In 2011, Carter Brown founded the first nonprofit that consists entirely of black transgender leadership: Black Trans Men Inc. The Dallas-based organization, now known collectively as the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, has been fighting to protect black trans people, a population that experiences heightened discrimination in employment and housing, ever since. As the COVID-19 pandemic began ravaging the U.S. in March, sickening thousands and shuttering businesses, Carter prepared for the disparities to worsen.
"We're seeing levels of just the despair that our community is in right now," Brown, 45, told NBC News. "It's completely magnified and amplified during this time."
"We have been able to put direct financial support to over 100 black trans people with the focus on those of us who are here in the South."
Even before the pandemic emerged, many black trans people were already struggling to survive: According to an analysis by the National LGBTQ Task Force, they suffer unemployment rates that are twice the rate of their non-black trans peers and four times that of the general population. The analysis also found that over a third of black trans people reported living on incomes of less than $10,000 a year, double the rate of their non-black trans peers and eight times that of the general public, and that 41 percent reported having experienced homelessness, five times the rate of the general public.
In the U.S., the black population is contracting the virus at disproportionate rates: About 30 percent of COVID-19 patients are black, although black people are just 13 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Within the black community, Brown said, health disparities among trans people are likely to make them even more vulnerable. "Nearly 20 percent of black trans women are HIV-positive," he said.
Brown said that as the pandemic descended on the U.S., he knew he needed to take steps to protect people who are black and trans from getting pushed further to the margins.
"Largely, a lot of people are, even in these times, experiencing direct discrimination because they are black and trans, in employment and in housing," he said. "Those who are in a situation where they may find it more difficult to find another place are being pretty much refused housing because they are black and trans, as well as the same scenario for employment."
Under Brown's leadership, the coalition launched a program in April that delivers small grants to black trans people who need emergency funds for food, utilities, rent assistance, health care, transportation and other necessities during the pandemic.
So far, the group has raised $10,000 for the program and hopes to raise $20,000 more, Brown said.
"We have been able to put direct financial support to over 100 black trans people with the focus on those of us who are here in the South," he said.
Out on the Frontline: Carter Brown is one of NBC Out's 2020 Pride Month honorees. To see the full list, click here.
The group is also working with other nonprofits to deliver kits with hand sanitizer, masks and other pandemic essentials to black trans people in need across the county, he added.
He expects the community to become even more vulnerable as states begin to reopen, including Texas, where Brown lives.
"If we're opening back up to the cities where these people live — they primarily live within the main cities of Houston and Dallas — again, that puts them back in the vulnerability of being infected with COVID," Brown said. "And a lot of these people are already struggling just to access or maintain medication for their HIV due to the expense of it."
Brown was born and raised in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and 11-year-old daughter. He said growing up black in the South opened his eyes to the discrimination so many in his community face.
"I was introduced to discrimination and being pushed to the outside at a very early age," said Brown, who identified as a masculine lesbian before he transitioned.
The Black Trans Advocacy Coalition consists of three sister organizations: Black Transmen Inc., Black Transwomen Inc. and Black Trans MX, which represents gender-nonconforming and nonbinary people.
Brown said he was inspired to create the coalition so black trans people could have an advocacy organization of their own. After he came out as trans and started connecting with others in his community, he said, he started to meet people who had been disowned by their families, who had lost housing, who couldn't get jobs or were fired, and who had been harassed and assaulted — all because they lived at the intersection of being black and trans. He said many larger advocacy groups weren't addressing the unique challenges they faced.
"This really compelled me to want to be an advocate for this community that I was now a part of, because their lives, I feel, is my life," Brown said.