Pride Voices | Kendall Stephens
In honor of the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which set off the LGBTQ movement, we share stories from members of the Philadelphia LGBTQ+ community, who continue the movement through their advocacy, visibility and activism.
Kendall Stephens is a woman of trans experience, serving as Student Ambassador, Commencement Speaker and LGBTQ+ Club President for the Community College of Philadelphia. She’s spent the past decade as an advocate for the trans community.
In Kendall’s words:
When I found the confidence to come out in my truth, I was unlovingly thrown out into the street, and I had to fend for myself. I experienced employment and housing instability, food insecurity, and I experienced this for a very long time because it seemed as if every step I made toward living fully in my truth, there were people trying to snuff out my light. It was a hard journey for me. It was very difficult for me to endure these life events throughout my life that kept derailing me off the path of my purpose. The impetus that allowed me to break through that fog of confusion and that fog of shame was seeing someone living in their truth.
I was walking down 13th Street, which is also known affectionately as the Gayborhood, and for the first time, I’m seeing drag queens and trans women and trans men and non-binary people and a cornucopia of the LGBTQ experience all wrapped up in one city block. They embraced me. I happened to run into William Way. When I got to William Way, I was able to tap into some gender affirming resources that allowed me to traverse my identity in a very safe space. I was able to get my life back on track as well. I joined this transgender and non-conforming support group called Transway and before you knew it, I was co-facilitating that group. I was seeing leaders in the making. I was seeing people living their true selves out loud, that it awoke something in me that was asleep, that was dormant. I started to gravitate toward that energy because it was positive energy and it was authentic. Once I got into living my truth, there was no stopping me. There was no turning back because it felt so good. It felt right.
I made sure that I carved out spaces for people of the LGBTQ experience where none existed. That was very important to me because I wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to have their voice heard because their voice matters. When you don’t have these inclusive institutions in place where people feel that their voice can be magnified, then people feel disempowered. I am in the empowering business. And so far business is good. And business is good because people see an example that they wish to follow in me. When you are living in your truth as a trans person, or anyone LGBTQ, there is a target on your back. You are put at greater risk of harm, having your safety compromised. But we do it because we are looking out for those coming behind us. There are kids who are struggling with their identity that are just trying to figure it out. It is very important that they see bravery and someone living as an honest manifestation of their truth. When people see that, it encourages them to want to step out in their truth.
On her friendship with Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, who was tragically killed in Philadelphia earlier this month:
I connected with Rem’mie because her story was not unlike mine. I was someone who has to deal with employment discrimination, housing instability and food insecurity. After I told her my story, we came to realize that our stories paralleled with each other in so many ways, she got so inspired. Rem’mie was really fighting to do something with her life and get back in school. I was mentoring to Remi the importance of education. Slowly but surely, Rem’mie started to believe that she had the ability to go to college and become this fashion designer that she always wanted to be. She also wanted to be a model, and she expressed an interest in the opportunity of not only designing clothing but also wearing it herself and walking on runways in Paris at Fashion Week. Her skills were so amazing. Her artistry was breathtaking.
Rem’mie was a fighter. I want people to know that. Rem’mie was a fighter. She fought every day. She fought for herself. She fought for her community. She fought for her dignity. She fought for her respect. She did all of this and still lived in her visibility. That’s so very important. I want to use Rem’mie as a teaching lesson to people, that we cannot fall victim anymore to the ills of life. We can’t fall victim anymore to people assigning to us a narrative that’s not befitting to us, that does not honor us. We will not do it anymore. We will carve out our own narrative. We will create our own narratives.
We will not forget the names of our trans brothers and sisters who have fallen. I want to make sure that I honor her name every chance that I get. I want people to never forget her story. It’s not about her death. It’s about her life, about how she lived her life, how she was full of life. I want her life to be an example to others that it is very important to brave our obstacles, that we brave our adversities of life. It is our birthright to have the freedoms that the majority has. It is very important that we let people know that we’re not going to sit down and take whatever society wants to give us. We’re going to have our freedoms, the little freedoms that we do have, stripped from us. We’re going to keep fighting because we have no other choice.
Click the links below to read additional installments in our Pride Voices series.