Ceyenne Doroshow founded Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society, or G.L.I.T.S., in 2015 to help trans and sex-worker communities with issues like housing and health care. These needs became increasingly urgent after the onset of the pandemic in 2020, one of the deadliest years on record for trans and gender-nonconforming people. In response, Doroshow and her team at G.L.I.T.S. began fundraising; they bailed LGBTQIA+ inmates out of COVID-ravaged jails and housed them in safe Airbnb rentals; secured rent money for the Black trans community; and ultimately bought a $2 million 12-unit residential building that would be a free safe place for Black trans folks to live. The G.L.I.T.S. House in Queens, N.Y., opened in November. Nearly four months later, all of the units are filled and personally customized for each tenant by an interior decorator. In a nation where more than half a million people were homeless even before the pandemic, Doroshow spoke with TIME about the way forward.
Why was housing insecurity important for you to address with G.L.I.T.S.?
I was homeless as a youth, and I was homeless as an adult. There was no place where I felt safe. I often had to go on my own to find safety and then lie on papers so I could have sustainability. I never want my community to have to go through those hoops and stunts.
What do you ask of your tenants, with the aim of creating a sustainable housing solution?
All I ask is that you strive to be the best you can be. And that is having a future plan. This is not a shelter. This is not emergency housing. This is about building leaders, creating people that can take the lead, can take charge, and when I’m gone they can do this work of buying property in New York City for [their] community.
What do you think could help ensure that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, has access to safe and stable housing?
Discretionary funds and letting us create what we know is going to save our community. I got tired of asking government and everyone for help, and I really didn’t want to, to be honest. It is often heartbreaking to see how we can work for agencies and not be supported, but we can create our own likeness and get the support of the nation behind us. Because only we know how to take care of us. Only we know how to create the blueprint to sustainability when we have had to live this stuff. We’ve had to be hunted, chased, unemployed and homeless.
Housing programs fail when they don’t have a plan. What happens when the pandemic is over, where are those people going? Are they going back to the streets? Are they getting jobs? Are they going to school? These are the questions that need to be asked, because nobody’s asking them. With our vision, our community will not be left behind.
How did you build a community during a pandemic?
I think by the love and compassion we have shown our community. When I bought this property, I thought of everything. I thought of the safety of the neighborhood. I thought of the healing surfaces in a state park right across the street from us. That is healing to see the greenery, to know that you’re not hearing a shoot-out every day, that it’s not a drug-ridden neighborhood, that you don’t have to get on an elevator with somebody that might kill you because of who you are. We have to create these things to show that we care about our own people. Because then maybe society will care, just a little more.