Self-Defense clinics, by and for transgender folks

By Ivy Gibson-Hill, LGBTQ Rights Toolkit Coordinator


Last Friday night I was in Charlotte setting up for a Protect Yourself clinic in a big open room when in walked the most adorable chocolate lab named John Chandler. He was helping a woman named Franchaska get to her seat like he always does, because she is visually impaired. Led by and for transgender folks, our Protect Yourself clinics feature a self-defense class, personal safety planning, training in using pepper spray and safety apps, and HIV testing and counseling. These clinics respond to the daily reality trans people face – of harassment, threats and, too often, physical violence. So far this year, at least nine transgender women of color have been murdered in the United States, four of whom lived in the South.

A week before the Charlotte clinic, Franchaska had called to ask whether the clinic was a fit for her. She described how, every night when she walked John Chandler in her neighborhood, she was getting cat called and strangers were yelling at her. It left her scared and looking for resources to feel safer in her neighborhood. My co-worker Fletcher talked to her about the schedule of the clinic, and answered her questions. Franchaska said this was exactly what she needed and thanked us for putting it together. We’re doing these clinics all across the South right now and when people ask why, Franchaska and her dog stand out to me the most.

As a transgender woman who is visually impaired, Franchaska faces really specific safety situations. We talked through them and strategized about how she could feel and stay safe. As Fletcher and Lara Americo from the Freedom Center for Social Justice led the self-defense class, Fletcher worked one-on-one with Franchaska, placing his hands on top of hers so she could experience what it felt like to break loose from someone grabbing her wrist, or how to defend herself if someone was trying to choke her. I helped Franchaska with the pepper spray training – she familiarized her fingers with depressing the trigger, practiced using it in short bursts, and learned to aim high for the potential attackers eyes and forehead if they’re wearing glasses

“I appreciated this clinic so much,” Franchaska said afterwards. “Since the clinic, I have felt safer walking out of my house at night. It gave me a wealth of knowledge and the confidence in knowing that I am capable of protecting myself.”

Knowing how to get out of a grab, and having pepper spray on hand with training in how to use it could be the difference between life and death. Having resources on hand, and a plan of action in place in the event of an attack also supports physical and emotional well being. That’s exactly why we’re doing this – so Franchaska, and trans people across the South are equipped with tools for staying safe.

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