Do The Right Thing /do͞o T͟Hə rīt THiNG/ phrase. – the title of a 1989 American comedy-drama film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee. The story explores a Brooklyn neighborhood’s simmering racial tension, which culminates in violence and a death on a hot summer day.
My name is Korea Gleason-Kelly…I’m a Black trans woman….I am 41 years of age….I’m a Libra. I’m married to my husband of seven years, we’ve been together for 10 years, legally married seven. I’m the oldest sibling of four children from my mom and I have a total of 18 nieces and nephews.
Um, born and raised here in Kansas City, Missouri. It’s home. It’s where I grew up. I traveled and left and came back and left and came back. But Kansas City is always home. Since the age 15, I’ve been a part of my Black LGBT or my Black queer community here in Kansas City. Just really community at large period. The Black community in Kansas City, from age 13 and 14, helping out at the Juneteenth celebration, the youth round table — whatever they called it during that time when I was younger. To actually just really being a part of my community and finding out who I was as a person and growing up here in Kansas City.
Um, they always say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So to me it’s whatever a person senses beauty in. It could be beauty in the mind, beauty in the spirit, beauty in the soul, beauty in the presence of what you actually see physically. So it’s really what you as the beholder see beauty in.
Oh, I would define Black beauty as…Oh, beautiful. I just love the skin I am in. I am dark skin. I love it. I love my beauty. I love it. I love my beauty. We come in different shapes, colors, and creams. We blend from the darkest hue of Brown to the lightest hue of Brown. And to me, that is Black beauty.
When it comes to me, I interpret Black culture for the history, for the richness of going back to our ancestry and the stories that have been told and have been passed down. It is actually what helps build us, helps grow us as Black individuals and as Black Americans. It’s everything, anything I can think of, it’s my life. My world.
I’m very eclectic. So I love seeing, when I’m in public or driving or anything, if it’s myself or another Black man or woman that is just embracing their heritage with their style, culture, hair, and everything. It’s just different and it’s beautiful. When you see it it’s not like you frown or turn your nose up at it. You actually embrace it and you love it and you wonder, How can I match that fly? I want to figure out how to match his or her fly.
I was born here in Kansas City. Like I said, I’m 41 years of age. During the time of growing up, as stated before I’m a Black trans woman, but before becoming a Black trans woman I transitioned just being a Black young male and being who I am in myself growing up, as a Black young male, in this city. And during the time I grew up, it was either you danced, or are a part of drill team, or you’re part of gang activities. And a lot of us turned to drill team and things like that in order to not face the stereotypicalness of growing up Black in this city. So for me, turning to drill team actually turned into family. It was strengthening more than anything.
Well, first and foremost, I come from a very loving family, a very large family, that was very loving and understood at a young age and helped me hone my own identity personally. And from the blessings of the family that I grew up with, it helped me to slowly in life transition to exactly who I am today and become the beautiful trans Black woman that I am.
But there were of course trials and tribulations. As a young person growing and learning and identifying who you are yourself and growing up in the Black culture in the city… There are things that…you take your time, you go through a process, you fight… You fight battles are yours and sometimes battles are not yours, especially being Black. There’s lots of things we have stacked against us. Not only are we in the process of transition, but we’re Black, we’re gay, we’re poor…several things are stacked against us…income, housing, health care. A lot of different things.
So I think coming from the ‘90s into the 2000’s to where we are in 2020, I could say that myself, I have helped pave the way for Black trans women here in Kansas City. Yes, over the last 7 years we’ve had plenty that have been murdered back to back, but it’s also a challenge everyday that we face as Black trans women transitioning locally in this city.
I think we’ve all faced racism and discrimination both over color our skin or as being as being a trans woman, myself. I’m more of what you call a thicker skinned Black person. I’m a little mix of Malcolm and Martin mixed together. Black people we learned from years and years of generations past — sometimes we have to learn when to be able to turn our anger on and be able to turn our anger off. So yes, especially being a Black trans woman working in the hospitality industry and customer service, when you’re constantly in the forefront of restaurants or hotels or wherever it may be, where you’re in contact with the public and people, you’re going to face tons of discrimination. It’s up to yourself and how you handle those situations.
Family. I think having a deeper understanding of my family and my family understanding my lifestyle. What makes me happy is my family, first and foremost. Like I said, that’s the backbone of me. Without my family, there wouldn’t be a Korea, there wouldn’t be a person that can advocate for others who didn’t have the same things that she had.
I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot with just spreading the word of who people like me are, as a Black trans woman. Not just being trans or queer, being Black and who I am. So constantly just educating the community at large about who I am and what my people are, that’s an accomplishment to me. And continuing to do that and doing things like this interview is what pushes me to feel like I’m constantly accomplishing. So I can leave a legacy for the next person to be able to feel strong enough to be able to be at the forefront.
My personal dream or aspiration is to own my own business, fully. That I can truly give back to this community of Kansas City…as far as the Black queer community here in Kansas City. It is imperative that the people here, in this city, helps the Black queer community. And if I can do anything so that someone would drop money in my pocket, I would buy a whole city block just so I could build housing or apartments or some type of center that fights around queer Black culture in Kansas City. That’s what I would do, that’s my dream.
Some misconceptions are that we all have HIV. Some misconceptions are we’re uneducated. There’s a lot of things, you name it, that’s said about us. I feel like a lot of things are misconstrued. I feel like if we’re good enough to be your choir directors or makeup artists or stylists or vocal coaches or whatever it may be in the industry of beauty and makeup and hair and hospitality and whatever it may be, then we’re good enough for you to stand up and fight for us.
The church. The church, especially in the Black community. The church seems to be the prayer-book-mouth in order to assess anything. And I feel like if we would knock down the stereotypes of the church and wake the Black community up a little bit more…I feel that we could really accomplish a lot. A whole lot. But, the answer would be the church.
Kind of going back to what I said a few minutes ago — to wake up and realize that you have family members…if you say you love your family members, if you say you love the people that you go spend your money to do your hair…if you love these people and you fight for these people, then really fight for these people. Not just sit back and stand and watch.
I don’t really have a dream for society itself. I believe that we are humans, we make mistakes. We make mistakes and we learn from our mistakes. I really don’t have a dream for society, really. I guess that we grow as a people and have more openness or open-mindedness.
We have to invest in our own communities, first and foremost. We have to truly invest in our communities. We have to speak up and talk. There are tons of Black families out here who have gay kids in their home and they just don’t know how to handle the situation. And if we speak up — each one, teach one — that could help a lot.
I would say if you’re going into business as a Black individual, don’t be overpriced. You want to have something still affordable for your own people. You don’t want to overprice your business, even though we know business takes a lot of money, we still want something to be affordable. As Black businesses, I think we overprice ourselves once we become an entrepreneur. We try to build and lift the next person up. And by doing that needs to be affordable rates so that they can come to our business so they can pay tribute and pay money and fund into our small business. So the next business can start growing from whatever their idea is. Each one, teach one is the process of growing, no matter what it is.
Come spend your dollar in our communities. That’s what I would tell them. Come spend your dollars in our community, come invest in things. You know there’s tables and places where you know other people should be, invite them to those tables. Make sure you create spaces for them at those tables if there is not one for them. That’s what I would tell them.
My advice would be to stand strong, stand tall, stand proud, and keep your head high.
Interview Date: February 27, 2020
Story posted on July 2, 2020