Stacey Monroe at the pro-Palestine protest where she was arrested.
(Photo courtesy of Stacey Monroe)

Owenwood says Stacey Monroe lost her TEC salary because she ignored warnings regarding protests; Monroe says protesting is part of the mission

CAROLINE SAVOIE | Contributing Writer

After Garland police arrested trans woman Stacey Monroe and 22 other pro-Palestine protestors on March 7, Monroe said she found her world turned upside down. She was director of Owenwood Farm and Neighborhood Space’s Trans Empowerment Coalition, and after the arrest she got calls from several members of TEC’s advisory board, telling her they were resigning from their positions.

“Everything went downhill from there,” Monroe said.

Once her board members started resigning because of her arrest, Jessica Hernandez, Owenwood’s executive director, contacted Monroe to let her know that the nonprofit was cutting ties with her.

Monroe had a six-month contract with Owenwood that ended on Dec. 21, 2023, and, while the contract did not bar her from protesting, Hernandez said Monroe knew through conversations with the TEC board and Owenwood’s board that she was not allowed to present herself as representing TEC when participating in any political movements that could interfere with Owenwood’s ability to keep and apply for grants funding TEC.

“I knew I could get in trouble,” Monroe acknowledged. “But I don’t regret what I did. I feel like some folks don’t understand that trans liberation is part of liberating all other marginalized communities as well.”

Monroe said her contractual inability to advocate on behalf of other marginalized groups conflicted with her commitment to advocacy. “If we’ve learned anything from our ancestors, it’s that when we’re silenced, that’s when we need to speak,” she said.

Monroe protested with a few members of TEC and the Dallas Anti-War Committee at General Dynamics in Garland, a facility that produces weapons being sent to Israel, Monroe said.

“When a community is being killed by the numbers every day, how can we be silent? There are children and families starving to death, being bombed by bombs made in Garland near a high school,” Monroe said.

She said she knew the risk of associating TEC with the protest.

“Nonprofits are not supposed to be involved in politics,” she said. “But [TEC] is inherently political because we advocate for the trans community. … I can’t remain silent in the face of injustice.”

Monroe said Owenwood gave her two hours to vacate her office space at the community center, the hub of Owenwood’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which created and funded TEC through grant money since 2022.

But Hernandez said this wasn’t the case. She said Monroe had ample time to get her belongings, but Monroe chose to retrieve them from Owenwood in the hours after the initial call.

Kelly Drake, the gay man who chairs Owenwood’s board, said Owenwood created TEC in 2022 when Dallas’ news was filled with headlines about Black trans women being killed. He said what started out as a handful of people became a gathering of more than 100, with Owenwood providing office space, meeting space and underwriting, as well as a paid salary for the then-director. When that director moved to Colorado, TEC’s advisory board chose Monroe as the next director.

“It wasn’t a full time position, but a contracted one,” Drake said of the director’s job.

That contract ended in December 2023, and Hernandez asked Owenwood’s board if it could continue to pay Monroe until June 2024. Hernandez said TEC’s grant money had run out, but Owenwood wanted the group to have a safe space in perpetuity. She said TEC was responsible for finding a source to pay for a director position after June.

Hernandez said TEC board members had expressed anxiety about the direction in which TEC going as early as in November 2023. “This [the protest at General Dynamics] wasn’t the first time protests were brought up as an issue,” she said.

Drake echoed that sentiment and said activism in the form of protests goes against what TEC was created for. “It was never meant to carry the protest banner,” Drake said. “It was supposed to be of service to the trans community.”

He said when the war in Palestine started, Monroe wanted to issue a statement on behalf of TEC expressing support for Palestine, a claim that TEC board members corroborated. But, Drake said, the board told Monroe she could issue a statement on her own social media, but she could not issue one on behalf of TEC.

Monroe said she posted statements of support for Palestine, but she blocked Owenwood’s social media accounts from seeing the posts, saying, “What kind of revolution hasn’t hidden things from the oppressor?”

Drake said TEC’s advisory board’s anxiety culminated when Garland police arrested Monroe, and four board members decided to resign so they would not be associated with the protest.

“We had a person who doesn’t have a contract with us anymore speaking on behalf of an arm of our nonprofit,” Drake said. “TEC’s board members let us know what was going on, and we decided to end our relationship with Stacey.”

Hernandez said she was saddened and disappointed that Owenwood had to end its relationship with Monroe. “The trust between Stacey and I was broken very much,” Hernandez said. “I admire Stacy so much for the person that she is, for the stuff that she does out in the community. She has done a hell of a job with TEC. But at some point, you’ve got to understand that there are boundaries, and you’ve got to respect those boundaries.”

Owenwood Farm and Neighborhood Space focuses on helping folks who live in the 75228 zip code. Drake said the area is an overlooked and underserved food desert that needed a community center. Now, it houses White Rock Community Church that offers church services to a predominantly LGBTQ+ population, White Rock

Friends that helps people like Drake living with HIV/AIDS, MetroCare that provides a space for adults with disabilities, Aspire Learning that provides adult education, Grow North Texas that provides tons of food to pantries, Senior Chair Yoga and Art, and, most recently, the Dallas Movement Collective that offers somatic embodiment to a diverse group of Texans. The group also holds space for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and hosts a diaper drive where 15,000 diapers are given out every month.

Hernandez said that in order for Owenwood to continue serving the community, it needs to employ people who are willing to play by the rules.

Tamera Hutcherson, who was arrested with Monroe, said she was dismayed to find out that Monroe lost her livelihood after “putting her body on the line for what she believes in.”

“Just to see how far Stacy has come and see the work she has done, for me, it truly concerned me and worried me knowing that now she’s in a predicament of no longer having consistent income,” Hutcherson said.

She said that, as someone who has worked in the nonprofit sector, she understands that contracts and agreements hold weight, but she believes restorative justice is in order for this case.

“I truly hope that Owenwood does right by Stacey, whatever the outcome is,” she said.

Hutcherson said she helped to create a GoFundMe for Monroe and raised around $2,000 to help with expenses. She also said the community is trying to help her sustain TEC by recruiting people to replace the board members that decided to resign.

Currently, Hernandez said, TEC is in limbo in terms of who “owns” the organization. Because Owenwood removed TEC from its website and released funds to Monroe, who is still running programming for TEC, Hernandez said ties between the organization and Owenwood are severed. She said in the future, Owenwood will try to form another organization to serve as a safe space for Dallas’ transgender community.