways to do so that may be unconventional but are effective. In addition, hip-hop is about “the grind” too, so I don’t mind working hard toward things I’m passionate about — like the liberation of my people.