Z! Haukeness, a Madison community organizer and advocate for transgender, homeless and African-American community rights, is the recipient of the City-County Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award.
The award, which will be presented Monday evening at the Overture Center for the Performing Arts, recognizes a community member who reflects the values of Martin Luther King, Jr., including influential issue advocacy and non-violent activism.
Haukeness has been recognized as a leader in local efforts to promote homeless citizens’ rights, including the high-profile Take Back the Land Madison effort to place a homeless family in a vacant, foreclosed townhouse in 2010.
Haukeness has also advocated improved health care for transgender individuals and for the release of transgender Dane County Jail inmate Lisa Mitchell. Mitchell was released in December.
“It brought together my work to dismantle the prison industrial complex, end homelessness, address the criminalization of sex workers, the criminalization of poverty, trans health care and Black Lives Matter,” Haukeness said of the effort to release Mitchell.
Haukeness’ advocacy for transgender individuals is informed by personal experience, as they identify as transgender and gender non-conforming.
“It has been an opening and also I have had barriers put in front of me because of it,” Haukeness said.
“If I dress more masculine I will probably be more respected by power holders, I will be laughed at less on the bus, I will be less likely to be physically hurt, and will fit into normative beauty standards more easily,” they added. “If I dress more feminine I will feel more at peace inside myself, feel more beautiful to myself, help break through the confines of the gender binary and build community with others who are trans and gender non conforming.”
Haukeness said receiving the award is an honor, but comes with complexities.
“It is complicated getting this as a white person when there are many people of color, and in particular people of color who are confrontational, controversial, or behind the scenes whose leadership isn’t often recognized,” they said.
“Looking back on the year, YGB (the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition) was the main voice for racial justice and for black lives in our community," Haukeness said. "YGB would have been the most logical award recipient.”
Haukeness said they hope to continue work on a variety of issues, including advocacy for African-Americans, migrants, American Indians and the LGBTQ community.
Citing 2013’s Race to Equity report from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, Haukeness said, “We must remember how tired people are of living under these conditions for generations here in Madison and Dane County and how much deeper we have to dig to make the changes necessary to address these disparities.”
“There are a lot of possibilities for Madison becoming a truly equitable place for people of color to live if big risks and steps are taken,” Haukeness said.
Haukeness said the recent mobilization behind community groups like Black Lives Matter is encouraging.
“There is a great window of opportunity right now,” Haukeness said. “I know that people’s lives are on the line, and that my liberation is bound up in the struggle for collective liberation.”