A year ago, Asanni York threw a party to raise money to help pay her trans friends’ rent after they were facing eviction.
Today, For The Gworls Rent Party is a major fundraiser helping black trans folks maintain their living situation and access medical treatment across the USA.
The movement has grown to such a size that it’s even been supported by Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Twitter. Remarkably, Asanni is still running the cause solo. While the sudden swell in support has been overwhelming, for her the fight is still far from over. We wanted to catch up and hear her thoughts on pride, activism and social change.
Where did the idea for For The Gworls Rent Party come from?
“Back in July of 2019 two of my friends were facing eviction. I was talking to my therapist trying to figure out how I could help both of those people pay their rent for that month and get their landlords off their backs. An idea just came to me to throw a party. Then I said, “Well I mean, It’s worth a shot. I’m going to be partying and I’m going to be getting drunk on the 4th of July anyway!”
“I put out a flyer and then we announced it a few days before. There was s $5 entry fee and the rest is kind of history. We raised the money and realised we could do this every month to help people in our community. We’ve been doing it every month ever since, and during the pandemic we’ve been raising money online”
You’ve recently gained a lot of traction. How are you handling the newfound fame?
“I’m doing well. I’m very excited. I’m thankful that people are listening to and amplifying the work that we do at Collective. It’s blowing up for all of us at the same time. People are donating and sharing us and really engaging with our work and taking the lives of black trans people seriously.”
Gender reassignment and rent fundraising for black and trans folks is a very specific cause. Was it important to you to fill this niche?
“Not because it was a niche. I think that as a black trans person I’m aware of the things that are always on our minds that we need to work through. When I did the first party, it was supposed to be a one-off thing. Then we decided to do more because we have a lot of black trans friends in a state of precarity – dealing with racism and transphobia.
It’s hard for us to get jobs because people don’t understand who we are. If you look different in real life, as opposed to what your ID says, people can actually deny you a job. This means you can’t afford rent, food or healthcare.
“There are state measures that are coming into play to help with this. But the reality is black and trans people have never really been protected by laws. So I needed to be very intentional about what I’m doing. It has to be specific to help the very specific group who are always overlooked.”
"If you look different in real life, as opposed to what your ID says, people can actually deny you a job. This means you can’t afford rent, food or healthcare."
It’s entered the cultural conversation a lot more recently. Why do you think that’s happening now?
“Because the media wants to talk about it. As long as I’ve been alive, I have been talking about black transgender people and the fight that we have. We’ve largely been ignored.
“I think that people are falsely saying that for the first time the black lives matter movement and the fight against racism is now coinciding with Pride Month. That’s not true, black people have been fighting for their lives since they touched America. Since slaves were brought from Africa. Every Pride Month black people are fighting for their lives. Pride was started by a black transgender woman. It started as a riot against police brutality!”
Robyn Exton from HER also mentioned pride’s riot roots. Brands getting involved in a celebration is a new thing.
“Yeah. It should never have been about celebration in my opinion. Black trans women are still being killed at an astronomical rate, right? When we think about Pride, people have corporatized it. There are companies paying to say that they’re not racist, homophobic, or transphobic.
“But, while people are getting all these endorsements and stuff, black queer people are still being killed. If people in our community are still being killed then we should still be rioting. We should never stop rioting.”
What do you think is next for Pride Month?
“What do I want to see or what do I know is going to happen?”
“I want to see it return to its riotous roots. If we continue to listen to and believe black trans people, we should all be angry, right? We wouldn’t have a reason to be out here celebrating. When we go back to listen to what Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson and all these black and brown transgender people said, they wanted us to be adamant in our fight against legislators and legislation. We need to keep fighting until we tear down the systems that allow for black people to be killed.
