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ROM OUTSIDE, the SisTers

PGH community center in Squirrel Hill appears fairly mundane: a typical storefront office flanked by a beauty salon and a tiny bridge. Looking through the large window, a table piled high with box lunches is visible. But while they appear normal enough, the lunches serve an important purpose — they’re for anyone who stops in and needs to eat. And while from the sidewalk this building seems commonplace, from the inside, what happens here — and the woman who makes it happen, is exemplary.

centering of trans people and establishing environments that are not only safe and welcoming, but dedicated. “We need a place where we can be us, where our tones aren’t policed, and we can sit within community,” Thomas says from a small desk covered with Post-its, laptops, notes, and work. This location is a beginning, in terms of brick and mortar. But while the street front is new — the center’s grand opening was held at the end of March of this year, the organization has been extant for eight years. Thomas says she was inspired to open SisTers PGH because of her own

selling our bodies to these old white men and not even making enough money to do anything?” So, she took action. She went to rehab, got clean, and began a plan to create support and resources for other trans women. Eight years later, she’s sitting in an office where food is plenty, waiting for people in need to come inside and be fed. She also offers clothing, a rest, a place to escape. THOMAS’ JOURNEY includes numerous

side trips that helped her learn how to navigate the structures of LGBTQ activism in Pittsburgh. Following her

“WE NEED A PLACE WHERE WE CAN BE US, WHERE OUR TONES AREN’T POLICED, AND WE CAN SIT WITHIN COMMUNITY.” SisTers PGH is the brainchild of Ciora Thomas: activist, trailblazer, former sex worker, and trans woman on a mission to create safe and welcoming spaces for fellow trans people and fellow people of color, in a city where she herself has often felt unsafe and unwelcome. The organization focuses on advocacy, housing, and visibility, along with the

experiences. As a sex worker without a home, she used to sometimes sleep at Point State Park, alongside other women in similar circumstances. As brief as these rests were, one time she slept for too long and was robbed. “I could have damn well whooped asses, but I sat there and cried,” says Thomas. “Why the fuck do we have to keep going through this? Why are we out here

time in rehab, Thomas worked on a public access television show addressing the Black trans narrative in Pittsburgh. But she says that experience still had many issues. “I found myself being tokenized to the extreme within organizations who would try to get me to go everywhere for free, do everything for free,” says Thomas. “After a while, it started to CONTINUES ON PG. 8



Profile for Pittsburgh City Paper

June 5, 2019 - Pittsburgh City Paper  

Pittsburgh's leading arts and entertainment newsweekly, focusing on Pittsburgh's PRIDE.

June 5, 2019 - Pittsburgh City Paper  

Pittsburgh's leading arts and entertainment newsweekly, focusing on Pittsburgh's PRIDE.