Janice Brown (also known by her stage name 'Janice Colby') has been a part of the group 'SHEBA' (Sisters Helping Each Other Battle Adversity) since it first started, before it came under the leadership of Diverse and Resilient. 'SHEBA', a group of powerful Black women, meets biweekly to support and empower transgender women as a space solely for them. Sharing meals, joy, and struggles, the group offers leadership development, outside facilitation, HIV prevention, healing alternatives, and an overall community.
Janice is also one of Milwaukee's legendary entertainers (going by the stage name 'Janice Colby') and has won many titles throughout the state as well as in other states. She has also held several national titles. As an entertainer, she has been a part of many different casts at many local bars, many which today are no longer here.
More modest than many, Janice is relatively unknown outside her immediate circle as a performer and transgender activist in Milwaukee. As Colby recalls her life and struggles:
"I know the struggle many trans woman go thru because I have been living this life for over 30 years. I was here when many rights that we have today weren't available for us. So being black and being trans I had to learn how to survive outside of the two options that were given to us at the time of me coming out, which was sex work or drag shows. If one wasn't 'passable' it was hard to live your truth and hold a 9to5 job every day. I was blessed that I was and was able to work mostly temporary jobs out of fear my past would come back to hunt me (which it did a few times), but when it did I just found work somewhere else.
"But I always tried to be a role model to other trans people: that if I could do it, they could as well. I opened my house up to many who were put out, didn't have a place to go, or whose family didn't approve of them. They could always come to me for a place to stay and a hot meal. So I earned the title as MOTHER. I would help the girls out and never looked for anything in return; I did it not for the recognition but because I saw myself in many of them. I had the support of a mother who accepted me and loved me for 'me'; and I didn't mind sharing her with others like me-- because I too needed a mother and role model. But I try to do my part giving back because I too could have been in their shoes. I could have been hurt or killed just for trying to live. So I just try to be someone that others can talk to learn from."
Janice received long-overdue recognition when in June 2022, she received a citation from the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors for her work in the LGBTQ+ community. (See image of that citation to the right.) Read the full text of the citation, and photos of the presentation, here.
More information about SHEBA can be found at the following links:
Credits: Web site concept, creation, design and format by Don Schwamb.
Photos and quote courtesy of Janice Colby.
Last updated: July-2022.
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