My speech would mark the first time a transgender person served as speaker in the ceremony's 18-year history. While writing my speech, I harkened back to Amanda Simpson's remarks about being the first openly trans presidential appointee.
"Being the first sucks," Simpson told ABC News in 2010. "I'd rather not be the first but someone has to be first, or among the first ... and I always win people over with who I am and what I can do."
Yet the pressure to represent for trans people everywhere weighed heavily on me. But ultimately I had to speak my truth and share that truth with those around me. The one direction given to me by Vincent Vigil, director of USC's LGBT Resource Center, was to offer the graduates a message of empowerment.
And so I thought about what empowered me to find, follow, and amplify my voice as a writer, as an advocate, as a woman who is living visibly. And that's when it hit me: It's always been about the girls, #girlslikeus.
I thought of CeCe McDonald and Paige Clay, two trans women of color, both 23 years old, both beautiful, and both creative. I "met" Paige a few weeks back when I came across a story of her murder in Chicago in April. I immediately thought, like so many trans women I personally know, that her tragic end could easily be mine.
I thought about how numb I initially was to her death, because I had seen this story, this type of horrible murder, over and over and over again, with revolving faces of trans women of color. Transgender women make up 44 percent of all LGBT murder victims, most of them trans women of color, despite the fact that trans people as a whole only account for about 8 percent of the LGBT population.
And it hit me how disheartening it is that I had been desensitized to the murders of trans women of color. In what kind of horrible world do we live in that a woman's murder is seen as routine?
So I decided to speak about Paige; about her murder; about what it means to be young, black, beautiful, and transgender; about how our entire system fails us; and about how even when we defend ourselves and stand our ground, our lives, too, can be jeopardized.
Case in point: CeCe McDonald, who was physically attacked and verbally assaulted last June in Minneapolis because she is black and trans. When her attackers cut through her cheek, she stood her ground and fought back. Though she is the victim in this case, she sits in jail facing a murder trial because the man who attacked her died in their altercation. Activists have swarmed around CeCe; they've packed the courtroom, worn purple in solidarity, and sent Twitter updates to #FreeCeCe, to spread awareness.
Though the mainstream media have remarkably been silent regarding the injustice that CeCe is facing, our community will not be silent. And it is for CeCe and Paige and girls like us everywhere that I decided to step forward and use my voice.
This speech is for them, and I will never be silent just because the topic of gender identity and race are uncomfortable. These women are human beings first, and when we turn a blind eye to injustice, we close our hearts and minds on ourselves.