How a Black, Trans-Led LGBTQ Center in Chicago Heals Its Community & Its Founder

Brave Space Alliance is the first LGBTQ resource center on the Chicago's Southside that's both Black and transgender-led

Pride month shines a spotlight on the people and organizations working to serve the LGBTQ+ community. But those groups are doing this important work every day of the year.

We're talking about places like Brave Space Alliance.

It's the first LGBTQ resource center on Chicago's Southside that's both Black and transgender-led.

BSA is open every weekday and provides services like a crisis pantry program, support groups, HIV testing, gender-affirming clothing and accessories, as well as free locker storage for community members who may be houseless.

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In addition, the center serves as a hub for local and community organizing and advocacy work.

I sat down with Brave Space Alliance Founder LaSaia Wade to learn more.

Jalyn: Brave Space Alliance is the first of its kind on the city's Southside. How'd it come to be?

LaSaia Wade: Brave Space came out of a thought around a march that happened for Black trans women who were killed on the Southside of Chicago five years ago. There wasn't a big outcry or a push with other organizations or collectives to really ask why or what's going to happen or what's being done for our community. And I was like, "I should create an organization on the same structural level, but in our community, to work in parallel with collectives that are on the ground." So that's why we're here today. BSA is an organization that holds other big organizations accountable to the work that they do, but also hold their connections and liberatory actions to the groundwork that connect us to Chicago as well.

Jalyn: Why is it important for BSA to be both a Black and trans-led organization?

LaSaia Wade: We are a "for us, by us" type of organization and understand that Black and brown bodies can speak for Black and brown bodies. Being Black-led brings in a different aspect of "I see myself in that position. I see myself in that role. That can be me," instead of the thought process, "I'm going to always still be a survival mode." It is imperative that when we look at the aspects of who's in leadership, we are fixing the narrative or connecting to the narrative of the people that they're serving. That's why we are different. That's why it's important to say that we are actually working for and with Black and brown people, transgender and non-conforming LGBT people on the south and west side of Chicago.

Jalyn: How important is it for transgender and gender non-conforming people to be visible in today's society?

LaSaia Wade: People are used to trans people being an entertainment piece and they aren't used to trans people actually just living and being beautiful within themselves. And I think people need to receive that — how beautiful they actually are, just by living. And if you are able to see that they're just trying to survive just like you are, then why are they a threat? I think society has deemed us as a threat because our bodies, trans and gender non-conforming people, are interconnections to liberation. If trans people are not liberated, no one will be liberated. So therefore, we're going to shove it down your throat because you can't get free without us. And if you think that you can, you really, really are mistaken.

Jalyn: What does doing this work mean to you?

LaSaia Wade: This work is scary. I'm 35 years old and years before I turned 30, it was like, we're not going to make it past 35. Like trans women don't make it past 35. If you make it to 35, you're lucky... Doing this work is not only stressful, it's sad. It's painful. But it is something that I would not change for the world. And the reason why I wouldn't is because I am not only helping my community thrive, I'm trying to thrive as well with them. So it's just not for them. It's for myself too.