A Message to Donald Trump
Harlem United clients & staff share their thoughts, hopes and fears on the eve of a new administration
by Sean Black and Chael Needle
Her first protest ever, and Yonce Jones enthusiastically recalls last Friday as she and fellow client-friends from Harlem United and its client advocacy program bundled up for the winter cold in order to rally outside a Trump hotel in Manhattan. She giggles triumphantly with warmth and a sweet sincerity as we speak over the phone, “I feel [our appearance] was powerful because we made a lot of noise.”
Yonce Jones has been a client of Harlem United for two years. She is also a Peer Empowerment Leader with the organization (funded by AIDS United’s Positive Organizing Project) who receives a stipend to help empower and lead Harlem United clients in civic engagement and public education. “When I came to Harlem United I was estranged from my family because of my lifestyle choices so what Harlem United did for me was it provided me with a family,” she touchingly shares. Yonce is a transgender woman living with HIV. “They [Harlem United] have provided more than a program for me. They’ve provided me with a home. They have given me a purpose to live, quite honestly.”
Born in New Jersey, she moved to New York when she was only sixteen. “When I came over here dressed as a woman everyone received me,” she says. Yonce garners respect and empathy through her ability to tap into a deeper kind of realness, one that connects anyone who is listening to her inner tenderness—a love for others.
Yonce is just one of the fresh and hopeful faces who has connected to support and care thanks to one of the city’s ASOs. She is also part of the nonprofit’s newly released PSA shout-out to Donald Trump, asking him to listen to her concerns and needs. “Dear Donald Trump: Are You Listening?” includes “clients and staff who face discrimination, harassment, and threats to their health and well-being on a regular basis because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, disability status, and socio-economic status, because they are military veterans, as well as many other issues,” according to a prepared release.
Will their message make it up to the gilded mountain-top? Asked about her hopes for the video message and Yonce shares, “I hope Donald Trump sees it because I know that Donald Trump does not respect women—so I don’t expect him to respect me.” Her concerns echo many of our own, particularly those of both cis and transgender women. The media has reported anti-woman behavior exhibited by our new Preseident throughout a shameful and ugly election process informed by, among other things, racism and xenophobia.
She is clear that she isn’t looking to be defined as a role model. “I just want them [transgender youth] to know that they can do it.” Yonce simply cares about her peers, those like herself. “I decided to participate in Harlem United’s video because I immediately thought about transgender youth.” Yonce rightly worries of political and societal regression that will place our current and future generations back into isolation and on the fringe of society, where Yonce’s generation struggled in order to survive. She’s afraid, too, that these youngsters will not be able succeed in society because of the discrimination faced when applying for and securing jobs, going to college, the essential components for each of us to meet our basic needs. Without these options and a guarantee of physical and emotional safety Yonce worries too that, like her generation, many transgender youth feel that they think need to or are forced to prostitute themselves and/or to be on drugs. Perhaps humbly not realizing her own power she shares from her heart, “I think it is important for them to see an older transgender woman, like myself, who is succeeding in life and who is positive.”
For nearly three decades, Harlem United has changed lives by helping marginalized communities comprised of individuals like Yonce to improve their health and well-being through compassionate, client-centered care. From the affiliations roots, planted in the basement of a church in Harlem at the height of the AIDS crisis, they’ve grown into a full-fledged, community-based healthcare and housing provider. Across the decades, their founding ethic has remained the same and it is the same one stated by Yonce: Harlem United is a family, and no matter what – they are there to help.
“I am afraid that they will cut Medicaid dramatically and this will have a trickle down effect for people living with HIV,” shares Yonce about anti-Obamacare policies that threaten to take away life-saving medications, including her hormones, which help to establish her self and also give her confidence in meeting society’s harsh, appearance-based criticisms. “As far as the HIV medicine is concerned we have to stay on our medication. We can’t go on and go off and go on. We need them to stay alive. ”
Acutely aware of proper adherence to taking her medication as prescribed, Yonce brings up one of the most critical obstacles in this tedious effort—stable, safe and affordable housing. “It’s been very hard [for me] to find housing. I have been looking for housing for two years. When Trump cuts housing funding it’s back to the homeless shelter for me, where I was stabbed in my neck. And that opened my eyes to how the world views me and if I have to go back to that it will put me back into that space where I shut down as a person. Because it makes me think that nobody cares about me.”
“The majority of our clients including Yonce are on Medicaid or some form of public health insurance,” interjects Jason Cianciotto, Harlem United’s Vice President of Policy, Advocacy, & Communications. “If part [or all] of the Affordable Care Act is repealed and Medicaid funding amount is cut to pre-Medicaid expansion [allocations] then we know states like New York will lose billions of dollars in funding and I don’t know how this state would bridge that gap. Yonce mentioned her hormones: One of the many important [benefitting] changes in the Affordable Care Act is that it allows transgender people the opportunity to access their medical care without being discriminated against and so a shift to those provisions or having them repealed would put clients like Yonce or our clients who are gay, lesbian or bisexual, who are also protected, at much higher risk.”
“Lets be clear!” Jason reassures. “Harlem United is going to fight to make sure that everybody who needs housing has housing whether they’re clients in our own 700 housing units or those who are receiving support for housing they already have through other ways. We feel fortunate to live in a place like New York City where everyone from the Governor to the Mayor have said that they are not going to let the Trump Administration hurt the people in this city.” He continues, “Places like New York City during the Trump Administration are going to be safe havens for people like Yonce and others and we are committed to that.”
Harlem United’s campaign is on its website, linked below, and everyone is encouraged to share their own messages via a submission form. Harlem United plans to share them directly with the Trump Administration, as well as publishing them on their website and social media platforms.
For more information log on to: www.harlemunited.org
To join in with Harlem United and post your own “Dear Donald Trump: Are You Listening?” submission, log on to: https://www.harlemunited.org/deartrump/