“I know first-hand how hard it is as a trans person to find housing and employment,” Nyonna said, reflecting on her challenges as a transgender woman. Nyonna was raised as a boy by her grandmother in Portsmouth, Virginia – but she knew from a young age that that didn’t quite fit, and so she transitioned and now lives every day as the female she has long known herself to be.
LGBTQ people in Virginia are frequently subjected to discrimination because of a lack of nondiscrimination protections, but Nyonna found these challenges compounded when she was incarcerated, placed in a men’s prison and dehumanized, insulted, and oppressed. She was released from prison in 2013 but quickly found herself homeless and without work. “These basic parts of life are unstable for so many trans people,” she said. “I wanted to do what I could to turn my life around, but not being protected made that struggle so much harder. Having jobs makes us part of the community and having homes keeps us safe. At the end of the day, that’s all of any of us really want.”
Nyonna ultimately found a job and now works as a community navigator for a nonprofit. “I’ve dedicated to helping others like me improve their lives,” she said. “I want the best for my community. I’ve been through a lot in life, and I know other trans people have, too. People will continue to be hurt if things don’t change, so we need good examples set by legislation.”