The Torch Passer Tee Project is a nonprofit initiative using illustrated t-shirts to lift up the lives and work of marginalized activists who have been left out of the history books by sharing their stories and funding projects which further their missions today. Each shirt comes with a QR code on the tag which redirects to a digital zine about the people featured, in hopes to empower the wearer to get inspired and also to talk to other folks about the people they rep on the tees.
The first shirt in out collection is a tribute to veterans of the Stonewall Rebellion, featuring Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major, and Stormé DeLarverie. The zine paired with it is an examination of the factors leading up to that night at the Stonewall Inn, followed by spotlights on each activist—covering biographic information and how their work centered tangible public safety initiatives for vulnerable trans women and people of color in our community.
Thus far, the pre-order sales have gone to benefit Miss Major’s TGI Justice Project (TGIJP) and The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), but I would like to promote the project in the Atlanta area to raise some funds for programs serving the Southern queer community such as The Trans Housing Atlanta Program and The Feminist Women’s Center’s Trans Health Initiative.
After the events of last year’s presidential election, I think that a lot of us have spent the past year trying to figure out ways that we could mobilize our skills into something meaningful. Looking for ways to help or support each other as marginalized people and as empathetic, pragmatic people in the wake of all that hate. So, as a trans illustrator and designer with a penchant for history, it was important for me to try and combine all of those things into a product that I could use in order to raise money for various organizations out there doing what they can and changing lives on a direct, grass roots level.
I also wanted to launch something which was communal—something tapping into our common desire to help and be a part of something, so, where it’s an education and a fundraising initiative, the Torch Passer tees are also a community driven public art project. The fact of the matter is these people are not on the lips of a lot of Americans. They’re not in our history books, they’re not carved into monuments or talked about on random prime time news biopics while you fold your laundry. Thanks to the work of people like Reina Gosset, J. M. Ellison, and the amazing folks who have put together the film MAJOR!, there has been more of a trend in recent years of sharing these people’s stories online, but there are still a lot of people even in the mainstream queer community who are simply unaware of the prime actors in that night in 1960 or the significance of their lives to the modern queer liberation movement.
So, the idea is that you walk around in these shirts, and strangers see them and get curious, maybe write down their names on a napkin to look up later, or your friends and family ask about it when you wear it over to their place, and then the zine empowers you to be able to share a bit of the good gay news to them on your front porch steps or at a cafe in the city.
Of course, I would like to encourage people to get involved with organizations local to them, and to donate their money or their time to a cause they believe in without needing to go through something like this to do it. There are infinite ways out there to do good, and there is never a disparity of resources and organizations that need it, but if this is something that you’re down with, I would just like to have this available of an option, of a way to get involved in a sustainable way if fashion and illustration are both something you dig and can get behind.
All of our shirts are sustainably sourced and screen printed by 13 Bricks down in Savannah, GA, who are always doing good in their own right.
This is the kind of project that doesn’t exist without people like you, the readers who care about them and want to get involved, so thank you for being a part of this, even if it’s just sharing this piece around Facebook.
On our site, we have a submissions box where we’d love to hear of any suggestions y’all might have of activists to feature in the future, also more information if you want to get involved or just drop in and add your name to our mailing list. You can follow us on Facebook here, or on Twitter/IG @torchpassertees.
You can get in on that pre-order and shop here.
Mel Paisley is transmasculine author, illustrator, and general loudmouthed inkslinger based out of Savannah, GA. He writes a lot about pre-Stonewall herstory, schizophrenia, and being mixed and queer in the Deep South. (IG/Twitter: @melpaisleyart, melpaisleyart.com)