My name is Athena Vaughn. Currently, I am the Trans Health Navigator at Fenway Health Institute advocating for greater health care access to Transgender individuals. I began my work in social justice at Boston Glass and AIDS Action and became a core member of the Boston Neighborhood Fellows 2021-2023 cohort. I worked, too, as the Assistant Director at Transgender Emergency Fund and I am a Co-Founder and Executive Director at Trans Resistance MA, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting for the rights of transgender communities in Massachusetts.
I thank my grandmother and thank God for her. Not only did she reconnect me to my faith when I had fallen away, but I thank her most of all for guiding, supporting, and pushing me to live on my own terms. It largely is a result of her influence that I still believe in church and live a life dedicated to service. This is why I serve as an ordained Minister, at Community Tabernacle of Deliverance in Lynn, Massachusetts. It also is part of my spiritual service mission to organize local ballrooms for trans and queer individuals to express their full selves. My LGBTQ activism is a third spiritual commitment stemming out of both these venues. These forms of service have led me to become a leading figure in the LGTBQ community for over fifteen years.
My acts of dedicated service demonstrate how passionate I am about creating safe spaces for other members of the LGBTQ+ community. Driven by my faith and my lived experience as a black, trans-woman, I am committed to fighting for the rights and spiritual dignity of Transgender and Gender Non-Binary people everywhere. In a very real sense, I believe spirituality is about how you live and take needful action in the world.
I co-founded Trans Resistance with Chasity Bowick and along with other trans and queer activists in Boston. Together we are life and dignity preserving spiritual warriors serving trans people in their quest to be safe from harm. They help trans people to live their lives and solve their problems in a humane way. I mean you can’t really talk about creating new spaces for trans people to worship when most have trouble just getting food to eat or keeping a safe place to live.
Spirituality is about the work we do to help free the spirit of its burdens. It’s about liberation, and that word liberation drives me to talk about freedom. For me as a black trans woman, it gives me hope. Girls like me are shunned away. We are frowned at. We are made fun of, and we are ostracized. For our community of LGBTQ, as trans women of color, we started PRIDE: dealing with liberation, dealing with the right to be free, dealing with police brutality, dealing with being murdered, dealing with being bullied and transphobias. To be free just means to have my space, to have my safe space just to be me and to be free. To be liberated means that I am equal. I am human. I deserve everything in this world that everyone else deserves.
So, to practice my brand of spiritual activism is to build the LGBTQ community in ways that recognizes the humanity of everyone. This is my spiritual practice. This is how I honor the Creator and the light of God I see in all people. This is why you cannot say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ you cannot say ‘All Lives Matter,’ you cannot say whatever it is that people are saying when it comes to being equal, and not include trans people of color. You cannot fight for one and not fight for all.
So, when Trans Resistance moves on an issue, I bring all our team together, individuals I know in our community of color…and our allies. Together we say it’s time to have something for us, by us. We take this stand because our community yearns for it, our community has been missing out, our community of trans BIPOC individuals of color have not been having what they’re looking for, what they’re asking for. Yes, we decided to confront Boston Pride and broke away to create our own PRIDE parade. We did that because liberation needs to happen now, not when somebody else feels like it.
For instance, we tried to participate and work with Boston Pride, but they didn’t invite us to the planning table. They kept saying they were going to do something, but they hadn’t, and that was the issue. It was a matter of taking back our own power; giving our community and trans women a voice that has been kept quiet for so long, that has been shunned and stepped on. It’s about giving our trans individuals a voice to be seen, to be heard. It’s giving back to our community because that is what pride is about.
(This biographical statement written by Athena Vaughn and edited by Enoch Page.)
Biography Date: April 2023
Why these trans, BIPOC activists are hosting an alternative pride event (boston.com)
Forgotten stories: The critical role of Black trans women in the civil rights movement – The Daily Free Press
About | Trans Resistance MA
Trans activism | Black | Boston | Massachusetts | Racism
“Athena Vaughn | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed December 07, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/athena-vaughn.