ColumnsUnapologetically Trans

Black Trans People Are Making Black History

It’s time to give credit where credit is due.

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BLAZING TRAILS: Among the black leaders we honor this month are trans pioneers (from left, clockwise) Althea Garrison, Janet Mock, Dominique Jackson, Wilmer Broadnax, Laverne Cox, and Marsha P. Johnson.

“We wish to plead our own case. For too long others have spoken about us, but our virtues go unnoticed.”—John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish, 1822 

The calendar has once again turned to February, which means we once again have 28 days (29 in a leap year) for people to get a snapshot of black history.

Black history is the proud story of a people spanning thousands of years—a story that is much bigger than the shortest month of the year. As a child and godchild of historians, every month on the calendar is Black History Month for me, because black people aren’t doing awesome things that deserve to be recorded for posterity just in the month of February.

One group of trailblazing black people we don’t talk about enough is black trans people. It may be news to our cis counterparts, but black trans people are black people. 

Black trans people have undeniably been making black history, and that history doesn’t start and end with Marsha P. Johnson at the Stonewall Inn. The first trans person to go through the Johns Hopkins gender program when it started in Baltimore was a black trans woman named Avon Wilson.    

You could also consider Lucy Hicks Anderson one of the first people drawn into the battle for marriage equality. She was arrested and tried for perjury by a California district attorney.  

Wilmer Broadnax was a Houston-born gospel quartet singer who was popular from the ’40s to the ’70s.

Some of our early trans leaders were guys—in the persons of Marcelle Cook Daniels, Alexander John Goodrum, and Kylar Broadus. Goodrum helped pass Tucson’s nondiscrimination ordinance, while Broadus later became the first trans person to testify to a U.S. Senate committee.

I had to remind the world the night that Danica Roem won her Virginia House of Delegates race that she wasn’t the first trans person to be elected to a state legislature. Althea Garrison had already accomplished that in 1990.

That same November 2017 night when Roem was getting elected, Minnesota voters elected Andrea Jenkins and Phillippe Cunningham to serve on the Minneapolis City Council.

Politics isn’t the only area where black trans people are blazing trails. In December, Breanna Synclaire made her debut with the San Francisco Opera. Tona Brown has performed at Carnegie Hall.  

Dezjorn Gauthier, Laith Ashley, Dominique Jackson, Angelica Ross, and Arisce
Wanzer were just some of the black trans people who were part of the all-trans March Marco fashion show that occurred during New York Fashion Week last September.

Janet Mock, who already has a New York Times best-selling book to her credit, is now one of the writers and producers of the TV show POSE. Laverne Cox continues to blaze trails in Hollywood as she speaks truth to power.

Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler continues to blaze trails in the tech world as an entrepreneur. He was recently named to the 2018 EBONY magazine Power 100 List.

I need to talk about myself for a moment, because in my 20 years of activism I have also blazed some trails. I just received my fourth nomination for a GLAAD Media Award in the Outstanding Blog category. When I won the award last year, I became the first trans person of any ethnic background to do so.   

In 2016, I became the first trans person to win the Robert Coles Call of Service Award, given by Harvard’s Phillips Brooks House Association. Other winners of that award are Marian Wright Edelman, former vice president Al Gore, and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.

As Russwurm and Cornish stated well over 100 years ago, we black trans people will continue to plead our case for our humanity and human rights to be recognized. And through our trailblazing actions, we will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we black trans people are an undeniable part of the black community. 

Our destiny is inextricably tied to the progress of the black community at large. So when black trans people make progress, it is not only a win for us, but a win for the entire black community.  

It’s important for our trans kids, our people, our allies, and for you to know that black trans people are not  ‘tragic transsexual’ victims, but people who are trailblazing leaders, talented artists, thought leaders, and folks who are shaping the destiny of our community.

Black trans people—just as they have always done and will continue to do until the end of time—are making black history.    

This article appears in the February 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Monica Roberts

Monica Roberts, a native Houstonian, is the founding editor of the GLAAD award-winning blog TransGriot. Her ongoing mission is to educate people on the lives of transgender people and fight for everyone’s human rights.

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