Transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming people and those questioning their identity are now being connected with job opportunities and access to critical resources and services at Mazzoni Center’s new weekly meet-up group.
OURSpace is a community drop-in space where participants convene every Wednesday from 5-8 p.m. The meetings features art-therapy sessions, creative-writing exercises, one-on-one peer support and an advice hour. Community members can also obtain SEPTA transportation passes, food and wigs as well as clothing from the “Clothing Closet.” Local businesses, such as Philly AIDS Thrift, are now donating clothing to the center for anyone who may be facing homelessness. OURSpace participants can also be connected to Mazzoni Center’s health and wellness resources and receive legal-services referrals.
The group’s meeting Nov. 7 at the center focused on art therapy and was intended to provide a healing space for members. Ten participants created vision boards — a collage of images and affirmations of one’s dreams and desires — and discussed each member’s plans for the future.
Frieda Richardson, who attended the session, pasted pictures of smiling women onto her board, which represented “what a person in recovery would look like,” she said. Richardson is nearly a month clean.
“Getting involved in more activities like this can be very therapeutic. This keeps me busy and not focused on wanting to use,” she said.
Richardson joined the group in search of more trans-affirming support programs. She said her intensive outpatient program, Stop and Surrender, is helping her on her journey to recovery, but it doesn’t provide her with a space to be around other transgender people who understand the issues she faces.
“I don’t feel out of the ordinary at [OURSpace] like I do when I’m at my intensive outpatient program. I’m used to my own kind — that’s all I know. I don’t feel normal being around straight people or if I’m in spaces where I don’t see any of the girls,” Richardson said.
Richardson added that she hopes the space will connect her with resources “like finding a part-time job and stable housing.”
She currently lives at the LGBTQ Home for Hope, a 14-bedroom recovery house and shelter in North Philadelphia for homeless LGBTQ residents. She said she is currently out of work and is focusing on getting her life back on track while she’s in recovery.
Danielle Shade, another OURSpace participant, is a transgender woman who is homeless and attended the meeting to get a meal and take advantage of the free clothing and wigs. Like Richardson, she also lives in the LGBTQ Home for Hope and said she has been in and out of shelters for a number of years.
“The space provides a place where I can come and get the things I need. Most girls don’t have access to basic necessities, so this is a good place to come for that,” Shade said.
Tatyana Woodard, the community-engagement specialist and coordinator of OURSpace, facilitates the weekly group along with Jordan Brown. Both women are trans and say they find it fulfilling to provide a safe haven for other trans-identifying people.
“This is my first job in a long time and working with my people makes it even better,” Brown said. “It’s a good feeling to be able to come into work and not worry about who’s looking at you or who’s saying something about you. I get to do meaningful work by supporting my community.”
Brown said she’s had difficulty securing full-time employment and OUR Way — the parent program of OURSpace — provided her with a “more reliable employment opportunity.” Woodard said OUR Way offers trans people and other community members yearlong paid internships.
Woodard created the group after spending four months collecting data from transgender and gender-nonconforming community members on the resources and services they needed. Woodard and her team connected with trans women who are sex workers on Old York Road in North Philadelphia to conduct research.
“The feedback we’ve gotten directly from the community paved the way for OURSpace to be a thing. People needed a place that not only provided them with adequate healthcare or condoms, but there was also a need for things like clothing, wigs and help with legal services that may be costly,” Woodard said.
On Oct. 31, OURSpace hosted a free legal-name and gender-marker change clinic. Mazzoni Center’s legal-services team partnered with OURSpace to help participants navigate the legal-name-change process and change gender markers on licenses and state IDs. The center helped cover the cost for those seeking immediate gender-marker changes.
Lynette Jones has been coming to OURSpace for three weeks. She said she originally came to the group for the free clothes but kept coming back because “it’s peaceful and a nice getaway.”
Jones added that “it’s nice to know that there are people who care. It’s my people here and it’s nice to not have to fake the funk or be someone you’re not.”
OURSpace will take part in Mazzoni Center’s Trans Awareness Week, Nov. 13-17, with a drop-in movie night screening of “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” 5-8 p.m. Nov. 14. For more information on OURSpace and Trans Awareness Week, visit www.mazzonicenter.org.