Indya Moore on why starting TranSanta, a gift-giving project for trans youth, felt personal: ‘Santa didn’t see my chimney’

Kamilah Newton
·5 min read

Over a decade before Indya Moore would become the star of the critically acclaimed TV drama Pose — being named one of Time magazine’s most influential and gracing magazine covers from Elle to Vogue — Moore was just a kid from the Bronx, surviving the foster care system, where holidays like Christmas always felt particularly hard.

“It felt like I was on the ‘naughty’ list my whole life,” the star (who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns) tells Yahoo Life. “That's what being trans feels like. It feels like missing Santa every year. It feels like Santa didn't see my chimney.”

Now, in an attempt to ease that same pain for transgender youth in need of holiday cheer, Moore and their friends — intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis, designer Kyle Lasky and ACLU champion of trans rights Chase Strangio — have teamed up to launch the Instagram gift registry campaign, TranSanta.

“TranSanta doesn't believe in naughty lists,” Moore says, adding that the response to the project — which has picked up over 47.5K Instagram followers in just its first week — has been exciting and overwhelming “in the most beautiful ways.”

“When I was in foster care, they wouldn't give you gifts if they felt like your behavior wasn't good,” they recall. “We’re talking about kids who are heavily medicated. We're talking about kids coming from traumatic households, who don't need medication, but need love. We're talking about kids who were sexually abused [or] physically beaten by their family, so how do you make a naughty list for those kids?”

Indya Moore, seen here in February attending a New York Fashion Week event, speaks out about the importance of TranSanta. (Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)
Indya Moore, seen here in February attending a New York Fashion Week event, speaks out about the importance of TranSanta. (Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

TranSanta allows trans kids in need to write letters and register for items through Target — often asking for things as basic as underwear and money for food.

“The ones that I felt really touched by were from some of the trans kids who are coming from poor families who needed help with toiletries,” Moore shares. “It hits different when you see what people need in front of you. Like, ‘OK, this person needs a flat iron. This person needs a laptop for school. Okay. This person needs spiral notebooks [and a] three ring binder — three rings, not four. This person needs makeup. They need a red wig — It has to be red.’ All of these things are important for these people.”

And the fact that people have been supporting the cause has been particularly heartening, they say, considering the uphill battles faced by transgender youth. “Just to put things into perspective, in America this year alone, there were 50 bills introduced targeting trans youth. Forty-one percent of trans people have attempted suicide at some point in our lives — often because of the systemic discrimination that we face and the lack of support that we have from our families,” Moore says, noting, “I'm one of those kids who did attempt suicide.” They add, “If there could be a pandemic for lack of love for a people, that exists right now for trans people already.“

Despite what some say, Moore explains, TranSanta’s mission is to show trans youth that there is in fact a community that cherishes their existence.

“I'm really excited about connecting youth to love that actually exists all over the country. You would think because of a few powerful men and women who are trying to take away our humanity and rights, that this is a reflection of the world or our culture or country, [but] that's not necessarily true,” the activist says. “I think that there are issues in our culture with transphobia and sexism, et cetera, but I do believe that creating TransSanta has been an incredible way to connect children anonymously and safely to people who do care about them and do love them — and we're eager to show that.”

Aside from a lack of love, the trans community is also disproportionately affected by the growing global pandemic that is COVID-19. “You already are going to struggle with getting a job, to be able to afford healthcare — you probably didn't have healthcare ever and [have] accumulating pre-existing conditions because of your lack of access to resources,” Moore explains. “Black folks are already three times as likely to contract COVID-19 than our white counterparts, so this is that three times is tripled for a Black trans woman… within that times three, trans people are experiencing severities in the way that we're able to access care, so COVID is that much worse for trans people.”

Moore feels grateful to have become such a driving force in trans activism and awareness — although that’s not what they had initially intended.

“I think it's an honor to be of service to my community in any way that I can, and I think it's a burden for a lot of people that I am the face of activism for trans people, because there are organizers all around the country whose daily work is trans liberation, is Black liberation, is indigenous liberation. And that's not my schedule every day,” Moore admits. “It's just been really rewarding for me to be able to use what I have to uplift my community.

“I do wish I could just be an actor and an artist, but I can't — because what I do with my platform is self-preservation. I want to survive. I want my community to survive.”

Humbly, they add, “I mean, Trans Santa isn't gonna save the world. But I think that it will preserve our hope and faith.”

Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove

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