This Florida activist makes “Build-A-Queer” kits for trans folks. He won’t let DeSantis scare him.

Queer Trans Project founder Cielo Sunsarae
Queer Trans Project founder Cielo Sunsarae Photo: Screenshot

LGBTQ+ people across the country face a continued crisis as states pass new laws banning everything from gender-affirming care to bathroom use. Some of the country’s harshest laws are those currently on the books in Florida, where Governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has devoted his tenure to restricting LGBTQ+ rights.

On Tuesday, June 6th, the Human Rights Campaign declared a national state of emergency and issued a travel advisory warning for LGBTQ+ people in the United States.

Despite the danger that persists for queer and trans individuals, especially in the South, Florida activist Cielo Sunsarae is fighting back. Sunsarae founded the Queer Trans Project in 2021 to “provide free gender-empowering resources to individuals across the United States so that they have the power and the confidence to create social change in their communities,” he told LGBTQ Nation.

Sunsarae started the Queer Trans Project after coming to terms with his identity as a trans man. “At the time, I didn’t know, but now I know I was experiencing a lot of gender dysphoria. I was trying to find outlets and resources to navigate that,” he said. The non-profit organizations Sunsarae reached out to for help had stipulations based on location, age, or gender.

He decided to start his organization in response to his dissatisfaction.

“I wanted the Queer Trans Project to provide resources for everybody, regardless of where they are, their age, their gender, anything like that. It’s open to everybody.”

At first, the Queer Trans Project was a broader organization. It had a virtual reality art showcase for BIPOC artists, trans-self-defense kits, a mutual aid fund, and its most popular resource: Build-A-Queer kits.

The kits are free customizable packages that provide LGBTQ+ in need with gender-affirming items. “We have things like binders, packers, and Trans tape for individuals who tuck. [There is also] makeup, toys, things like that. It’s fully customizable, so they can get as much or as little as they need, within reason,” Sunsarae said. Kits also include t-shirts, socks, pins, and stickers.

The items and shipping are always free. The Queer Trans Project also ensures that their shipping labels only include the initials “QTP” so that delivery is discrete for anyone who is not out.

A year into the business, Sunsarae noticed the Build-A-Queer kits were the most popular. “We realized that even though we had those programs, the Build-A-Queer kits were the most important ones we were known for, what people were coming for. So, we wanted to refocus our efforts on that.”

While the Queer Trans Project has board members scattered across the country, Sunsarae and his partner provide all the labor for the organization. To prevent burnout, he decided to restructure the services to center the kits so he could continue providing this essential care for LGBTQ+ people.

The Queer Trans Project also helps connect individuals with volunteers willing to help transport them to safe places to receive medical care and attend doctor’s appointments. “The other program we have is we provide free private flights for individuals to receive gender-affirming care,” Sunsarae said.

Elevated Access, a pilot program where volunteers fly people free of charge, takes referrals from the Queer Trans Project. “Elevated Access handles the behind-the-scenes work of coordinating flights with the pilots. If there are no pilots available or the flight is too far, we’ll get individuals on a commercial flight,” Sunsarae explained.

The Queer Trans Project relies on donations and community involvement. “When I first started this organization, it started in my bedroom closet,” Sunsarae revealed. He applied for a $35,000 grant in 2022. Now the Queer Trans Project has a storage unit and more supplies for the Build-A-Queer kits.

Today, all the items in the kits are donated. The binders come from GC2B, and others come from small businesses around the country. Recently, they partnered with body-positive lingerie shop Cantiq LA, which gave an item to the organization for every product they sold in-store. Lush has also agreed to work with them and will provide self-care products for all the Build-A-Queer kits. “We rely heavily on the community. Community is what makes us stronger. Community helps the community,” Sunsarae said.

The Queer Trans Project appreciates donations in any capacity. Recently, a drag crew in Nebraska helped raise $1,000 for them – enough to provide 500 more kits. “It may seem like a little bit, but everything helps, big or small. Anything makes a difference,” Sunsarae said.

The 2023 grant application session just ended. The Queer Trans Project received an additional $50,000 from the Way Out Program in Seattle, Washington. Their goal is to match that donation by September for the next Build-A-Queer kit launch.

