A conversation between Kiara St. James, Tanya Asapansa Johnson Walker, and Nicole Bowles of New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG.)

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Before We Were Trans was a panel and discussion on NYC trans history, featuring speakers Kiara St. James, Tanya Asapansa Johnson Walker, and Nicole Bowles, all long-standing trans movement organizers and trans women of color, and leaders in the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG).Through conversation and discussion of the panelists lives prior to the recent increase in trans visibility, the event reflected on politics, community, and access in the 1980s and 1990s, specifically centering the lives and work of trans women of color on the frontlines. The title of the event came from St. James, in her reflection that before trans life was widely publicized, "Black Trans women pioneers dared to defy and rise above their circumstances." 

The event is presented by NYC Trans Oral History Project and NYTAG, and was co-sponsored by the New York Public Library.

NYTAG, a Transled non-profit organization, prioritizes and develops TGNC of color communities, which are disproportionately impacted by structural violence. NYTAG collaborates with various city agencies and most importantly works to shift narratives within the TGNC community.

KIARA ST. JAMES has been a community organizer for some 20 years. She has been instrumental in changing shelter policies that were discriminatory towards the Trans community, and traveled to Vienna, Austria, where she joined thousands of others at the International AIDS Conference in protesting pharmaceutical industries. Kiara has spoken on a panel hosted by the United Nations on marginalized communities, and for last 17 years has been meeting with legislators to discuss the importance of passing Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that will enrich the lives of all New Yorkers through creating culturally affirming spaces. Kiara is the Founder of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG inc), an organization that is Trans-led and intent on creating new opportunities for the Trans community, and is currently the head of NYTAG Downstate.

Learn more about St. James from her oral history

TANYA ASAPANSA JOHNSON WALKER is 53 years old, honorably discharged, U.S Army veteran, LGBT activist, fundraiser, play consultant, public speaker, artist, and Stonewall Democrats member. She is the co-founder of NYTAG, New York Transgender Advocacy Group. Currently she is working as the Transgender Outreach Coordinator for Choices Womens Medical Center, in Jamaica NY. Tanya is also a board member at the Audre Lorde Project She has been organizing for LGBT rights for 25+ years. Ms. Walker is a former case manager of a transgender transitional housing program here in the city. She is a part of The Legend in My Living Room, a project run by Schomberg Library Museum.

Learn more about Walker from her oral history:

NICOLE BOWLES is an African American transsexual women originally from Brooklyn who now resides in the Bronx. She is a single parent of a 14 year old daughter. She is both a member and leader in the House/Ball community, having founded two different houses with chapters across the Northeastern corridor. Nicole came to Exponents in early 2013 to sharpen her peer advocacy skills. After completing the ARRIVE and ARRIVE Post Graduate Program (APGP), she began to volunteer her time as a peer in several of the agencies fifteen distinct programs. She realized her ultimate goal a little over a year later, when she formed Exponents’ Transformation support group, an educational discussion group for women of transgender experience. Since that time, Nicole has worked closely with senior management to develop and implement several trans-specific programs including an adaptation of Seeking Safety, a trauma informed intervention, a job readiness/retention series, and programming for women detained in the Transgender Housing Unit operated by the NYC Department of Correction (DOC). Nicole continues to advocate for structural changes that enhance the lives of the trans community. In 2015, she participated in the Transgender Health Summit in Oakland, CA as well as the LGBT Conference sponsored by the NYSDOH. In June, Nicole was featured in the HuffPost, expousing her views on the recent transition of Caitlin Jenner and its impact on the transgender community. She was also an invited guest of Lisa Evers on her weekly Hot97FM radio show, Street Soldier. In July of 2015, Nicole received the inaugural Octavia St. Laurent TransActivist Award at GMHC’s Latex Ball. Nicole was recently chosen to sits on the planning committee board, for the next year GMHC Latex Ball. She also has had the Opportunity to Participate in Presenting a Ballroom History Presentation, sharing her Experience with Ballroom at NYU University. Also she is apart of the Transgender & Non Conforming Advisory Group, For End of AIDS Epidemic in New York State.