Kayla Gore opens up about building mini-houses and future trans in Memphis
Kayla Gore moved around a lot as a child, which as many coming-of-age movies will tell you, can make it difficult to make friends.
“The college was a traitor,” she says, describing the bullying and, in one case, a student throwing a desk at her. “But my mom bought a house when I was in college, so we were more grounded. We weren’t moving. I wasn’t changing schools, so I was able to build a bigger and better support system at school. middle school, going to high school. And so things were going a lot better in high school. “
Today, Gore is the co-founder and executive director of My Sistah’s House, a Memphis-based organization founded to help bridge the service gap for trans and queer people of color, with a focus on providing stable housing. She says they have raised around $ 600,000, including more than $ 335,000 through a GoFundMe to build homes for trans women.
“The economy for trans people is not where it should be. There is no equity in employment. There is no fairness in the process of housing, renting. or hire, “Gore told CNBC Make It. “We want to help solve all of this.”
According to a report from the National LGBTQ Task Force, 41% of black trans people have experienced homelessness (more than five times the rate for the general US population). Gore, a black trans woman and southern regional organizer of the Transgender Law Center, says she too.
“I lived in Phoenix, Arizona and had a roommate who kicked me out at two in the morning. I ended up sleeping at Margaret T. Hance Park that night and that’s where I was. first experienced roaming. climbing over the toilet in the park because it was a bit safer, ”she says.“ But real safety means asserting housing, not just, ‘J’ have my room. ‘ Because what happens when someone is having a bad day, your name isn’t on the lease, and you have to leave? It puts people in danger. “
Gore explains that for trans people, housing can be a matter of life and death. More trans people were killed in 2020 than in any other year on record. The majority were black trans women.
“We have had community members who were asked to leave their tenancies earlier because their neighbors did not want a trans person to live around their children. This is a major problem here,” she says. “And a lot of the murders that have happened with black trans people nationwide have been with intimate partners, people they know, people they know. And so we see people staying in situations of housing because they have nowhere else, and that can put your life in danger. “
She adds that discrimination in employment can exacerbate the problem of securing stable housing for trans people and, in her experience, created an environment in which she felt she needed to participate in the job. sex to survive.
“Despite federal protections, Tennessee is an ‘at will’ state, which means you can be fired for any reason or no reason, there must be no reason for you to be fired,” he said. Gore said, citing instances where she has seen trans people seemingly dismissed out of the blue. “Speaking from my own personal experience, I came out of sex work because I found a stable job that I enjoy. It supplemented my income and allowed me to be more selective with people than I did. ‘would call a client at that point. It was damaging. And once I was able to get a full time job with benefits and a fair and decent salary, I was able to no longer work in sex .
This job gave her the stability she needed to buy her own home and build a more secure life.
“I wasn’t making a lot. I was making maybe $ 27,000,” she says. “But I earned enough to qualify for a loan to buy a house. That’s what it means to have a stable income for trans people. It’s that we can go through the process of buying a house, that we can buy or lease a car because we have verifiable income. This means that we can be more confident and more selective with whom we share space and time.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Memphis, Gore quickly saw that his local community was in need of help.
“We had a lot of people who needed housing when the Covid-19 pandemic started. They were losing their jobs. They faced housing insecurity because they couldn’t pay their rent, ”she said. “And not everyone is in a legal lease. For example, a lot of trans people here in Memphis can stay in a hotel, or in a rooming house, or with friends or family, and it doesn’t There is no legal protection for that. So yes, there was a moratorium on evictions in place, but that does not protect people who live in certain housing situations. “
To meet these needs, Gore first investigated whether she could convert the sheds in the backyard of My Sistah’s home into tiny temporary homes for those in need of emergency housing, but discovered that there was no way to legally build the houses to code on the land. Instead, the organization set out to buy land and build a community of tiny houses.
Gore started fundraising online. The fundraiser took off when musician Noname shared the fundraiser on Twitter. She says they raised almost $ 100,000 that day alone.
The organization now owns three plots of land and a small house has been fully completed. Two more mini-houses are currently under construction and many more are planned. The houses will be donated to trans women of color in need of housing.
According to the US Transgender Survey, about 40% of trans adults have attempted suicide, nearly nine times the national suicide attempt rate.
Gore believes that for trans people, homeownership has the opportunity to create a much needed sense of stability.
“When you have your own home, people can actually plan for the future, rather than just surviving in temporary accommodation,” she says.
But as states continue to push for anti-trans legislation that impacts children’s toilets and athletic opportunities, many are increasingly concerned about the mental health of trans youth. According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 42% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.
Gore hopes that by building homes for trans women, his organization can help trans children envision a future for themselves as adults.
“The scenario that our parents often instill in us is that you grow up, you finish school, you meet someone, you get married, you buy a house, then you have one or more children, and you have your future in that. house with the fence, ”she said.“ That’s the norm. And for trans people, that’s not the norm. We’re trying to create that standard of home ownership because it promotes stability. ”
“And it allows people to be able to plan for the years to come.”