OPINION
06/26/2018 12:44 pm ET Updated Jun 27, 2018

Why Pride Month Looks Different For Black Trans Women

Some Black trans women exemplify pride just by being ourselves. Others put their lives on the line by advocating for our
Illustration: HuffPost Photos: Getty
Some Black trans women exemplify pride just by being ourselves. Others put their lives on the line by advocating for our freedoms.

I’m Black, and I’m a trans woman. For these reasons, pride is something society says I shouldn’t have.

But in spite of (or perhaps because of) the often oppressive realities people like me face today ― banned from serving in our nation’s military, unable to use school bathrooms that match our gender identity, killed for no reason other than the fact we exist ― I am proud of who I am and the community I represent.

Being Black and transgender were not things I could change. I am Black because my parents are descended from Africans. I am transgender because my mind and body did not match for many years. I’m proud to be part of a legacy of courage, beauty, strength, resilience and excellence passed down by my trans foremothers and forefathers.  

For many years, Black trans women have exemplified pride just by being ourselves, and that’s a wonderful thing. Others ― like Lucy Hicks Anderson, Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy ― put their lives on the line by advocating for the freedoms we have today and serve as examples of strength in spite of oppressive climates.

Essence magazine described Anderson (1886-1954) as “a trans woman and socialite who found herself on trial for marrying a man and wearing women’s clothes during Prohibition-era America.” By all accounts, Anderson knew who she was and decided to live in her truth well before it was fashionable, safe or legal. She married twice and even collected her second husband’s military pension. She is an example to every trans woman that you can be yourself and still find love, even in the most extreme circumstances.

Some of us have histories of incarceration, prostitution, homelessness, poverty and a myriad of other societal black eyes. Some of us are executive directors and activists.

Johnson (1945-1992) was an outspoken advocate for the rights of everyone who fell under the LGBTQ label. The word transgender was not used during her short life, but she fearlessly fought for social and economic justice for the most marginalized like herself. She was Black, queer, gender non-conforming and poor ― just like those for whom she most vocally advocated. Johnson is credited with instigating what would become known as the Stonewall Riots, often cited as the beginning of the gay rights movement. She was diagnosed with HIV in her later years and became a staunch advocate for people living with HIV.

Griffin-Gracy (1944-present) is fiercely dedicated to the transgender community. She was at Stonewall Inn the night of the riots and has worked tirelessly for nearly 50 years as a living example of trans advocacy. She fights for women like me, who are often marginalized even within the LGBTQ community. As she once said, “Just because there’s this umbrella, LGBT, we’re all grouped together. But guess what? Someone poked a hole in the umbrella, and the girls are still getting wet.”

These women make me proud of who I am.  

Of course, I can’t compare our current social and political environment to the time these ladies were most active in their advocacy. However, many Black and trans people absolutely still face an underlying sense of danger and mistrust every day. We live in a time when our federal government is removing protections that were set in place to provide economic and health equity. Yet we also have many political firsts to be proud of, including the elections of Danica Roem to the Virginia House of Delegates; Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham to the Minneapolis, Minnesota City Council; Lisa Middleton to the Palm Springs, California City Council; and Stephe Koontz to city council in the Atlanta suburb of Doraville, Georgia.

Being Black and transgender were not things I could change.

The transgender community is often merely an afterthought in much of the modern LGBTQ movement. Take my specialty, the field of HIV. Trans people have higher rates of HIV infection and are more negatively impacted than any other population, but funding falls way short of even our most basic health care and housing needs. We are an afterthought.

The current administration has made a priority of upending the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which includes provisions for trans-specific health care and nondiscrimination by providers based on gender identity. We are an afterthought.

Trans women need prostate exams, unlike cisgender women. Trans men need gynecological care, unlike men assigned male at birth. Currently, insurance providers can legally deny gender-affirming and trans-specific health care. We are an afterthought.

But in spite of all of these things, I have pride.

I am proud of Zakia Jemaceye who is using her Nationz Foundation to promote HIV health and education for trans women.

I am proud of Kayla Gore, who is impacting the lives of homeless and transgender women in Memphis, Tennessee, and beyond. She represents the future of advocacy.

I am proud of Marissa Miller, who is a shining example of pride and resilience for Black transgender women like me.

I am proud of Miss Major, who is still devoting her life to empowering Black trans women to be better than our circumstances.

The transgender community is often merely an afterthought in much of the modern LGBTQ movement.

My most sincere hope is that Black trans women, and the trans community at large, take pride in having the ability to live freely and happily and determine our own futures. I hope we understand our individual and collective value and leverage that for greater economic and health equity. We are an amazing community of people with the power to fight and win against every kind of oppression. Some of us have histories of incarceration, prostitution, homelessness, poverty and a myriad of other societal black eyes. Some of us are executive directors and activists. We do what we have to in order to take care of ourselves, our families and our communities.

I want us to be proud of those who came before us. They endured much more dire circumstances than most of us could ever imagine. I want my peers and I to be living examples and role models that future generations will be proud of. And I want those who are just beginning their transitions or advocacy work to make us proud in the future.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece misspelled Miss Major Griffin-Gracy’s name.

Ms. Tori Cooper is a prevention specialist at Positive Impact Health Centers in Atlanta.

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