At the beginning of House of Tulip, a short documentary directed by Cydney Tucker, we meet Mariah Moore, a transgender rights activist in New Orleans, as she is leading a meeting about life planning, and in particular, about advanced medical directives and making plans for one's own death. The scene is a reminder that death is always top of mind in the trans community.
House of Tulip is Louisiana’s first housing refuge providing residency solely for trans and gender non-conforming people. The film follows Moore as she runs for city council and introduces viewers to the warm and supportive home she and others are growing at House of Tulip. The short documentary highlights the dangers of being trans in America today, but it also shines a light on the beauty and support systems that are being created too.
The following Q&A with the film’s director, Cydney Tucker, and trans activist Mariah Moore, has been edited for length and clarity.
TIME: How did you decide to focus on the House of Tulip as a way to explore the subject of guns in America?
TUCKER: Louisiana has one of the highest rates of gun-violence in the United States. This is due to lack of legislation and lax gun laws. Coupled with anti-trans legislation and an actively anti-trans agenda that continues to unfold across several states, that’s literally a recipe for death for thousands of people.
When I first approached this story – the story of rising homicide rates among trans and non-binary folx – I combed through statistical data surrounding rates of violence against TGNC (Transgender and gender nonconforming) individuals. Immediately I saw patterns. Experts say that trans individuals are being murdered at epidemic level proportions. What’s even scarier is that they’re not all reported. So we literally don’t know what we don’t know, and that’s because of a lot of factors including deadnaming/misidentification of individuals and a clear lack of local/national reporting on the homicides.
Secondly in my research, I found that guns continue to be the number one method used to target TGNC individuals. So these things combined led me to look at Louisiana, which is how I ultimately found House of Tulip - the only trans-led non-profit organization in the state creating a housing refuge to combat this.
I knew in following the founders over the course of a year, I could tap into and humanize a larger story about being trans in a southern state like Louisiana—the hope and danger of it all.
Gun violence has become so interwoven in the DNA of the place, that nearly everyone I met in New Orleans had a gun violence story. Our film’s producer, Zaferhan Yumru, who was local to New Orleans at the time, escaped two shoot outs within the span of two weeks while we were filming. So yes, gun violence is a very real threat in New Orleans and the state of Louisiana overall.
TIME: Mariah, the film starts out with you sharing obituaries for your friends who have died. It's a grim reminder of how dangerous it is to be a trans woman in America, especially a Black trans woman. What are the coping skills that the trans community has built up to handle a constant threat of violence?
MOORE: I don’t think there are skills. We have just built up a type of immunity and a numbness. When we hear about someone we know being taken from us due to gun violence, or physical violence, or any type of income and health care-related disparity like AIDS-related death, we are numb, so we don’t acknowledge it until we are forced to.
I would hope that people realize that gun violence is impacting everyone, especially our youth. In our community, we already live in spaces of scarcity and below the poverty line, and these experiences (of gun violence) are amplified by poverty, especially within the Black trans community.
You can't start caring only when you lose a child to gun violence or a family member to a healthcare issue, we have to care from our core, from our hearts.
TIME: The film offers a grim reminder of how dangerous it is to be a trans woman in America, especially a Black trans woman. How did that inform the way you approached subjects for the film?
TUCKER: I knew as soon as I decided to make this film that I needed to approach it with caution and care. I wanted to have a trauma-informed filmmaking strategy that was going to start from development and continue on into post-production.
From where I sat as a collaborator in creating this film and spending as much time as I did with these incredible women, yes, you realize that death is very much a constant reminder and figure in their lives. If they’re not being threatened or harassed for their identity, someone close to them that they know or love is being attacked and or killed for it. Mariah quite literally says in the film that she could die any day. She knows this, and it’s not simply because she’s become elevated in the political sphere or for her activism, but because of her identity and all of the anti-trans legislation and hate that fuels our society. I don’t know if there’s any way to cope with that. No one should have to live in fear that any day could be their last, or that people who share their identity don’t often live past the age of 30. I think one of the most poignant things that Mariah and Milan often say is that they want to work themselves out of jobs. At the end of the day, they don’t want there to even be a need for an organization like House of Tulip. There shouldn’t have to be a housing refuge. And that really stays with me.
TIME: Mariah, Why do you see elected office as a place to make an impact?
MOORE: Representation matters. And for me running for office, that humanizes me and sends the message that we deserve a voice and decision making equity.
This film was supported by TIME Studios and the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program with support from the Kendeda Fund, as part of a series of short documentaries addressing the issue of gun violence in America.
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