Cannabis Provides Relief For A Trans Community Facing Constant Discrimination

This year’s SF Pride celebrations were infused with cannabis-brand sponsored events, from Pride sales and specials at jam-packed dispensaries, to limited edition rainbow-themed vape cartridges, to drag queen-themed cannabis gummies. These feel-good promotions may have gotten people high for Pride weekend, but they did not raise much money or awareness for LGBTQ nonprofits and causes.

One Pride event two weeks later on the other side of the Bay did raise a reported $1,700 for the Transgender Law Center, the Oakland-based nonprofit that’s the largest trans-led civil rights organization in the country. July’s Cannabis Pride Celebration also stressed a shocking secret about the astonishing rate of HIV in the transgender community, and their need for access to medical cannabis

“The lifetime risk of HIV for transgender women is one in four,” Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, tells SF Evergreen. “For black transgender women, it’s one in two. The stigma that still exists for people living with HIV is compounded by the ongoing discrimination, harassment and violence against transgender people — particularly transgender women of color.”

Cannabis has long been one of the cheapest and most effective medicines to fight the symptoms of HIV and its harsh medications. But the modern-day green rush in the weed industry has left many medical marijuana communities behind, perhaps none as much as the trans community.

LGBTQ community members and activists watch Selena Martinez (center) receive a scholarship to Oaksterdam at the Bay Area Cannabis Pride Celebration.
From left to right: John Entwhistle, Kris Hayashi, Martinez, Sherry Glaser, Terrance Alan. Courtesy of Cannabis Pride Oaskland


“Black trans women don’t have access to cannabis and can’t get jobs,” says Chaney Turner, co-founder of the Oakland’s People’s Dispensary that says it boasts a larger African American trans clientele than many dispensaries. “Gays, lesbians, queer folks and trans people are discriminated against, but black transgender women are discriminated against the most.”

The Transgender Law Center’s Hayashi puts a fine point on this discrimination.

“We already were facing temendous amounts of harassment, discrimination, and violence,” they say. “Our communities face four times the poverty rate of the general population, nearly 80 percent of transgender students experience harassment in schools, and the violence and murders of transgender people have continued throughout this country. And then Trump was elected.”

This year wasn’t the first Pride Month under the Trump administration. But for trans people, it may have been the worst.

“Pride this year was also a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall,” Hayashi says. “For the transgender community, under this administration, Pride Month was just a month of immense and escalated attacks.”

On the very first day of June’s Pride Month observances,  25-year-old trans migrant Johana Medina died alone in ICE detention custody from HIV/AIDS complications. The following week, 27-year-old Afro-Latina transgender woman Layleen Polanco was found dead in solitary confinement at the Rikers Island prison complex.

So far in 2019, 11 black transgender women have been murdered in the U.S. This has had a chilling effect on the trans community, stressing a therapeutic need for cannabis.

“People suffering from PTSD are not just veterans,“ Turner says. “Black trans women have experienced all types of PTSD through abuse, harassment, neglect, and having to deal with friends and peers being murdered.”

On the other hand, some veterans who use cannabis for PTSD are trans women too.

Selena Xochitl Martinez is a Native American U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran who transitioned 10 years ago. She now volunteers with Operation EVAC, a cannabis-focused veterans advocacy group that distributes free cannabis to vets (despite the tax burden on compassionate manrijuana programs).

“Cannabis and the military go together very well,” Martinez says. “Cannabis is what kept us from going nuts. It’s extremely stressful.”

Trans people have been left behind in the field of the cannabis industry. But the Cannabis Pride Celebration’s focus of the trans population, courtesy the planning of progressive event group Geter Done Productions, was something of a breakthrough.

“The Cannabis Pride Event was such an important moment,” Hayashi says. “Trans organizations have very little access to resources or support. Just 0.3% of foundation funding goes to trans-led organizations. While larger LGBT organizations have long had access to corporate support, that’s just not true for trans organizations.

“The cannabis industry is in this moment of growth, to choose to highlight the transgender movement and community when we’re under such attack opens up the possibility for the cannabis industry to really prioroitize supporting some of out most vulnerable communities.”