The House, which launched in 2019, honors the memory of Black trans women Muhlaysia Booker, Chynal Lindsey and Merci Mack.
Last year, Lyric Thomas was living on the streets and addicted to drugs. When she was ready to change her life, she heard about a place that could make it happen.
The House of Rebirth is a resource center for transgender women in North Texas. Several women can live in the Dallas home at one time, and the organization provides the community at large with information about how to access health care, change their name and gender on identification documents and more.
“The vision was to play a big part,” said one of the House’s co-founders, Robyn “Pocahontas” Crowe. “The most important thing was to create a safe habitat for trans women to go and feel safe and not have to deal with stigma.”
Thomas, who moved into the House after completing a drug program at the Nexus Recovery Center in Dallas in February, said she found the “family” atmosphere — with a group of other women and one of their dogs, Prince — that she sought to help pull her out of a negative pattern.
The familial vibe is reflected during Sunday dinners, where the women gather at the dining room table in front of photos of Black trans icons, such as Monica Roberts, journalist and founder of the blog TransGriot.
Before her death in October, Roberts had drawn attention to the rising number of murders of Black trans women in her native Houston and across the country, statistics that motivated the founders to start the House of Rebirth.
“Every year there’s a new name,” said Niecee X, another co-founder of the House.
The Human Rights Campaign has documented more than 200 transgender and gender nonconforming people who have been victims of fatal violence since 2013, 18 of them in Texas. The most recent death in Texas occurred in November, when Asia Foster, 22, was killed in Houston.
The founders started the House of Rebirth in 2019 after the deaths of Muhlaysia Booker and Chynal Lindsey, two Black transgender women who were killed in Dallas less than a month apart. Crowe considered Booker her granddaughter, though they were not related by blood.
Merci Richey, who was killed in Dallas last June, was the same age as Booker — 22 years old. The women inspired a part of the house that Thomas said she visits frequently: the garage.
Crowe and Niecee X converted it into a giant closet, where shelves of clothing and shoes, as well as hygiene products, wigs and undergarments are bathed in a pink light in front of a sign that reads, “The Muhlaysia and Merci Community Closet.”
“Sometimes we have residents who come into the house who don’t have anything but a few garments,” Niecee X said, adding that the closet is a chance for them to express who they are, figure out their style and present themselves in their best light.
“We need to not only be able to provide them shelter,” Crowe said. “We also need to be able to provide them with the things they need to go on interviews and go to school.”
When they started plans for the House, the founders also discussed how there were few resources specific to the transgender community, let alone the Black transgender community.
Crowe said people most often need help with education and funding. And without insurance or a full-time job, it’s hard to access health care, she said.
They partnered with The Afiya Center, an Oak Cliff-based organization whose work is centered around the sexual and reproductive health and advocacy of Black women. Executive director Marsha Jones said the partnership entails providing a safe space for people to grow.
“We want to make sure that our intent causes no harm,” she said. “We’ve been working very hard and highlighting violence against Black trans women.”
The center has also provided financial support, part of which helped ensure the “trans experience” was visible during the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer.
“Truly, our whole community suffers when it’s not integrated, we’re not fully dealing with the needs of everybody at the table,” Niecee X said. “When we say Black lives matter, we don’t mean all Black lives matter, and we really need all Black lives to matter in order for us to meet success.”
Jones said she follows the House of Rebirth’s lead when it comes to programming, including Living Out Loud: With a Purpose. The project aims to end the stigma surrounding HIV and give Black cisgender and transgender women the skills to advocate for a seat at the table when determining policies that fund or deliver women’s services.
A number of bills in the Texas Legislature this session, which ends May 31, would have an impact on transgender health care. A bill the Senate passed Tuesday would revoke the licenses of physicians and others who provide or prescribe gender-affirming care to Texans under the age of 18. Another would consider the care child abuse, and a third would put parents at risk of CPS removing their children if they allow them to access the health care.
The House of Rebirth has referred transgender community members to Prism Health North Texas, a Dallas-based clinic where the staff is familiar with issues of accessibility.
“The trans community is often forgotten and ostracized when it comes to health care,” said Amy Barrier, a family nurse practitioner who specializes in hormone replacement therapy. “There’s just not that many resources for them, unfortunately.”
Bre Chess, a House of Rebirth board member, said that’s changing with the efforts of Niecee X and Crowe, who “takes the cake” with her efforts to help the trans community and by welcoming ideas about how to operate the house. Chess said residents of the house also participate in therapy sessions and do karaoke.
“We do a lot of things with them to make them feel like you can live this type of life outside of the House of Rebirth,” she said. “You know you can if you strive, if you work hard, if you put forth the effort, you can do things.”