Honouring Nizah Morris: Pioneering Black Trans Buddhist

TransBuddhists are honouring the life and passing of Nizah Morris, an African American Trans Buddhist who was killed in police custody. Her case is still being covered up until this day, but there’s movement:

Remembering Nizah Morris (1955 – December 24, 2002)

by transbuddhists

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Nizah Morris (1955-2002) was one of the United States’ leading African American transgender Buddhists. Among her teachers were the late Venerable Bhante Suhita Dharma, a senior Buddhist bhikkhu ordained by the late Venerable Thich Thien An. (Bhante was the first African American to become a Buddhist monk).

Throughout Nizah’s life she practiced many Buddhist traditions including Chan, Nichiren, Theravada, and Zen. She considered herself to be a ‘nondenominational Buddhist with Christian-roots.’ One of her most enduring sayings was, ‘What is the most loving thing to do?’

She was one of the co-founders of a Philadelphia-based LGBT nondenominational upāsaka/upāsikā Buddhist fellowship called AI. This fellowship began in the 1970s, and although it is now defunct, it may have been the world’s first and only multiracial upāsaka/upāsikā fellowship for gender non-conforming queer people of color. The fellowship was formed as a private safe haven for low-income queer and gender-variant Buddhists of color to skill-share, collectively meditate, and pool money to attend expensive retreats in the United States and abroad.

Nizah was also one of the elders in a now-defunct street outreach nonprofit organization called Genders Within that guided gender-variant sex workers and addicts in harm reduction. She volunteered extensively as a harm reductionist and HIV/AIDS prevention worker for organizations like Bebashi and Action AIDS (now Action Wellness).

On December 22, 2002, Nizah was attacked after being taken for a ‘courtesy ride’ home from a bar in a police cruiser. She never regained consciousness and died at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital two days later. Testimony from police regarding these events was markedly inconsistent, and the officer who gave the ride was found by the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission to have lied “blatantly and methodically” about the events leading up to Nizah’s death. Efforts to gain access to key facts about Nizah’s last days of life continue to this day.

TransBuddhists Online Hangout Thursday 12/22 at 3pm Eastern / noon Pacific

We will be holding a special online hangout on 12/22. The date is in commemoration of the day that Nizah Morris, one of the United States’ leading transgender Buddhists, was fatally attacked in 2002.

The vision and intention for this hangout is below, and the hangout will be facilitated by Joshua Goldberg, a transBuddhist community member whom you may recognize from previous online hangouts. The hangouts are open to trans or gender non-conforming people who have a connection with Buddhism.
You can RSVP at this link or by emailing info@transbuddhists.org.

Intentions for 12/22 Hangout

December is a time where in many cultures people come together to celebrate resilience, the turning of seasons and the beauty of winter (in northern climates)/summer (in southern climates), and the power of the dark (for those in northern climates). In Buddhist traditions December is the month of celebrating Bodhi Day / Rōhatsu, Sanghamitta Day, and, in some years, Laba.

This is also a very hard time of year for many trans, non-binary and gender-creative people, as there are many injustices that are heightened at this time of year such as:

  • Indigenous people, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other people living in white supremacist countries, who are struggling under the ethnocentric onslaught of assumptions of universal Christmas and the denial of Christianity’s role in genocides and colonization;
  • people with seasonal affective disorder who live in northern climates and who are suffering from a capitalist structure that keeps people from getting needed exposure to sunlight and as a result experience more intense depression this time of year;
  • people with mobility disabilities who are affected by failure to ensure that walkways are clear of snow and ice creating more isolation and precarity in navigating transportation;
  • people living in poverty who are affected by the rampant consumer pressures that are especially prevalent this time of year, and potentially living in unheated, moldy, unsafe housing (especially hard during winter);
  • people of colour who live in white supremacist countries and are at this time of year subjected to racist bullshit about “return of the light” and other vaunting of lightness over darkness;
  • all the focus on family connectedness during holidays and the complicatedness of that for many people, including people who were in the foster care system, people who were adopted, people who experienced violence,
  • people whose loved ones have died or are otherwise going through grief/loss, and acknowledging especially trans and queer people who may be estranged from families or have experienced transphobic/homophobic violence from families;
  • those grieving the recent deaths of trans people killed in the recent Oakland fire, including Cash Askew, Feral Pines, and Em B, as well as those grieving December anniversaries of deaths of transcestors and SOFFAs (significant others, families, friends, and allies) who died from violence — recognizing the particular impact of violence on trans women and transfeminine people of colour — including but not limited to those mourning:
  • Betty Skinner, Brandon Teena, Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis, Dee Dee Pierson, Deshawnda Sanchez, Leelah Alcorn, Lisa Lambert, Nizah Morris, Phillip DeVine, and Venus Xtravaganza /// #SayTheirNames

This TransBuddhist video get-together is a chance for us to come together to support each other and bear witness to the suffering and resilience of this year and this time of year. We hope you’ll join us.

RSVP here or to info@transbuddhists.org.

Would you like to lead a transBuddhists online hangout? Get in touch at info@transbuddhists.org.

A note on time: Our sangha now spans three continents, and it’s hard to find a time that works for everyone – if this time doesn’t work for you, we will be having other hangouts at other times. You could also volunteer to lead one at a time that is convenient for you.

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