Devinity has been coming to The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland for over seven years. Her attendance at The Center started when we were located across the street from our current location, in “the basement”. She remembers much of her early years at The Center came with some adversity. “It’s always been considered a lowercase ‘t’ instead of a capital “T” when putting all the letters together,” Devinity told us.
Devinity recalled the moment it felt like her opportunities at The Center were beginning to change. “I was actually in the kitchen” She began, “cooking for the youth program and she came in there.” The person Devinity referenced was Executive Director Phyllis “Seven” Harris. Devinity had just graduated from culinary school at the time, and she was utilizing her abilities to serve our community. This was the first time Devinity saw a need at The Center and found a way to act on the need. First, with a simple home cooked meal and soon, with Trans* Wellness.
Not long after Devinity’s first couple interactions with Phyllis, she was offered a position as a Public Opinion Leader, a program which The Center still runs to this day. Devinity quickly realized, “[The Center] is a pertinent place to be, because [Phyllis] gave me a chance when no one else did.”
Not long after her time in the Public Opinion Leader program, Devinity began to see a new opportunity—an opportunity to highlight the “T” in LGBT. Devinity recalled that it was a community member that first sparked her interest in creating Trans* Wellness, a core program of The Center that affords an opportunity for transgender and non-binary individuals to discuss different aspects of individual journeys, share resources, celebrate success, and support challenges in a group setting.
In early 2019, Devinity received an inquiry from an organization in New York, with interest in bringing her onboard to create a program for the Transgender community. “…The recognition and the fact that they wanted me to come there, I felt more empowered to do something here in Cleveland.” There wasn’t much funding for the programming in its beginning days, but that didn’t stop Devinity. “I don’t care that there is no money—there needs to be a program for our trans people. I feel my goal was to show that there is a need for this program at The Center. The community is large, and the community needs our help,” Devinity told us. With the help and support of Phyllis and the staff of The Center, on March 30th 2019, Trans* Wellness met for the first time.
For Devinity, Trans* Wellness was a tool not only for her and our community, but even for those outside of The Center. “It was empowering to me…[other organizations] knew my name and they wanted me, but I realized I had an opportunity to show them I wasn’t the only one.” Trans* Wellness afforded Devinity a platform to show other organizations that there are other trans people.
More importantly, Trans* Wellness was finally giving a marginalized portion of the LGBTQ+ community a safe space. “Normally, trans people are coming out to do somebody’s makeup, decorate something, or sex [work]. After those things…then they go back into the closet.” Trans people all over the greater Cleveland area began coming to The Center and truly find a sense of community. Participants of the program could come to cope with the hardships of their pasts together while also begin building a stronger sense of community together.
Now in 2023, Devinity has taken up a new role at The Center, Trans Activist and Prevention Education Coordinator - or TAPE Coordinator for short. In this new role, Devinity is able to help the Transgender community to find housing, apply for name changes, obtain IDs and birth certificates, and even apply for SNAP.
While transitioning into her new role, Devinity sat down with Phyllis for a conversation. “It’s funny,” Devinity began, “When I came up with the new name for my title, It was accidental that it was an acronym for TAPE.” Phyllis ended up pointing this out to her, because of the large impact that tape has in the trans community, “…TAPE was the perfect name.”
As Devinity looks to the future of her role at The Center and the future of the Trans* Wellness program, she recalls the journey that brought her here. “Just seeing people believe in you when half the time I didn’t believe in myself—it’s new fuel.” Devinity’s story continues to inspire and fuels the Pride we have for all the work we do here at The Center.