Trans people are being failed at every turn in Alabama. This group is taking matters into its own hands
An Alabama group is helping Black, trans and gender non-conforming people access the resources they need to thrive amid waves of legislative attacks in the state.
The Knights and Orchids Society (TKO Society) is based in Selma, Alabama, but the group’s service area reaches wide across the state. Amid a tidal wave of legislative attacks on LGBT+ rights, the Black trans and LGBT-led grassroots group is doing all it can to help communities in the south.
It’s only May and 2022 is already on track to set a record for the number of anti-LGBT+ introduced in state legislatures. Last year, there were 191 anti-LGBT+ bills filed in the US, which was the worst year on record.
But this year has overtaken that figure as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is tracking more than 300 bills across the US that are classified as harmful to the LGBT+ community. At least 137 of these bills directly target the trans community.
Sadly, Alabama has considered at least six bills directly attacking LGBT+ rights, according to Freedom for All Americans’ legislative tracker.
TKO Society’s work has been especially critical as lawmakers restrict the ability for trans youth to access medical care described by researchers as “life-saving”.
In April, governor Kay Ivey signed what advocates deemed the “most anti-transgender legislative package ever passed” into law. The measures included a bill banning gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth and another bill prohibiting discussions of LGBT+ topics in schools.
TKO Society communications director Christina Nicholson tells PinkNews that the society is a provider of a “spectrum” of health and wellness services for the LGBT+ community in the South, prioritising Black trans folks.
“My motto for years has been nurturing through non-traditional care because the health and wellness services that we offer are unique to the community that we serve, which is mostly transgender residents of Alabama and surrounding states,” Nicholson explains.
“So we provide access to housing, primary medical care, hormone replacement therapy, gender-affirming medical care, peer support, regular HIV and STI testing and treatment, and endocrinology services through our network of community partners.”
While gender-affirming care is vital for many trans people, it is just one of many varied needs.
Beyond traditional medical care, Nicholson says TKO Society has expanded its capacity to provide for what clients need, including nutritional services. At the start of COVID, TKO Society started delivering food to local areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy foods, also known as ‘food deserts’.
Nicholson says that TKO Society delivered food to Wilcox County – one of the main food deserts in Alabama – and the TKO Society’s home in Dallas County is not “far off percentage-wise from being a food desert as well”.
“People getting their food is healthcare, and when you’re dealing with clients – like ours – who tend to have compromised immune systems and a lack of transportation, it’s not easy,” Nicholson says.
Nicholson says TKO Society expanded its pantry services by creating a garden where people can come and get homegrown food. The Black Sheep Farming and Innovation Center is now expanding, and people can not only pick their fresh food but also volunteer to work in the garden as a therapeutic practice.
The expansive plan also includes a service where people can have freshly picked fruit and veg delivered to them by the TKO Society’s farmers and volunteers – removing so many barriers to providing holistic care to marginalised communities in the state.
TKO Society also has a youth ambassadors programme where young trans and gender non-conforming people host events and learn about the anti-LGBT+ bills going through the state legislature.
Nicholson says a group of their young people met with representatives from the Alabama House earlier this year to help lawmakers understand the “real effects” of their votes. Many people on the opposition didn’t have a “clear understanding” of what it meant to be trans or cisgender, Nicholson says – so the group “had to break all of that down”.
“They’re learning this, but they’re [the young people] are living this – this is impacting their lives, and there’s no time for catch-up,” Nicholson says.
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Nicholson hopes that some of the lawmakers were able to take away something from meeting these young people. But she fears that the rising number of anti-trans bills are “opening the door” to “what more” politicians can to to marginalise the queer and trans communities.
In the wake of the most recent bills being signed into law, Nicholson didn’t offer any personal perspective – but, she says, the Knights and Orchids Society will not back down from the fight to help trans people flourish and thrive in the South.
“Our work does not start or stop with the signing of these bills,” she says, echoing words often repeated by TKO Society’s community engagement director TC Caldwell. “We’ll always support trans youth.”
TKO Society executive director Quentin Bell says people should consider the wider impact the hateful laws will have on society.
“These laws are an attack on basic human rights – against children, caregivers, educators, and medical care providers,” he says. “The direct impact is broad, which can be terrifying, but we have a lot of trust in our community.”