Advocating for Recognition and Validation: Diamond’s Story

Advocating for Recognition and Validation: Diamond’s Story

11/15/2019

Walk through The Fortune Society’s doors, and one of the first people you’ll meet is Diamond, one of our receptionists. Her voice is often the first heard by incarcerated people around the country when they call to ask about our services. With a welcoming smile and reassuring demeanor, Diamond’s passion and proclivity for interacting with people is evident to all who meet her.

“A lot of people that come [to Fortune], they feel almost dehumanized, especially by their experiences [of confinement],” said Diamond. “So having a conversation that makes them feel like a human means so much to me.”

Diamond, who began her journey at Fortune as a client, knows what it’s like to feel dehumanized by the justice system, especially as a transgender woman.

In prison, correctional officers initially denied Diamond the opportunity to move to a female prison facility, despite the fact that she identifies accordingly. Even when she was granted the opportunity to move to a female facility, the discrimination continued. Sergeants advised her not to reveal her identity as a transgender woman. However, she bravely decided to speak up and share her identity in spite of this.

“I was nervous…but I had to make the decision for the justice involved trans community at large…” she said. “I did this so trans people could be safe and have their identities validated by our Department of Corrections, so they would not have to go to men's facilities.”

In addition to discrimination within the justice system, according to Diamond, trans people continue to face unique obstacles during reentry—especially when it comes to affirmation of self-worth. Diamond believes that because society tends to validate trans people for their bodies and physical appearance, they feel pressured to seek approval from others through sex work rather than seeking self-validation through opportunities like education and employment.

Diamond took another path. She decided to seek opportunities that would allow her to gain her own sense of validation. She pursued education through the Bard Prison Initiative and Cornell Prison Education Program while incarcerated, found full-time employment at Fortune, and is currently a resident at the Academy, our housing unit in Harlem. Going forward, she hopes to build a career in social work.

“Working with Diamond has truly been a blessing,” said Christina Johnson, a fellow receptionist at Fortune. “From day one, she has always been eager to learn more…She shows compassion and takes pride in her role.”

Although Diamond found the resources she needed to achieve her goals, she knows that many formerly incarcerated trans individuals have trouble finding the same success. She attributes this, in part, to a lack of communication between service-providing organizations and the justice-involved trans community.

“I think that Fortune's visibility among trans people and the LGBT community… is not reaching them…because Fortune doesn't look to target any one demographic,” she said. “[It’s] for everybody.”

Despite this communicative gap, Diamond wants the trans community to know that there is a place for them at Fortune. When she can, she spreads the word about Fortune with trans individuals, and, more generally, among members of the larger LGBTQ+ community.

Transgender Awareness Week, which takes place from November 13th-19th, is one way that the transgender community and their allies aim to educate the public about the barriers facing transgender people. Because trans people disproportionately experience violence and discrimination, Diamond understands that their experiences need an intentional place in conversations when they are actively being denied rights and opportunities. She hopes that in the near future, however, trans people will be talked about solely in the context of their accomplishments and not their gender identity. To make this possible, she believes allies and organizations must work towards projecting an all-inclusive environment and message, so that their programs can become just as visible to transgender people as they are for other communities.

“It's just about accepting trans people for who they are and how they choose to identify,” she says.

This is the same spirit of recognition and validation that Diamond shows as she welcomes all who come through Fortune’s doors.

The next time you’re here, say hello to Diamond.

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