A lack of community concern and aid is what prompted longtime West Side resident Zahara Bassett to found Life is Work, a Black and Brown trans social service agency at 5463 W. Chicago Ave. in Austin.
Bassett and her life partner initially sought to launch an initiative to feed people experiencing homelessness, but they soon realized that there weren’t many resources available for the transgender/non-binary (TGNB) community.
“There are many social services agencies on the West Side, but none seemed to care about being of service to us,” Bassett said. “No one wanted to place a safe haven on the West Side for TGNB folks,” said Bassett. “I come from a background of people who take action, so I knew I had to do something for my people.”
That something bloomed into what is now the Life is Work Community Resource Center, which provides a range of services, including housing referrals, career readiness wear and job training, among others. Bassett, who is CEO of the center, said the organization soon plans to provide HIV and STI testing and resources as well.
“Black and Brown people in this city already struggle with inequalities related to food, housing and jobs, and for those who are also trans and non-binary it’s even more of a challenge,” Bassett said. “It’s important that when providing services to these groups that you have a certain level of cultural competency and empathy in order to be able to truly help.”
Another element of Life is Work involves creating a community for TGNB people and their allies on the West Side.
Many Austin residents share the sentiment that creating a community is a challenge. Bassett echoes the sentiment, especially when it comes to rallying around for trans lives.
“We only seem to get visibility in the news when a trans person is murdered, but there’s never any action to follow that media sensation,” the West Side CEO said. “It cycles out of the news and we’re forgotten about until another one of us is killed.”
Bassett said that trans murders on the West Side go largely unreported and of those that are reported, only 23% are solved. Bassett believes that these statistics are why people are unafraid to take trans lives.
“When I was younger I was involved in a bad relationship with a guy and he told me that he could kill me and no one would care,” she said. “And the most frightening thing about that was that he was right. People don’t really care when we are killed.”
She added that connecting and engaging with the West Side is important to her, since the cultural divides ultimately lead to the violence among trans folks, especially Black trans women.
“My vision is to have a united West Side. We’re all Black and Brown people. There’s not a lot of unity,” Bassett said. “We [trans people] are your people too. We are here. We are human.”
Learn more about Life is Works here.