By: Sonam Choedon, Director of Community and Member Engagement
November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual observance that honors the memories of transgender people whose lives were cut short by anti-trans violence. Since it began in 1999, TDOR has since become an important commemoration of trans lives and the belief in justice for all, regardless of gender identity. At Hot Bread Kitchen, we try to honor the legacy of TDOR by welcoming people of all genders in our programs and building a community that celebrates each and every member. This Trans Day of Remembrance, our Director of Member Engagement, Sonam Choedon, reflects on how Hot Bread Kitchen works to support and uplift trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive members, today and every day.
Trans and non-binary people have always existed, and have always been a part of our programs. While Hot Bread Kitchen has always included trans and gender non-conforming people, our language and practices weren’t as intentional or inclusive as they could be. Back in 2020, we started having conversations about how we could be more intersectional in our work, including aspects of programming and our external language. Reflecting on our mission, it became clear that anyone who has been marginalized because of their gender should be able to access our programs. We decided to expand our eligibility requirements to explicitly include people who are nonbinary or gender expansive because it’s core to our mission. And, people who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to experience homelessness or joblessness. Hot Bread Kitchen is here to give folks who aren’t receiving equal opportunities the chance to participate in a program that could transform their lives and put them on a path to economic mobility. As a result of that change, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of non-binary and gender-expansive people enrolling in our programs.
Tangible steps to inclusion
When we first started taking more deliberate steps to include trans and nonbinary members, it was new for many of us to explicitly and intentionally share our gender pronouns (which staff shares in our email signatures, and notably on name tags during culinary training.) It also reflected a larger shift for our staff and organization to recognize that gender goes beyond the binary. People often ask how members who are immigrants or who don’t speak English as a first language are interpreting the use of pronouns. It’s been nice to see that community is community no matter what gender looks like. We know that we are all going to make mistakes, because none of us is perfect. But that’s why we have to be sure to catch ourselves, correct each other, and make sure we are always cognizant of the effort to be respectful rather than the ways we fall short.
On the first day of culinary training, we talk about gender, the difference between gender identity and sexuality, and what it means to be part of a community here. We make clear that everyone who participates in our programs deserves respect, to be treated fairly, and to be free from harassment not just at Hot Bread Kitchen, but at work, too. We emphasize that when you go off into the working world you might work with people from all different backgrounds, and a workplace is somewhere everyone deserves to feel safe to be their full selves. Beyond the first day, the conversation about gender and inclusion is ongoing.
That’s always been key to how we approach the topic of gender here at Hot Bread Kitchen: leading with compassion and kindness, and not with judgment for making mistakes along the way. And it’s going to be a bumpy road along the way, there’s not going to be a linear path to the level of inclusivity and celebration of all genders we hope to see; we understand that. But as long as we are making efforts to be inclusive of everyone, that goes a long way to making our space more accessible. In a world where people like to be divisive and gender can be used as a weapon, everyone who comes to Hot Bread Kitchen goes through the same program, develops the same skills, and has access to the same opportunities.
“When I worked at Covenant House, I saw firsthand that providing a safe space for trans youth doesn’t just change lives, it saves lives. Being deliberate about creating inclusive spaces, where everyone is respected and uplifted, is a priority at Hot Bread Kitchen. Everyone deserves the same access to opportunity, safety, and a good life—no matter their gender, no matter what.”—Leslie Abbey, Hot Bread Kitchen CEO
These resources range from legal aid, community centers, and healthcare services, but all share the goal of keeping the trans community safe.
- Audre Lorde Project
- Bklyn Boihood
- Bronx LGBT center (Destination Tomorrow)
- Queens LGBT center
- Brooklyn Community Pride Center
- Pride Center of Staten Island
Hot Bread Kitchen Members Discuss Queer Identity In The Culinary Industry
Last June, we hosted a roundtable conversation of queer Hot Bread Kitchen members, where they reflected on their individual experiences being queer in their personal and professional lives. Check out their conversation to learn more!