TGI Justice Project's Birth Story
TGIJP was initiated in 2004 with the help of a Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Institute to provide legal services for transgender and gender variant/non-conforming people, primarily those in CA prisons, jails and detention centers. Alexander Lee, founding Director and attorney, had been working with Trans In Prison Committee of California Prison Focus and Justice Now, and grounded the legal project in formerly incarcerated trans women of color’s community and leadership through the work of recently-retired Executive Director Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who joined the organization in 2005 as its first Staff Organizer.
The Transgender in Prison Committee (TIP), one of TGIJP’s forebears, was originally an offshoot from the HIV-in-Prison Committee, a community-based program based out of California Prison Focus. Members of the HIV-in-Prison Committee, including veteran prisoners’ rights advocate Judy Greenspan, saw the need for a transgender-focused advocacy group for prisoners after documenting many instances of anti-transgender discrimination and violence in prisons. Varying in membership over time, some key founding members of TIP were Judy Greenspan, Antoine Mahan, Beck Witt, Delphine Brody, Nat Smith, Neddy Baguio, Sean Saifa Wall, Morgan Bassichis, and Jayden Donahue.
In 2005, TIP agreed to formally break off from California Prison Focus and join TGIJP, which at that time was focused more on providing legal services to CA transgender and gender non-conforming prisoners and jail detainees in San Francisco. TIP became the community organizing program of TGIJP, and Miss Major was hired to oversee it. Soon after, long-time volunteers Melenie Eleneke, the Reverend Bobbie-Jean Baker, Trisha Wilson, Janetta Johnson, and Kathy Stripling joined. Other key volunteers who contributed greatly to the early years of TGIJP include Lala Yantes, Kelani Key, Gail Spencer, Miss Will Walker, and Sottoo Uueng, among many others.
After six years of legal service work, in 2010, grounded in the strength of community, TGIJP re-oriented toward peer legal advocacy programs, no longer with staff attorneys nor providing representation for cases. These formative years included a time where the staff was entirely trans people of color, at times three out of four of whom were formerly incarcerated trans women of color. In 2014, TGIJP began rebuilding its legal program, and in 2015 we again hired a staff attorney, enabling an effective combination of both rigorous legal service work and peer advocacy power building inside of prisons, jails and detention centers as well as outside in community. Late 2015 also included the formal passing of the torch as Miss Major retired and Janetta Johnson took the lead of TGIJP as Executive Director. Supporting Janetta’s leadership over the last few years have continued to be many long time members as well as community leaders like Tanesh Nutall, Peaches Banks, Eva Alexander, Alejandra Cruz and more recently younger community leaders.
The mission of TGIJP is to challenge and end the human rights abuses committed against TGI people in California prisons, jails, detention centers and beyond.