Providing Leadership and Fostering a Trans-Led Community
sisTers PGH provides support, from housing to medical relief and more, to Pittsburgh’s trans and nonbinary community.
Green leaves and hearts emanate from a tree trunk that creates the capital “T” in sisTers PGH’s logo. At the fork of the tree is the transgender symbol, in the soft blue and pinks of the transgender flag.
“We are a trans-led organization, and authentically that. We are trans people leading this organization … and building other leaders to lead within the organization,” says sisTers PGH director and founder Ciora Thomas.
For Thomas, being part of the community one serves is vital to understanding what that community needs. When she started sisTers at age 14, she was sleeping at Point State Park and doing sex work to survive and provide resources for other trans and nonbinary people. From there, like the tree in the logo, sisTers grew.
Now Thomas is 31 and, along with the board of sisTers and their many volunteers, works to provide temporary housing, mental health services, rental assistance, education services and more for trans and nonbinary folk in Pittsburgh. They have a drop-in space in Swissvale for daytime shelter and programs. They work with Grow to Succeed, an affirming place for trans and nonbinary folk struggling with addiction, and broThers PGH, a branch of sisTers PGH focused on and led by transmasculine folk.
“We’re very hands-on with our community members,” Thomas says. “We don’t want to give off that … ivory tower, you can never see the leadership of the organization. That’s not who we are. We’re from community, we live in community, we experience gentrification, we experience job loss, we experience all these things that trans and nonbinary folk are experiencing in Pittsburgh.”
The organization also created People’s Pride, an alternative celebration that prioritizes the most marginalized within the LGBTQIA+ community. Currently, they’re working to establish services under the Project T banner: mental health services, sober living, case management and transportation. While the organization has aided people since 2015, the 2017 purchase of a house for Project T allows up to seven trans and nonbinary people to live safely away from unstable environments and unsupportive communities.
“Black neighborhoods weren’t built for education on Black and Brown trans and nonbinary people, and that’s because of white supremacy,” Thomas says. “If they can keep us divided in our own neighborhoods, it works for the system because we are gonna need them for services.”
Thomas wants to help foster a new generation of Black and Brown trans leadership and teach them to navigate the nonprofit world and the systems of marginalization against Black and Brown trans people, from white supremacy to the way society is structured with cisgender people in mind at the expense of trans and nonbinary people (what Thomas calls the “cis-stem”).
For now, the resources needed are money, clothing — especially winter clothing — utensils, linens and art for the house. Donations can be scheduled by contacting their office, where they can also give more updated lists of needed items.
“If I go tomorrow, I want to make sure that this city understood what Black trans people needed,” Thomas says. “That we need affordable housing, that we need jobs, that we need non-discrimination in Pennsylvania, we need all these things that we scream about in the streets.”
2014 Monongahela Ave., Swissvale