Published originally on Vogaye Houston.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri Espeut.

Hi Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself
I am the oldest child of two parents in the army (and as a result, I moved around a bit). I was born in Wurtzburg, Germany, and have lived in Newport News, VA, and St. Louis, MO, although I consider Los Angeles, CA my home.

My background is in fashion. It was in L.A. that I received my degree in fashion design, and I worked for big brands such as Baby Phat and American Apparel. While working within these apparel companies, most times at a management or senior level, I quickly saw the lack of diversity. I was often the only black woman, especially black woman of trans experience at the level. After consistently hitting a glass ceiling, I decided to leave the apparel industry full-time to pursue a career that was affirming, liberating, and gave opportunities to express myself both professionally, personally, and creatively. This led me ultimately to community-based, non-profit work.

I have always been the type of person who created opportunity for visibility and representation for no other reason than necessity. I never saw myself represented and so I was always determined to make a way for myself.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
While my journey has afforded me opportunities often not given to black trans Women (around education, employment, and overall lifestyle), my journey has had some bumps in the road. I have faced job discrimination surrounding my identity many times. Leaving L.A. and moving to the South, I quickly saw how there was so much transphobia and misogynoir towards black trans women. Living in the South means constantly having to navigate my safety in both intimate and social settings, as well as challenging the harmful stereotypes people have had for black trans women, especially within our queer communities (which has perhaps been the biggest challenge of all).

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I work with The Normal Anomaly Initiative, which is a Houston community-based non-profit organization that works with the most marginalized communities that exist at the intersection of black, queer, and plus (black queer/trans, persons living with HIV). Our goal is to create a new norm, that uplifts those marginalized communities towards liberation.

I am over the ansulary programming with the Normal Anomaly, which includes our P.O.W.R. (Positives Organizing Wellness and Resilience) program for persons living with HIV, our Trans Ally Collective (our collective of Houston based LGBT organizations aimed at offering support for black trans women), and our upcoming Project Liberate.

I am proud of the work that the Normal Anomaly has accomplished in the little time that our BQ Plus Center for Liberation (Houston’s only Black queer physical space and community center). Aside from offering services and engaging with the community, we are showing and providing a different type of representation amongst the community. As a black trans women in leadership, it is important for me to provide not only visibility, but just a different type of representation, that is oftentimes not seen (both within and outside of the queer community).

What makes you happy?
For me, happiness is in being creative; being artistic. Dressing how I want, and defining my own self and identity. Happiness is liberation and the freedom of living outside any box I am attempting be set in.

Happiness is knowing that I am truly the creator of my own destiny and that I am capable of things outside of the stereotype. Happiness can come doing various things; through my own personal liberation, I can find happiness in various aspects of my life.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Chester Paul Roberts