Stronger Houston: The COVID-19 crisis and its impact on Houston’s transgender community

Houston's transgender community facing barriers due to the COVID-19 pandemic

HOUSTON – Six months ago, Mia Porter hit rock bottom.

“I lost my mind,” Porter said.

She was coping with the deaths of three loved ones and the end of her marriage, while financially supporting her family and facing eviction, all during a pandemic.

The mounting pressure of it all pushed Porter past her breaking point.

“I had to go to a psychiatric unit. I had to check out of life. It was too much,” Porter said.

Whether it’s finding help, employment, adequate housing, health or mental care, the pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges and inequities the transgender community had to face before COVID-19.

“It was very challenging for me as a trans woman. I’ve already found it challenging, just life in general,” Porter said.

She then turned to the Montrose Center for help.

“The trans community is one of the most overlooked communities in times of disaster,” said Austin Ruiz, communications and marketing manger at The Montrose Center.

When COVID-19 hit, The Montrose Center, which serves Houston’s LGBT community, saw a sharp increase in requests for help among Houston’s trans community.

“For a trans community member, during the pandemic, it’s incredibly difficult to find places where they can get treatment, whether that’s for COVID-19 or otherwise,” Ruiz said.

The Montrose Center immediately launched a recovery fund to help with rent, food and utilities. In the first few months of the pandemic, they raised over $1.5 million for COVID-19 relief.

“We found there were a lot of community members, specifically trans community members, that do not feel safe to go to other social service agencies because they were afraid they’d be turned away or discriminated against because of their status as a trans community member,” Ruiz said.

To further support the city’s trans community, The Montrose Center partnered with The Transgender Education Network of Texas and Save Our Sisters United, a Houston based group for trans people of color.

“It showed me what we can do when we’re connected and we’re empowered,” said Atlantis Narcisse, founder of Save Our Sisters United and volunteer coordinator at The Montrose Center.

When the pandemic started, she immediately began to worry about those members of her community who were already struggling to begin with, like service, sex and gig workers.

“We started seeing people who were choosing between paying their bills or getting their hormone replacement therapy (HRT),” Narcisse said.

Through a foundation grant, Save Our Sisters United has been able to provide money for food, shelter, basic necessities and medication like HRT’s.

“The COVID-19 direct relief fund allows us to put trans people first. Not every trans person comes with the same needs. If we can’t get them what they need, it’s time to start making noise to make sure that need is soon to be met in the near future,” Narcisse said.

Save Our Sisters United has expanded it’s reach and is now helping both trans men and women in the Houston area.

Advocates say through these partnerships, they are saving lives.

“What you see is me getting myself back together,” Porter said.

She added that just as embarrassed as she was to ask for help, it was one of the smartest decisions she ever made.

“You have to take advantage of those resources when you’re at wits end,” Porter said.

She added that ongoing therapy sessions with her counselor at the Montrose Center continues to make all the difference in the world.

“I wouldn’t be the person I am,” Porter said.

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