Black History: 4 Black Trans Cultural Figures You Need to Know About
Black History: 4 Black Trans Cultural Figures You Need to Know About
It is important to think with an Intersectional lens!
Intersectionality means, the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage, as stated by the Google dictionary. This translates to, we are ALL Advantaged and Disadvantaged in many ways based on how we individually identify.
This sociological concept was bread during the Women's Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The official term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 in response to the issues within Second Wave Feminism. The narrative preached in Second Wave Feminism often ignored and minimized the issues of Black women, due to the lack of understanding of the double oppression of being a woman AND being Black. The concept of Intersectionality is not simply for this specific example, it can be used for everyone at any time, it is a great way to uncover some of the privileges we may not acknowledge that we have.
It is always important to reflect upon your privileges in order to sharpen your awareness about the struggles of people around you. Black people, although there is some universality in the black experience our heavy dependence on European Christianity has severely affected the way we address and accept our Black LGBTQIA community. It can be hard for oppressed people to understand that they have privileges, but the lack of empathy and grace given to our LGBTQIA community needs to be called out, it is not acceptable.
Start from the most vulnerable population and work up the ladder!
Malcolm X said, "The most disrespected person in America is the Black women, the most unprotected person in America is the Black women, the most neglected person in America is the Black women". Though this is is a powerful quote, putting Trans in front of women would make this statement much more accurate. By trying to help support and liberate those of us at the bottom of the heap our own liberation will come.
I can't help but draw parallels between the experience of Black Americans, including Black Trans-Americans and the issues surrounding the African Continent as a whole. Black people are some of the most culturally rich, people in this society are used for their cultural contributions and then discarded. If you didn't know, many of the slang terms we use daily, makeup styles, and music were created and popularized by Black LGBTQIA people, but this community is one of the most vulnerable to die of violent crimes and suffer severe discrimination and mental health issues. Much like the African continent, the richest place on earth in natural resources happens to have some of the most unstable and poverty-ridden areas in the world, it is hard not to see the trend here. The immense value of our cultural contributions are often seen, colonized, as our bodies are discarded and left to deal with the aftermath.
It is so important that we begin holding our own community accountable for representing different Black experiences publicly and supporting the variations of people in our community. It is so important to reflect on our own Intersectionality, in order to become a more positive and loving community that is able to teach and understand our LGBTQIA family. By highlighting these four individuals that have contributed to pushing marginalized communities forward through their activism, I hope to show that these people are human and deserve both love and respect especially from us.
4 Black Trans Cultural Figures (in no particular order):
1. Marsha P. Johnson:
Marsha P. Johnson born Malcolm Micheals jr. in New Jersey on August 24, 1945. Though growing up with both parents in her household their strong Methodist faith eventually drove a wedge between Marsha and her family. So in 1963, she left for New York with $15.00 and a bag of clothes to live in her truth, shedding Malcolm and becoming Marsha! She was a truly beautiful soul and quickly became a fixture in Greenwich Village, becoming the unofficial mayor of Christopher Street.
Marsha is most known for being one of three individuals that stood up to police for the unjust harassment of the LGBTQIA patrons of the Stonewall bar, though Marsha herself denies this fact. The Stonewall Riot is often cited as the catalyst for the start LGBTQIA Rights movement at the end of the 1960s. During the early 60s, there were very few places that allowed openly gay people to exist freely, let alone trans people and Stonewall was one of those very few places. Being a known spot of LGBTQIA people to gather and being owned by the Mob, Stonewall was regularly targeted by the police for random sweeps and raids. Marsha is said to be one of the three people to confront the police in the protection of her beloved community sparking two nights of riots in the name of freedom. Marsha started her activism journey then and there joining the Gay Liberation Front and eventually opening the STAR House with her friend Sylvia Rivera to help homeless Gay and Trans kids in 1972. Unfortunately, Marsha was found dead in 1992, her body was pulled from the Hudson River after that year's Pride parade. Though Marsha's history with mental illness played a part in the police deeming her death a suicide, many close to her believe she was murdered due to a massive wound found on the back of her head. She lived an incredible life, helping to push the rights of LGBTQIA individuals forward in so many ways if you want to learn more about Marsha's story I highly recommend the Netflix documentary about her life.
2.Octavia St. Laurant
If you have ever seen "Paris is Burning"than you know who this is. Octavia st. Laurent is the face of the infamous "Paris is Burning" poster, and she is featured in the documentary as well. Known for her work as an HIV/AIDS educator and her prominent status in the underground ballroom world, Octavia is one of very few Black Trans women of her time to gain public notoriety. Her beauty is undeniable and her confidence she often credits to her extremely loving and accepting parents. Her gender and sexuality did not come as a surprise to her parents because Octavia was often mistaken for a little girl when she was growing up. Being a child of the 1960s, and having loving accepting parents is truly the basis for a healthy outlook on life.
