It all started as a joke.
Last August, author Lilah Sturges tweeted that she was “going to buy a trans girl a pizza” and then did just that, purchasing a pie for the winner of her impromptu giveaway. A few weeks later, she gave away money for another pizza. And then another. And another.
Nine months after that first tweet, Sturges says that she has given away hundreds of pizzas to transgender people, through giveaways that she posts under the hashtag #TransPizza.
“I think all told I’ve given away something like 500 pizzas,” she tells NewNowNext. “So, like $10,000 worth of pizza just out of this one dumb thing that I tweeted once.”
I am putting my values into practice: I am going to buy a trans girl a pizza. In the next 12 hours, tell me why you, a trans girl, deserve a pizza, and I will pick the best answer and venmo or cash app you money to buy the pizza of your dreams. Unlimited toppings.
— Lilah Sturges (@LilahSturges) August 14, 2018
Sturges, who wrote the GLAAD Award-nominated graphic novel Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass, isn’t bankrolling the entire #TransPizza operation by herself. After the first few giveaways, kind friends and strangers sent Sturges some dough so that she could give away more, well, dough. One weekend, she was able to fund 126 pizzas.
Sturges, who is openly transgender herself, says that the #TransPizza project is a way to provide “a little comfort” to her community amid the Trump administration’s ongoing attacks. (Most recently, the Trump administration proposed rolling back Obama-era health care protections for transgender patients.)
“It feels like so many of the things that happen to us as trans people are so far beyond our control,” Sturges says. “What can I do about that? I live in Texas. I could call Ted Cruz and ask him to say, ‘Stop,’? That’s not going to do anything. So if I can do some small thing, then at least I’m doing something.”
But that small gesture has meant a lot to many #TransPizza recipients. Veronica James, a transgender woman who used her winnings to buy a double bacon cheeseburger pizza, tells NewNowNext that on the day she won she had endured a particularly challenging appointment with a psychiatrist who wanted to slow down her treatment.
“Getting a free pizza was a pretty big deal,” says James, “It was tangible evidence—so tangible I could eat it—that there are people out there who are actually supportive and care about making life a little easier for trans people.”
Aww yeah #transpizza night!
— Veronica Jane (@VeronicaAwakens) May 24, 2019
Julia Ftacek, a #TransPizza winner who ordered a particularly unusual pie—a cheese-less pickle and mushroom pizza with extra garlic sauce—says that winning helped financially.
“It was nice to have dinner paid for because I’m a graduate student and we just don’t make much money, honestly,” she tells NewNowNext.
Thanks to @lilah_sturges for my #transpizza last night! Sorry I didn't get a pic of the whole thing; I was HONGRY. A no cheese mushroom and pickle pizza with extra garlic sauce! pic.twitter.com/bcqAl4ThCA
— Redwall Abbey Head Baker (@JuliaFtacek) November 19, 2018
And Jessica, who requested that her last name be omitted for privacy, tells NewNowNext that she found it “validating” to get a pizza from an author like Sturges while she’s still working toward coming out publicly as transgender. Jessica bought an extra cheese pizza with pepperoni and bacon—with “an order of cheese bread for good measure,” she says.
— Otterly Jessica, The Quiet and Chill! (@otterlyoffbeat) May 20, 2019
But the most important pizza that Sturges ever gave away was to someone in dire need.
“There was one [person] who direct messaged me [afterward] to tell me that they didn’t have any money—and that winning a pizza was how they were going to eat that night, and that otherwise they weren’t going to eat,” recalls Sturges, who sees that situation as “a pretty sobering reality.”
Indeed, almost one-third of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey said that they were living in poverty, which is more than double the poverty rate for all American adults.
For the generous donors who fund #TransPizza, the immediacy of the pizza is part of the appeal. Sturges says that while LGBTQ advocates chip away at the long-term project of ending anti-transgender discrimination, it can be gratifying to watch one transgender person get one pizza “tonight.” (“You feel like you’re actually doing something,” she says.)
Then, the #TransPizza donors get hooked on that feeling—and keep chipping in.
“Even when I’m not talking about [#TransPizza,] people are always asking, ‘Can I give money for pizza now?’ and I think that’s really incredible,” says Sturges.
What started out as a “lark,” Sturges says, has now become vital. Through #TransPizza, she has been able to uplift fellow transgender people and cheer herself up, too. Her favorite part of #TransPizza is reaching out to the winners to let them know they’ve won. (“It’s this little moment of connection that always makes my day feel a little bit brighter,” she says.)
Sturges has also learned a lot about pizza over the past year: “The thing that has completely blown my mind is that in England, you can get curry pizza,” she says. “Someone ordered a chicken tikka masala pizza as their pizza, and that blew my mind.”
But when asked the most controversial pizza-related question, Sturges is wisely diplomatic.
“I am Switzerland when it comes to pineapple,” she says. “I don’t take a side.”