MTPC Channels Community Empowerment to End Gender Identity Discrimination

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | October 12, 2018 | 4 Minute Read

MTPC Executive Director Mason Dunn

This November, Massachusetts voters will be asked to vote on ballot question 3. This is an attempt to repeal the recent law that protects the rights, safety, and dignity of transgender people in public spaces. Supporters of transgender rights, including various Boston transgender support groups, hope you will vote “Yes” on 3 to preserve the current law. This will maintain and support the community empowerment work that activists and allies have fought for over the years—often spearheaded by staff and volunteers of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC).

Through my association with MTPC and other Boston transgender support groups, I’ve seen the advocacy needs of the transgender community grow and change. I’ve been proud to watch visionary MTPC executive directors Gunner Scott, Jesse Begenyi, and Mason Dunn guide the organization in growing and adapting to meet those needs.

Describing their mission, Dunn said, “MTPC works to end discrimination and oppression on the basis of gender identity and gender expression in Massachusetts.” He continued with a brief history of the organization, “MTPC was founded in 2001 with the goal of being transgender-led and transgender-focused in our work and advocacy.”

From its founding, MTPC has successfully advocated for nondiscrimination laws and ordinances across the state. Their first success was in 2002 with Boston’s nondiscrimination ordinance. By the time I became involved with the organization in 2009, MTPC was working to pass the first state-wide nondiscrimination law protecting transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people from discrimination in housing, employment, schools, and in credit and lending. The law was finally approved in 2011 and went into effect in 2012.

After that initial success, MTPC worked to expand the law to cover the public accommodations that had been dropped at the last minute in order to ensure the passage of the first law. In 2016, the hard work of MTPC and their allies paid off with a law that provided full protections for transgender people in public places.

“I think it’s important to have an organization that is working for the transgender community and led by the transgender community,” said Dunn. “Representation matters—in our leadership bodies and on our staff. Furthermore, our advocacy work is critical to ensure [that] we have the legal protections we need to prohibit discrimination in our lives.”

Though much of the work MTPC is focused on right now is the critical Yes On 3 campaign, they are always looking ahead and working on a variety of projects. “We are working closely with the RMV/DOT to start issuing nonbinary gender markers on Massachusetts state IDs and driver’s licenses by the end of 2018. MTPC is also continuing our work in healthcare advocacy, to ensure all transgender people can access essential healthcare, including insurance coverage for transition-related care.” MTPC also stays closely tied to the community it represents by helping to organize events like the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance observances.

Speaking to what the future looked like for MTPC, Dunn mentioned, “That decision is up to the community. As always, MTPC is about giving voice and power to the transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary communities. After the November 2018 election, we’ll engage in strategic planning and conversations with our community to determine our direction and focus going forward.” Summing up, Dunn offered this perspective, “So much of MTPC’s advocacy and education is about demystifying and humanizing our lives as transgender people. I hope that, through this work, people will see our community as an integral and beautiful part of the human experience. Trans rights are human rights.”

Learn more about the important work being done by the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition to empower transgender people, protect their rights, and educate our communities.

Kai Grant Brings Community Empowerment to Local Vendors in Dudley Square

By Kisha Tapangan,

By Miriam Schwartz | July 2, 2018 | 3 Minute Read

The Black Market pop-up shop in Boston’s Dudley Square neighborhood stood proud and defiant on the eve of its season grand opening. Black Market, now in its second year, was born out of a desire to give entrepreneurs a space to build their dreams, and in turn became the fulfillment of a dream for its founders, too.

But just 72 hours before the grand opening, owners Kai and Christopher Grant found a hateful message spray-painted on the building’s wall.

“White Lives Matter,” the graffiti stated, but this didn’t come as a surprise to Kai Grant. Far from deterring her and her vision for Black Market, she was more determined than ever. “We knew it was coming. We knew it was just a matter of time,” she wrote in a Facebook post adding, “WE WILL NOT BE SHAKEN.”

The Black Market pop-up shop was conceived with a mission of eliminating the wealth gap between black and white households in the Boston area and celebrating black culture. The Black Market even paved the way for others who took inspiration from its success—several storefronts have popped up around Boston.

According to a report that was shared in a recent Boston Globe article, the median net worth for non-immigrant African-American households in the Greater Boston Area is $8, while the household median for whites is $247,500. This disparity is especially relevant in the Dudley Square neighborhood, home to Black Market and a vibrant black community.

The graffiti’s inflammatory message also showed a misunderstanding and ignorance about Black Market’s mission. “We wanted to create an opportunity for black-owned businesses and make a dent in the wealth gap experienced by Boston’s indigenous black community,” said Kai, “we are one of the most diverse markets in New England. We represent more than 25 nations, all ages, religions, [and] languages.”

Despite those events, the Grants had a “by local for local” marketplace in Roxbury to open, and vendors to welcome. Local vendors have flocked to Black Market because of the unique opportunity that it presents—a space to show their creations, build a customer base, and show a record of cash flow—all of which are instrumental for entrepreneurs looking to take the next step in business.

“I’m here because I love my community. I’m fourth generation Roxbury,” said Kai between answering last-minute questions, waving to people passing by on Washington Street, and beaming with excitement about the upcoming opening.

“There is so much potential here, but it never gets moving; it’s not translating to the community,” adds Christopher Grant. Together, the Grants put their money (they funded the Black Market pop-up shop with their retirement savings) directly into building up and supporting the Dudley Square community.

At their core, Kai and Christopher are problem solvers, and they’ve put their years of experience—Christopher as a 25-year foreman for the MBTA and Kai as an entrepreneur in her own right—in service of the community they live in. “We are creating solutions to these things. We’re told to pull ourselves by our bootstraps. This is a bootstrap business—we’re pulling ourselves up, and our community,” said Kai. The graffiti, followed by an effort on social media to take down Black Market’s Facebook page, wasn’t just an attack on Black Market and its vendors. “It was an attack on our community,” adds Kai.

But on a sunny Sunday in late April, the attack became a thing of the past. The Black Market was open, and the Grants, the talented vendors personally curated by Kai, and hundreds of shoppers filled the space to capacity. As Prince played in the background, shoppers browsed handmade beauty products, clothing, jewelry, and home furnishings—all lovingly made by the people selling them. There, an opportunity to support hyper-local businesses and put money directly into the community’s hands was met with enthusiasm. Even Mayor Marty Walsh stopped by to show support. Outside, there was no trace of hateful words. Inside, only love.

The Grants stressed the need for cooperatives in the black community but also that Black Market is a space for all, that welcomes all. “We’re at an interesting time, we’ve seen a lot of divisive narratives created, but we are united. Everyone that comes into this space is welcome,” said Kai.

Surrounded by the vendors of Black Market and all repeat attendees from last year, Kai was resolute. “We believe in our mission and we’re not going to stop. It’s too important right now.”

Follow Black Market on Facebook for updates on events, pop-up shop dates, and to support the Dudley Square community.