TJLP is a group of radical activists, social workers, and organizers who provide support, advocacy, and free, holistic criminal legal services to poor and street-based transgender people in Illinois. We are deeply committed to:
the right to gender self-determination.
commitment to a long-term goal of prison abolition.
dedication to resisting state-sponsored systems of control through transformative justice and community empowerment models.
These core values guide every aspect of our work, from which cases we take, to choosing which legislative efforts to support and which community groups to be closely allied with.
Prison abolition is a movement to create lasting alternatives to punishment-based institutions such as prisons, jails, juvenile, immigrant, and military detention centers. Prison abolition exposes the racism and institutionalized oppression inherent to the prison system and challenges the ideological “need” for prisons, meaning that we do not believe prisons and police make our all of our communities safer as they proclaim to do. Instead of consenting to this false and fear-based need for prisons, we as abolitionists invest our energy in community empowerment, community- led education, radical activism, transformative justice and liberation as necessary alternatives to the prison system. Our goal is to eliminate the root causes of inequality, violence, and oppression in our communities so that prisons become obsolete.
Not only does the criminal legal system fail at making our communities safer – particularly for gender non-conforming people, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, and poor people – but as abolitionists we see a historical link between slavery, systems of domination and control, and the U.S. prison system. The prison industrial complex and community policing justifies and reproduces racism while preventing radical organizing among those most directly effected.
Because all State institutions are inherently oppressive and connected to systems of criminalization and domination – including social welfare – we see direct legal services not as a solution but as a form of harm reduction. As a client-centered organization, we focus on meeting the needs of our clients as a priority over broad policy or reform work. We build long-term relationships and investments in our clients, and meet our them where they are at with flexibility in our structure and priorities. In this way we prioritize those left out of these models (ie: reject trickle-down policy change) including folks of color, poor people, criminalized people, folks with mental and physical disabilities, young people, folks living with HIV, undocumented immigrants, and people working in street economies.
We prioritize the needs of criminalized transgender people because we believe that transphobia is inherent in almost all legal and social services available in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois, especially the criminal legal system itself. In our work we consistently see the ways in which complex legal, medical, social and state systems restrict self-determination and gender expression, and privilege some genders over others. Self-determination refers to the right of individuals and communities to have full power over our own lives. Gender self- determination means having control over our own gender identities, free from limitation. Gender self-determination necessarily includes access to and control over healthcare, holistic mental and emotional support, fashion and self-expression, gender-affirming housing, education, bathrooms, and social services, freedom from violence, harassment, and incarceration, and all the tools we need to be fabulous, empowered and safe in how we live in our genders.
According to the group generationFIVE, Transformative Justice is: “liberation from violence through a process that would confront state and systemic violence for individual and social justice.” Through community-based movements, Transformative Justice seeks to resist state- run responses to violence (such as the police state and systems of punishment, detention, and incarceration) and instead promotes support, compassion, dialogue and community building. In this way, reliance on violent and oppressive State level systems is transformed and replaced with community empowerment.
Using our three core values to guide us through decision-making reflects our dedication to honoring our process toward our long-term goals, rather than focusing solely on the short-term products of our activism and legal work. Because we are committed to prioritizing our process, we strive to develop our collective knowledge while educating one another, celebrate the resilience of criminalized people, honor their activism and resistance, and build leadership among those most affected by the prison industrial complex. In order to remain accountable to the communities we work with, we constantly recognize, acknowledge and confront our privileges, while embracing criticism.
Further, we want to challenge mainstream models of activism, reform, and funding by making our lives and this project sustainable by both cherishing individual self-care and intentionally growing our project only when growth is best for us, not because it’s what we’re expected to do by outside forces. In this way we aim to resist the assimilation into State systems and policies as an organizing strategy, while practicing harm-reduction with those who are forced or coerced into navigating these systems in order to survive.