Dominique Morgan is Creating Spaces: Building Community Through Lydon HouseAug 27, 2021 04:17PM ● By Sean McCarthy
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
In spring 2020, Apple asked Dominique Morgan to model their new Pride band for their Apple Watch. Within two weeks, she had to be in Los Angeles but couldn’t tell people why.
During the shoot, as Morgan looked over the cityscape of Los Angeles, a club mix of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” came over the speakers. It took her back to a time in the early 2000s, walking in the prison yard listening to the original version on a tape player, sharing it through a split headphone connection with her friend T.J. King. It was one moment in Morgan’s journey—from prison yard to Harvard, from executive director of national nonprofit prison abolitionist organization Black and Pink to Apple spokesmodel. Morgan teared up as everything hit her at once.
“You don’t always realize how far you’ve come,” Morgan said.
On Father’s Day of 2021, Morgan sat at a table in the commons room at Lydon House near 45th and Leavenworth streets. In a few days, she would be in New Orleans, helping promote House of Tulip, an organization dedicated to providing housing to transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. Their goals are similar, but Lydon House exclusively focuses on helping formerly incarcerated LGBTQ+ individuals.
Purchased with funds raised by Black and Pink, Lydon House opened Feb. 16, 2020, coinciding with the 11-year anniversary of Morgan’s release from prison. It serves as a temporary home for up to three people (bedrooms are in the upstairs area). People have traveled from Chicago and Memphis to stay there. Morgan envisioned it having a more social aspect before COVID-19 hit.
“I wanted graduation parties…I wanted weddings to happen in the back yard for queer families. I wanted to see Fourth of July and Pride month, us grilling out here, so I felt like that was taken from us due to COVID,” Morgan said.
During quarantine, Morgan continued to travel for Black and Pink. She remembered being on a plane to Austin in March with fewer than five passengers.
Morgan turned to music as a healing outlet. While flying, she recorded vocals to her smartphone. When not traveling, she made it a point to end her workday at Black and Pink at 5 p.m., then work in the studio for three hours.
The result was Pisces in E Flat Major, a sprawling, 22-track album that passes the 80-minute mark. The album addresses how the lockdown affected her, her medical transitioning that made her “feel like [being] 19 all over again,” and self-discovery. It’s also a love letter to the 1990s R&B she grew up on.
“If I never do an album again, I’m proud as f**k of this,” Morgan said.
The pandemic put the brakes on promotion, but Morgan performed some tracks virtually at last year’s Lincoln Calling. She plans on releasing some club mixes from Pisces and plans to perform at the Nashville Pride festival this month.
For Lydon House, the plan is to focus on self-care. Individuals are not given curfews or daily quotas for job applications. If someone has a hard day, they can shut the door to their private bedrooms.
“To not have that option is something that I know is not conducive to people feeling comfortable and supported,” Morgan said.
King was released from prison in January 2021, after serving a four-and-a-half year sentence for possession of ecstasy and theft by deception. King, who operated T.J. King Interiors and Design out of Lincoln, resisted coming to Lydon House. As someone who had run his own business, he was used to being self-sufficient and reluctant to ask for help.
“I may have broken the law…still, I felt that me needing any type of assistance coming out was beneath me,” King said.
King currently works two full-time jobs, one as an outreach specialist for Nebraska AIDS Project, the second as a customer experience specialist at Marriott. He has been sober for almost five years after battling addiction for nearly 30.
“I don’t know if I would have had my sobriety if it [wasn’t] for Lydon House,” King said.
Morgan hopes the site of a new campus at 25th Avenue and Evans Street will provide housing, counseling, and educational services to individuals ages 14-24. Despite only making up 4% to 6% of the general population, a 2016 report by the Williams Institute revealed that 20% of the youth population in the juvenile justice system were LGBTQ+ individuals. One of the biggest contributors to the disparity is the large rate of homelessness among the community, especially in the transgender population.
“I wanted to build this very queer answer in North Omaha. I wanted this to feel very Black. I wanted to invest in my community,” Morgan said. Black and Pink hopes to raise $2 million to cover the costs, including renovations of a former church and attached duplex.
Morgan’s national profile has made her one of the most visible Black trans leaders in the country. In Omaha, Black trans individuals are not in spaces of leadership in the largely white nonprofit community, Morgan said, adding that the city needs to do more investing in Black queer leadership to prevent future leaders from leaving.
“I can lay down the list of people that are still here, but the list of people who have left is 10 times as long,” she said.
Morgan said as long as the face of the people in charge of distributing donations to the community is different than the people receiving the aid, there’s going to be a gap in care.
“How can the face of giving not reflect the face of the people we need to give to?” Morgan said.
To donate to Opportunity Campus, visit blackandpink.org/programs/opportunity-campus-capital-campaign
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.