This month’s dinner featured writing letters to Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a 37-year-old transgender woman who is currently being held in a men’s prison in Harnett County. She was placed into solitary confinement on March 2.
Tiz Giordano, who is on the organizer teams for the center and for Zayre-Brown, addressed why the center was holding the letter-writing event before the dinner officially started.
“As you can imagine, being stuck in a tiny white cell for 23 hours a day is not great for someone’s mental health, and we want to show her that we’re here for her and support her," Giordano said. "Her husband has let us know that these letters are really helping her.”
He said not only being in the wrong place must feel terrible, but there are also safety concerns of being in a men’s prison as a woman.
“It’s horrifying on a really, really deep level,” Pittman said.
Giordano said moving Zayre-Brown into solitary confinement was “a retaliatory action” after she began advocating for herself and gaining support from people from different organizations, such as the ACLU.
Christy Croft, another organizer, said the North Carolina ACLU has drafted a letter to request Zayre-Brown’s transfer, and if the state does not respond by April 1, they promise to respond with legal action.
In the letter, the ACLU requested that Zayre-Brown be moved to a facility for women, provided access to a private shower and be given all medically necessary treatment for her gender dysphoria.
“The issue hasn’t stopped, this isn’t a sprint,” Croft said. “... It’s a marathon, so what we’re needing is to find ways to keep it in the media, keep the momentum.”
Sergio Jimenez, an attendee of the dinner, said past events were more celebration-based like Halloween party and costume contest, and that the Queer Family Dinner is a safe place for queer people to build an “interwoven” community.
Jimenez also believes receiving letters from outside the prison can be helpful for Zayre-Brown.
“I think writing letters is especially important for someone in solitary who is not getting support from any person that they’re in contact with,” he said. “So to have information, like people care about you and are supporting you on the outside is really important.”
Bess Sadler, who made vegan pumpkin curry and brown rice for the dinner, said she hopes the event will bring attention to Zayre-Brown’s cause.
“I have a family, and growing up, all the messages I was getting were that you could not be queer and have a family,” she said. “So I think it’s wonderful, now that I’m an adult, to see things like Queer Family Dinner.”
She also said seeing young people at the dinner reminded her that she didn’t think she could have a family when she was at that point in her life, but now she feels as though she can bring her 3-year-old daughter.
“It would’ve meant the world to me to see queer people running around with their toddlers,” she said. “So from that perspective, it feels really healing.”