During the hight of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Octavia was diagnosed with HIV. She discusses this more fully in the documentary "How Do I Look" byWolfgang Busch, widely considered to be the more socially responsible sequel to "Paris is Burning". Instead of letting her health defeat her, she got heavily involved in educating people on the importance of safe sex and the reality of living with HIV/AIDS. Octavia passed away from Cancer in 2009, leaving endless quotes and her legacy behind. Her likeness and sayings have been used in the show "POSE" on FX. Check out the video below to get a sense of her fiery personality.
3. Willmer "little ax" Broadnax
Willmer "Little Ax" Broadnax was an American Gospel singer in a popular quartet during the golden age of the Traditional Black Gospel. Willmer was born in 1916 in Houston Texas, but very little is known about his early life. It wasn't known until Wilmer's death in 1992, but he was born a woman. Armantha Broadnax is believed to be his birth name and Wilmer was the name of his brother who passed away when they were young. After his death, Aramantha Broadnax no longer appeared on the United States census, but Wilmer continued to appear. This has not totally been confirmed but there are several other theories about Wilmer's early life because of how sparse the information available is. His career started in the late 1930s and steadily continued to climb. It wasn't until the 1950s that Wilmer joined the Spirit of Memphis Quartet landing them a recording contract with King Records but after 1952, Wilmer was no longer a part of the group.
His later years were fraught with drama due to Wilmer's extreme jealousy, which ultimately leads to his death in 1992. He was killed by his lover at the time Lavina Richardson after he saw her riding in a car with another man. Wilmer purposely rear-ended the car and pulled her out threatening her with a knife. A bystander was able to disarm him at which point Lavina picked up the knife and stabbed him three times in self-defense. After his death is when it was finally discovered that he was, in fact, a Trans man, though many of his bandmates had always suspected. Due to his prominence in the religious community, this discovery caused a massive stir. His gender identity never got in the way of his love of God and passion for following his dreams of being a gospel singer. Though this is not a well-known story, it is an amazing one detailing the life of one of the first black Trans celebrities and a religious one at that!
4. Kylar Broadus
Kylar Broadus is an American attorney, business owner, and trans rights, activist. Broadus was born in Fayette Missouri on August 28th,1963 as with many Black Americans born during this time, his parents were the children of Slaves and suffered greatly under Jim Crow. In the 1990s Broadus worked for a very large financial institution, and in 1995 he announced that he was going to get gender reassignment surgery and was subsequently harassed and fired two years later because of this. Creating a particularly hard time for Broadus and the harassment was so severe it caused him PTSD. It is interesting to see how far we have come in recognizing the humanity of individuals on the LGBTQIA spectrum, but do not get complacent there is still so much more to do.
After this incredibly traumatic experience, Broadus changed his course. He chose to work for a smaller private law practice in Columbia Missouri representing individuals in the LGBTQIA community for over 18 years. He also taught a class on workplace discrimination at Lincoln University for over 20 years, while also being heavily involved in human rights organizations centered around helping LGBTQIA individuals and Black individuals. In 2010 Broadus founded the Trans People of Color Coalition and was one of thirteen Trans delegates at the DNC in 2012. That same year Broadus became the first openly transgender person to testify in the supreme court in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Kylar Broadus used a situation of discrimination based on seeking his true gender identity into a lifetime of service, and that is truly the mark of a leader and an activist.
It is easy to get complacent when it comes to fighting for equality, especially in the information era. Posting on social media is often where the fight stops, but we need to continue to push. Having more nuanced and difficult conversations about the stratification of privilege within oppressed communities, the importance of self-reflection, and the value of solidarity we can all begin the process of unlearning. This blog post is an attempt on my part to discuss the parts of Black History, that are often looked past and ignored because of the involvement of the LGBTQIA community. As black people, it can be difficult to unlearn and be open to things we have been conditioned to look down upon, but we have to check some of the few privileges we have at the door and be open to learning and understanding our fellow people. This week on social media has been a complete mess in regards to understanding our Trans brothers and sisters, due to Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union's, now, daughter Zaya publicly coming out as Trans. There are men with six, seven, eight different Baby's Mothers screaming that the LGBTQIA agenda is ruining the black family structure, wow the hypocrisy! We need to do better, don't ever think that the fight is over, lead with love and be open to understanding things that make you uncomfortable.