Build-A-Queer kits are only available a few times a year and sell out very quickly. “In 2022, we provided about 500 Build-A-Queer kits. This past launch in 2023…we’ve already surpassed our goal and the number of kits we sent out in 2022.”

While it has been affirming to see just how vital the kits are for the trans community, it is also challenging for Sunsarae to receive messages from those unable to get kits before they sell out. The Queer Trans Project tries to prioritize those in the LGBTQ+ community who are the most marginalized. “Our Build-A-Queer kits are open to the public. BIPOC individuals get 30 minutes early access before general access opens so that they can shop for the resources they need hassle-free,” Sunsarae said.

As more anti-trans laws and regulations are passed in the United States, the demand for Build-A-Queer kits increases. The Queer Trans Project ships the most kits to Florida and Texas. “I feel like we need to be out there even more because, especially as trans folks. I don’t think people fully understand the extent of what’s happening, especially in Florida,” Sunsarae said.

“The focus is on trans youth, which is important, but a lot of people didn’t understand that I, as a trans adult, can’t get the resources that I need as easily as I could before because of these laws that passed,” he continued. “For example, the law that bans nurse practitioners from writing prescriptions for trans individuals. Now I can’t get my HRT from them. My nurse practitioner was the most affirming provider I’ve had in my whole life. To have that cut immediately, it’s life-changing for the worse.”

Since the slew of anti-trans legislation in Florida, more individuals have contacted the Queer Trans Project to help them flee the state. “It’s devastating that we have to uproot from a place that we reside in and live and feel safe in, but it’s also nice that they have a resource. We are that resource for them. To reach out to us and feel confident enough and safe enough to reach out to them and help them,” he said. The need for Build-A-Queer kits has also skyrocketed.

“We aren’t meeting the needs,” Sunsarae said. He hopes that more funding will be able to provide kits to everyone who needs one. Aside from applying for grants, the Queer Trans Project receives most of its financial help from donations and small business collaborations. “For individuals who do have a business or are a business owner, donations to our Build-A-Queer kits are really important to us and will help us succeed,” he said.

For those who do not have the financial means to donate, there are still ways to get involved with the Queer Trans Project. Some community members have started fundraising campaigns in their communities. Others advocate for the organization online by participating in “Tag ‘Em Tuesdays,” a weekly social media campaign where volunteers reach out to a celebrity or public figure.

One of the best ways to volunteer with the Queer Trans Project is by writing letters. Each Build-A-Queer kit comes with handwritten notes offering advice, love, and community. “Write some letters. It helps, and it helps the individuals receiving the letters know they’re loved and cared for. Even if they only get socks or a book,” Sunsarae said.

Sunsarae knows he’s making a difference when he receives feedback from LGBTQ+ people who have ordered a package. “The reviews warm my heart,” he said.

“I never thought the day would come when I got this package,” said Zoey. “I’m glad it’s here. I can finally look in the mirror and see me and not her. I feel so handsome and brave in this, so comfortable and warm. It’s easy to breathe in, too.”

“It fits super well, and it’s honestly really comfy for my first-time binder,” Pluto S. added. “I’m very lucky to have one!”

The affirmation from each Build-A-Queer kit is life-changing for those who receive them. “As a disabled adult, it has been incredibly hard to catch up to most of my peers in terms of where they are in life,” Ace Aster said. “Though I have identified as trans for many years, I never got the proper support or acceptance I needed, so being able to finally get some gender-affirming clothing was amazing, especially during such scary times. It’s hard to describe the joy I’ve gotten since receiving the kit, but I will say that I hope to be able to return someday and help in some way so that more people can receive the help they need, too.”

Regardless of the danger he faces, Sunsarae says he will continue to advocate for queer and trans rights in Florida. “Individuals flee for their safety, protection, and mental well-being. As an advocate, I will be here at the forefront fighting for my trans and queer siblings,” he said.

“There is a lot of hate in this world right now, and a lot of it is because of ignorance and misinformation causing mass hysteria. No matter what it takes, we will get you the resources you need. I’m not getting paid for this, but I’m going to keep doing this because this is what I love. You are family, and you are cared for.”

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