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justice in my town - old guard

Meet the burlesque group teaming up with a local activist to support Black transgender lives

In a temporarily closed vintage store on one of Savannah’s busiest streets, Anita Narcisse leads her burlesque team in rehearsal for their upcoming revue, “Black Movement Matters.” 

Known as The Savannah Sweet Tease, the burlesque team raised funds for Transgender Empowerment and Education, more frequently referred to as TEE, the only Savannah nonprofit organization focused on uplifting the Black queer and transgender community. 

“The trans voices are not being heard or recognized,” TEE founder and CEO Evonia Pollard said. “[Transgenders] are only heard when people need federal grant money but don’t help the transgender community.” 

Left to right: Megan Hewitt, Chrush Jalen, Anita Narcisse, and Peterson Worrell have raise over $500 for the Transgender Empowerment and Education ran by trans woman Evonia Pollard to help the black trans community in Savannah.
Left to right: Megan Hewitt, Chrush Jalen, Anita Narcisse, and Peterson Worrell have raise over $500 for the Transgender Empowerment and Education ran by trans woman Evonia Pollard to help the black trans community in Savannah.
Adriana Iris Boatwirght/For Savannah Morning News

Pollard, a transgender woman, has lived in Savannah 40 years and established TEE almost nine years ago. Now 53, she began transitioning at 26 years old. 

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“The government put it out that it is okay to disrespect people who are transgender in how they talk about us and how the President has tried to limit transgender rights in the military and other legislation,” Pollard said. “We not only have to worry about not being white but also have to worry about some people not believing we should have rights.” 

'It’s important that we support our most marginalized people in the community.'

According to a recent article in the New York Times, a report from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 22 percent of transgender people who interacted with the police reported harassment. For black trans people, and especially sex workers, the number was higher. 

The same report found that black transgender people reported much higher rates of biased harassment at 38 percent and assault at 15 percent. 

Co-founder of the Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue Anita Narcisse has held practices for the ’Black Movement Matters’ revue at Civvies in downtown Savannah.
Co-founder of the Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue Anita Narcisse has held practices for the ’Black Movement Matters’ revue at Civvies in downtown Savannah.
Adriana Iris Boatwirght/For Savannah Morning News

“It’s important that we support our most marginalized people in the community, and Black trans and queer people are those people,” Narcisse said. 

It’s the reason Pollard launched TEE. The organization has created support groups for the trans community. Additionally, it offers support for families, speaking to parents and guardians of young people transitioning. It is also there to help people through the transition process.  

Having additional financial and emotional support from the community at-large is also critical. That’s where Narcisse comes in.  

Black performers helping a Black organization

Narcisse, also known as Rita D’Lavigne on stage, is the co-founder and executive producer of the Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue. An often-outspoken voice for racial and sexual equality, Narcisse also started a petition to get rid of the confederate monuments in Savannah’s Forsyth Park. 

She said they decided to make this an all-Black revue due to the minimal visibility of Black burlesque performers. 

“I definitely wanted to put together a group of all Black performers, helping a Black organization,” Narcisse said. “I knew I wanted our next show to be all Black because we’re in a huge wave of a civil rights movement."

Activist talks about burlesque, reaching Black LGBTQ communities
Known as The Savannah Sweet Tease, the burlesque team raised funds for Transgender Empowerment and Education, the only Savannah nonprofit organization focused on uplifting the Black queer and transgender community.
Asha Gilbert, Savannah Morning News

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Narcisse thinks there should be more than one TEE, but with the pandemic and the economy not doing very well, “a lot of nonprofits do suffer.” 

“We’re more than happy to help them with any money we can raise from this show,” Narcisse said. 

Released digitally on July 24, “Black Movement Matters” has raised more than $500 for TEE and counting. 

“Who is the best one to help a trans starting out ... a trans,” Pollard said. “COVID has put us in a bind, and we are trying to take it one day at a time with the help we can get.” 


The team behind Justice in My Town - Old Guard

REPORTING: Douglas Clark Amarillo, Texas, Ray Criscoe Asheboro, NC, Hannah Winston Belle Glade, Fla., Chris Kenning Corbin, Ky., Mark Wilson Evansville, Ind., Gabriel Monte Lubbock, Texas, Safiya Charles Montgomery, Ala., Asha Gilbert Savannah, Ga., H. Rose Schneider Utica, N.Y., Scott Nunn Wilmington, N.C.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY: Scott Pelkey Asheboro, N.C., Allen Eyestone Belle Glade, Fla., Joseph Forzano Belle Glade, FL, Sam Upshaw Corbin, Ky., Mike Lawrence Evansville, Ind., Mickey Welsh Montgomery, Ala., Steve Bisson Savannah, Ga., Adriana Iris Boatwright Savannah, Ga., Asha Gilbert Savannah, Ga., Alex Cooper Utica, N.Y., Matt Born Wilmington, N.C.

EDITORS: Rana L. Cash, Jill Nevels-Haun, Kristina Wood 

DIGITAL PRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Spencer Holladay, Diane Pantaleo, Elizabeth Milano, Cole Johnson

SOCIAL MEDIA, ENGAGEMENT AND PROMOTION: Sarah Robinson, Ana Hurler, Melanie Balakit, Courtney Sebasta