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BBH Chronic Care
Keesha Bailey

Read about the writer, Ellie David.

Committing to a Chosen Family

Keesha Bailey found a family, a best friend and acceptance as a transgender woman when she came to Bailey-Boushay House in 1999.

Her friends — from left, Farrell, Jeff, Duke, and Kay — hold the portrait of Keesha that hangs in Bailey-Boushay House.

“Even way back in the day, she was comfortable and safe here,” says Jeff Matheson, who was her Bailey-Boushay care manager. “She wasn’t alone.”

The combined back-up of nursing care and community support extended and enriched her life for a decade.

“It’s quite miraculous that she survived so long,” Jeff says.

Keesha was paralyzed from the waist down because of HIV involvement. By 2002 she was taking 56 pills a day. She battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma for years. And she had heart trouble that would have killed her if she’d been home alone.

“She was most grateful to Bailey-Boushay because we saved her life over and over again,” Jeff says.

Medical fragility didn’t hold Keesha back. Counselor Kay Jackson remembers there was “very little that scared Keesha. And a big part of her wanted to be a star. She wanted people to know her.”

Keesha is front and center in this 2002 photo of clients, staff, and volunteers after a community meeting.

She formed an early and close friendship with fellow client Don Brown. Their under-the-table venture to provide other clients with cheap cigarettes won them many grateful admirers (until staff closed down the caper). And their regular place in the big room was a hotspot for games and socializing.

“It was my favorite table to sit at,” says Duke, another longtime client. “With so many more activities happening there, and her sense of humor.”

She was a woman of many passions. Bowling. Caring for Fluffy, her hefty and beloved cat. Fashion and catalog shopping. Appreciating the technical aspects of a good horror movie.

“She was devoted to Bailey-Boushay,” says Duke. And especially loyal to the bowling group, where she used a ramp to bowl from her wheelchair. “She’d always go, even if only to watch — I loved that.”

“Keesha embodied the quintessential client of Bailey-Boushay House,” Jeff says. “She used the services, participated in activities, and was a vocal member of the community.”

Though her health was too fragile to allow Keesha to complete the transgender process with hormones and surgery, she was a fierce advocate for herself and for women’s rights.

“She was quick to correct — and stern — if she was not called a woman,” Duke says. Kay remembers that “one of Keesha’s happiest days was getting ‘female’ on her driver’s license.”

It was Keesha’s advocacy in early community meetings that got one of the client bathrooms labeled “Women.”

Sadly, Keesha couldn’t kick her cigarette habit. And that safety issue made her ineligible to spend her last days upstairs in the Bailey-Boushay nursing home.

But she’s never been out of sight, or out of mind, to her chosen family. Her photo hangs on the wall for all staff and patients to see. Many still remember and miss Keesha.

Keesha Bailey died in Seattle on April 5, 2009.

You can also read Don Brown’s story.

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