When Chanel Lopez was approached by AVP’s Client Services department, she immediately became interested in the opportunity to work as a counselor with LGBTQ survivors of hate, intimate partner, and domestic violence. Her seven years at AVP empowered her as a survivor herself of domestic violence, learning new ways to cope with her trauma, to support other survivors through theirs.
Now, Chanel is New York City’s first Transgender Community Liaison with the City’s Commision on Human Rights. As the first openly trans woman of color hired in the Mayor’s office, she has taken what she’s learned during her tenure at AVP to continue to support and fight for New York City’s trans and gender nonconforming New Yorkers.
Chanel: When and how did you first learn about AVP? How did you first engage with us?
A: The first time I learned about AVP, I was working at an organization that AVP was interested in partnering with. I had a meeting with Cat Shugrue dos Santos and Jared Ringer [of Client Services] at the time, and we were sitting in the conference room, and they were pitching me the proposal on what the partnership looked like. It was mainly focusing on trans-related issues, and they wanted to reach out more to the trans community, especially in The Bronx.
Q: When was this?
A: This was in 2011. When Cat and Jared finished pitching the idea, I told Cat, “This is an interesting position. Maybe I should apply for this.” From the Community-Based Counselor Advocate, I became the Hate Violence Counselor , and then the Senior Counselor Advocate. Altogether I was at AVP for [around] seven years.
It was interesting because it was an agency that I never heard about and being a survivor of domestic violence and sexual violence myself, I felt like I was in the right place and I got to learn how to control my triggers. I got to learn how to not call myself a victim, but a survivor. And the job was even more rewarding because I got to help other survivors like me through counseling and through referrals and resources.
Q: Can you describe your experience being a part of AVP’s work over those seven years?
A: AVP grew a lot over the course of the seven years. I stayed there for seven years because it felt like home to me and I was able to build relationships with people in AVP that I didn’t look at as coworkers, I looked at as family. It made me grow. It actually made me grow into the person that I am today. Because of AVP and my professional growth, I got a job working for the mayor and at the Commission on Human Rights. I am now the transgender community liaison citywide, making me the only trans woman of color working for the mayor.
Q: What was the impact of working at AVP on your day-to-day life?
A: You know, it made me much stronger. It made me realize what I don’t want and what I’m not going to put up with. So in my personal life, it made me a stronger person and it made me realize that no matter how many stones were thrown at me, I could still knock them down and overcome whatever was coming my way. And I owe AVP for my strength.
Q: What is the most memorable experience that you’ve had with AVP?
A: There were so many. I used to like purplicious potluck which commemorates Domestic Violence Month. And so we all got to wear something purple and everyone brought a purple dish. I never saw that in other agencies where I worked. Witnessing that was very rewarding to my spirit. And then of course the Courage Awards where I got the chance to dress up and be a diva. [Laughs]
Q: What is the thing you are most proud of with the work you accomplished at AVP?
A: Everything I did came from the heart, so it was rewarding, but I must say helping my trans brothers and sisters who were undocumented find peace in a way where it was security for them.
Connecting them to Legal Department, helping them go through U Visas, and obtaining some type of safety net for them to stay here in the United States and have a better life for themselves because a lot of the trans women in particular, that I provided counseling for, came from countries that were not accepting of the trans community and going back for them meant losing their lives. To this day, I bump into some of them and they [say], “Oh my God, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here right now!” They’re actually doing advocacy for other trans people now, they’re advocating for themselves, which is also important. So that to me is rewarding.
Q: Can you tell us what it’s like being a part of AVP’s community today and how your relationship has changed? What is it like to still be a part of AVP’s community?
A: When I first got hired at the Commission and when I went through the interview process, I’m going to admit I was a little sad and I was afraid because I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve been here for seven years. I built a relationship with everyone,” and I was so comfortable too. But I have to step out of my comfort zone and continue my progress in life and reach my goals. It didn’t mean that I had to sever ties with AVP, which was my first home to really help professional growth. And I’m not done.