Art is emotional, beautiful and, sometimes, life-saving. It’s this latter attribute that brought together OBERLAND agency, Brooklyn-based art studio Design for Feeling, and the Trans Lifeline non-profit for "LGB_Q," an art piece that focuses on transgender visibility. For those still learning the terms, trans erasure is the result of the many ways trans people are made invisible in mainstream society—everything from employment and housing discrimination and lack of visibility in popular media to bathroom laws and violence.
Long before the project came to fruition though, the idea began to form in the aftermath of Trump's presidential victory. Among the feelings of shock and horror, the team at OBERLAND started to notice a troubling trend affecting the trans community. “We heard that Trump’s election was the impetus for nine transgender youth committing suicide, the team told OUT. “At first we thought that this was just a tragic event, but upon closer look, it was clear that their suicides were a symptom of a much larger problem.”
As they worked to educate themselves on the realities facing the community, they met Greta Martela and Nina Chaubal, the co-founders of Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline run by an all-transgender staff for trans people. This was a perfect pairing that helped the project spring to life and pushed the team to challenge their own, cisgender identities as they worked on the passion project.
Nina Chaubal (L) and her life partner, Greta Martela (R). Photo courtesy of Trans Lifeline.
“It’s been incredibly vital to us as cisgender creatives to work as closely with Trans Lifeline to get every aspect of our work right,” they said. “Ultimately, this project is bigger than us. It’s about giving a platform to Trans Lifeline and shining a light on the important work they do. It’s about giving a platform to trans people to speak up and be seen.”
As the teams collaborated and brought Design for Feeling in, they settled on an idea for an installation to coincide with this year’s Transgender Awareness Week from November 14 - 20. They plan to build a large art installation in Manhattan that spells out "LGB_Q"—purposefully omitting the T to highlight trans erasure in America. In order to fund the project, OBERLAND, Design for Feeling, and Trans Lifeline have taken to Kickstarter to make the installation a reality.
As the team raises money and prepares for Trans Awareness Week, we talked to Greta Martela from Trans Lifeline about how a crisis hotline led her to create the nonprofit, the importance of her all-trans staff, and how we can lend our support to the community.
OUT: What sparked the creation of Trans Lifeline?
Greta Martela: I was hospitalized for suicidality five times before I transitioned. The last time started with a call to a hotline. I was trying to decide about whether I should come out and I had to describe what being trans was to someone who didn't understand. It made me feel much worse than I did when I called. I realized in that moment that I can't always count on things that cisgender people take for granted, such as being treated with respect during a crisis call.
What's the importance of having an all-trans staff?
There are a couple of reasons this is important. The first reason is that we need all of our operators to be trans to avoid situations like the one I had with a national hotline. In addition to that, employment discrimination against trans people is rampant. We are chronically unemployed as a community. Organizations that serve us should hire us because there is no one who understands our needs as a community better than we do.
How do you hope the "LGB_Q" project will help the community moving forward?
I think it's important to make the rest of society look at what is happening to trans people in the country at the moment. I think it is important to elevate the voices of trans people who are at the forefront of many of our social justice movements. I think the somewhat shocking visual representation of what is happening to trans people can help us to reach more people. We need all the support that we can get right now and in many ways things are moving in the wrong direction.