Wendi Cooper is a transgender Black woman who is native to New Orleans, Louisiana. She has been a healthcare provider and mental health professional for over a decade. Wendi is a staunch advocate against Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law which criminalizes sex that is not procreative.
What is the Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law and how have you been affected by it?
The law was enacted in 1805. It punishes individuals for engaging in sexual acts that are not procreative. If you engage in oral or anal sex in the state of Louisiana, you can be charged with CANS. As of 2012, people who were convicted of CANS on the first offense had to register as a sex offender for 10 years. If you were convicted of a second count, you had to register for the duration of your life. I had to register as as sex offender for over 10 years. It was hard for me to get employment, housing, and sustain daily living. I worked with Women With A Vision and the NO Justice Project to help more than 700 women charged with CANS remove their names from the sex offender list. I then connected with Operation Restoration and started the #CANScantStand campaign to bring awareness to a law that discriminates against the existence of LGBTQ individuals, particularly Black trans women. I want to repeal the law by 2021.
Can you discuss how your trans identity played into your sentencing?
Louisiana’s criminal justice system disempowers trans women. I was on my way to the club with a few of my friends when I was stopped by an officer who expressed interest in me. He manipulated me for an arrest. I was arrested for having a civilized conversation. I didn’t know what Crime Against Nature was. The public defender that was supposed to fight for me didn’t do it because I was a Black trans woman. He told me to plead guilty or else I would get five years in prison. My back was against the wall. I accepted probation without knowing that I was required to register as a sex offender.
What is one of the biggest misunderstandings about the trans community?
We’ve always been overlooked. People have always felt that there isn't a place for our community in the world. This country has always had laws in place to try to eliminate our existence. By doing so, they incarcerate us. We are humans. We are able to do the same things you can do. I feel like the LGBTQIA community’s truth is utilized for political gain. At one point in time it wasn’t ok for me to walk freely in the streets or hold hands with my partners. Now things are changing. The younger generation is saying, I dare you to criminalize someone for who they are. We’re starting to see change and liberation.
What does effective LGBTQIA allyship look like?
I thank God for social media and for cameras. These issues have been going on for the past 400 years but because of technology people are really starting to see the rhetoric and abuse of power that has gone on in our world. I’m loving how Black people are standing in solidarity because we didn’t see that as much when I was coming up. Sometimes things have to happen for people to wake up. It’s good to hold people accountable, especially our legislators. They’re the ones who are creating all of these problems by way of loopholes in the laws. They’re the ones creating these injustices.
Allies need to include Black trans folk in these protests because we’re out here fighting for our own rights and the rights of Black people in general. At these protests we are excluded from conversations and we are excluded from the Black community as a whole. What people need to realize is that our community is like a body. Each organ in the body allows the body to function. If one organ declines then the whole body will eventually decline. Solidarity begins when we include all Black people in these conversations- LGBTQ people, Black men, and Black women.