Billboards in Chicago raise awareness about profiling of transgender women of color

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Chicago House’s TransLife Center, a service center that helps trans people find housing, employment, and medical care, unveiled a billboard campaign last week with Firebelly Design, a local graphic design company, to raise awareness of transgender issues, namely “walking while trans.”

Many women experience street harassment, but transgender women – particularly trans women of color – often face false accusations by police officers for engaging in sex work while simply walking down the street and going about their everyday lives. In April, Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color and activist in Arizona, was arrested and found guilty on the charge of “manifesting prostitution” just for walking while trans. Similalry, possession of more than a few condoms has been used as evidence for "manifesting prostitution."

The transgender community is among the most vulnerable groups to employment and housing discrimination, often leaving many, especially transgender people of color, with limited and dwindling resources. Because even a conviction of prostitution can disqualify a person from receiving governmental support in the form of food stamps and subsidized housing, such discriminatory use of laws and incidents of bias can lead to further vulnerability. The implications of this problematic profiling, which trans activists and advocates call "walking while trans," are far-reaching and further marginalize trans people. 

The campaign is designed to address such problems with brightly colored billboards strategically placed in Chicago’s South and West Sides, two areas where transgender women of color face the most discrimination. Each billboard pictures a pair of legs in high heels and phrases like “Respect transgender women,” and “She’s just walking, not working.”

This campaign is jointly produced by Firebelly Design, which hosts a 10-day camp for young designers to address social issues. This year, Firebelly decided to collaborate with the TransLife Center to make the trans community more visible, about which Sandi Woods, a youth leader, says:

The more visible we become, the more human we become in the sense that people can’t use their own perceptions and labels on us.