“When we talk about Pride, we’re always talking about how far we’ve come. But how far have we actually come if black trans people are still being killed the way that they are? People are rioting again, because people have failed to listen to those before us who told us that this very moment would come if we did not listen to what they were talking about. But, what I know we will do is go back to celebrating, because people are afraid of riots. We would have to get rid of the police, we would have to get rid of cisheteropatriarchy, we would have to really have serious conversations about gender, sexuality and its relationship, in particular, to patriarchy.”
"When we talk about Pride, we're always talking about how far we've come. But how far have we actually come if black trans people are still being killed the way that they are?"
“People are afraid to do that real work. So instead, it’s just easier to pretend that we’ve come so far. When I’m celebrating, I’m not celebrating how far we’ve come. I’m celebrating the fact that I’m still alive today.”
Who’s running the cause?
“It’s just me still. When we throw the actual parties every month, I like to pick three DJs that also create graphics for the party. The day-to-day logistics, running of the social media, any other stuff outside of that is me. We probably will expand soon, if we can figure out a budget for it.”
A lot of our users on Linktree are trying to set up causes like yours. What advice would you give them?
“It truly is about consistency. You can look at the analytics on the Linktree. From 2019 we had a very steady ebb and flow. We had 3,000 followers up until June 1st and then literally from June 1st onward, we skyrocketed to where we are now. I knew that the work I did was important and that it would eventually get to where it needs to be.
“Even when you have a thousand followers, you can still make the world of difference with that platform. And eventually that platform will touch who it needs to touch. It may not happen when you want it to but just wait! If you would’ve told me that in June I would’ve gained 23,000 followers in two weeks, I would have been like, “You’re fucking lying.” But it happens when it’s supposed to happen.
“I started with IG because that’s where I had the most followers on my personal account, but then I expanded to Twitter and Facebook and centralized it on my Linktree. You start to reach different audiences on different platforms.”
Do you have any advice for brands who want to meaningfully show Pride support moving forward?
“Oh, I have plenty of advice for brands. Just be consistent. If you only care about queer people or trans people in June, you do not really care about those people. The way to show that you care about a group of people, a group of marginalized people, is to amplify their voices every month of every year. When you do campaigns four, five, six times a year, you shouldn’t only have queer people in your campaigns in June.
"If you only care about queer people or trans people in June, you do not really care about those people. "
“You should be transparent about money that you’re putting aside to amplify queer voices and queer causes. Be very loud and bold about saying where you donate to. Stand very boldly in what you believe in. People need to know what you’re supporting.
“Do research and find causes to support that are not just big names. Black queer, brown queer and trans organizers. Stop donating to NGOs who get all this money, but don’t ever touch the community. They don’t help.
“Lastly, hire these people. Hire black and queer and trans people to work at your jobs, to help you think about things differently. Hire consultants that are black, queer and trans to make you think about these issues. Put people in these positions, so they can actually help you think about things in ways that you are not conditioned to think about.”
Are any brands doing it well?
Are there any other causes or movements you’d like to mention?
“Yeah, absolutely. I would like to amplify The Okra Project, The Black Trans Femmes and the Arts Collectives, The LGBTQ Freedom Fund, Marsha P. Johnson Institute, The Black Trans Travel Fund, The Heavenly Angel Fund Project and The Morris Home.“
As a non-profit, we were able to upgrade you to Linktree PRO. Are you enjoying it?
“I’m really enjoying PRO. I’m enjoying the flexibility with the layout. I think the new layouts that I have access to are so pretty. I used to work in digital marketing, so I really enjoyed the analytics because I get to see how my traction is going across platforms.”
For the Gworls
Asanni’s Linktree makes good use of Linktree best practice for activism. While other industries stick to just a few links, Asanni’s is filled with all the resources you’ll need to learn about the cause. This includes interviews she’s done with major publications and links to her comprehensive site. There’s also links to donate directly, and attend her upcoming events, which includes a virtual festival.
Send For the Gworls Party some love, and please donate what you can to help the black trans community pay their rent in their time of need.
Want some tips on how to drive social action through your Linktree? Check out this article.