Trans advocate is fighting for Detroit's at-risk LGBTQ community

Lilianna Angel Reyes is the director of the LGBTQ youth drop-in service at Detroit's Ruth Ellis Center and head of the Trans Sisters of Color Project.
Image: Liliana Angel Reyes.
Liliana Angel Reyes.Celeste Byers / for NBC News
By Elizabeth Kuhr

Lilianna Angel Reyes is dedicated to ensuring that LGBTQ people feeling vulnerable amid the public health crisis know they are not alone.

"Know that someone out there, even if it's hard to believe, loves you," Reyes said. "We need to be a little more gentle to everyone during this time."

As the executive director of the Trans Sisters of Color Project and the director of the Ruth Ellis Center's LGBTQ youth drop-in center in Detroit, Reyes, who identifies as a transgender woman of color, fills her days distributing food boxes and care packages to LGBTQ people in need.

Out on the Frontline: Liliana Angel Reyes is one of NBC Out's 2020 Pride Month honorees. To see the full list, click here.

In addition to hosting virtual groups and purchasing bulk item essentials for the packages, she said, she is also attentive to the mental health needs of staff members during the pandemic.

"I think it makes sense that I'm putting my body on the line to help people," said Reyes, who said she can go to work because she is considered essential. "There have been enough trans women of color who are murdered each year who put their bodies on the line to be themselves."

Reyes said she had no examples of trans people when she was growing up in Saginaw, Michigan, about 100 miles north of Detroit. She came out after meeting others who identified as trans while working at a water park in Ohio for a summer.

Reyes said that while she was growing in her career, she struggled to find trans-identifying professionals to mentor her. She said she is committed to LGBTQ nonprofit work because of her history and identity.

"We need more people from the community who are empowered to do this work," Reyes said.

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