Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality suggests that embodying a marginalized ethnicity along with a marginalized gender identity can create realities unique to those specific intersections. This means that the experiences of a Black trans woman may be quite different from those of a white trans man or a Black cisgender woman.
To understand the experiences of Black gender diverse people, we must center their voices. To this end, we have asked several community leaders to briefly share what the intersections of race and gender identity mean in their personal lived experiences or in the experience of the Black trans community. Here’s what they had to say and what you can do to center the voices of Black gender diverse people.
TAYLOR ALXNDR, they/them or she/her Executive Director, Southern Fried Queer Pride
Being both Black and trans can sometimes feel like a double hurdle in life. However, I’ve come to see being both as a blessing in disguise. To be at this beautiful intersection is to experience the magic, beauty, and history of resistance, revolution, and resilience.
Dr. Elijah Nicholas, he/him Author, Actor, Advocate, and Motivational Speaker
I never looked at the fact that I was transitioning to affirm myself as a Black Man in America. Not until I was asked how I would mentor young Black boys who came to me for advice. It was in that moment that I realized one of the most prominent intersections of my trans experience. “Wow!” I thought, “I am a Black transgender man.”
I must admit, I see the world differently now from these current lenses of mine. However, it doesn’t change the love I have for the rich history that exists in both the Black culture and the trans expansive culture. Collectively, these two experiences make me the person I am today. And I would not be who I am without the history and herstory of my African American AND trans expansive ancestors. I hope my advice to young African American and trans expansive children represents the love held within both perspectives. I am Grateful.
Tracee McDaniel, she/her Executive Director/Founder, Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, Inc.; Co-Founder, Trans Housing Atlanta Program; Chairwoman, Atlanta Citizen Review Board
In many cases, the intersection of race and gender identity exacerbates the numerous challenges that Black trans people face on macro and micro levels. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that, “Within the first two months of 2017, trans people, particularly trans women of color, were murdered at a rate of almost one per week.” And we are still living in a state of emergency, with 2021 being the deadliest year on record for violence against, and the murders of, trans women of color.
We’re constantly fighting for our mere existence, for fair housing and for quality healthcare and gainful employment, which effects every aspect of our daily lives.
Resiliently moving forward, I stand in my belief that our visibility saves lives. I also strongly believe that in order to effect policy changes on a legislative level and ensure our human and civil rights protections, we must all show up and participate by registering to vote and actually voting, which is one powerful tool, amongst others, that would change these social and economic inequities for the better for our entire community. No matter what anyone says, always remember that human rights are trans rights and trans rights are human rights.
Tori Cooper, BA, SME, SGE, she/her , Director of Community Engagement, HRC
Visibility is so important to create familiarity with the trans community for those who don’t know us personally. Visibility also lessens violence because suddenly, we are your sisters, brothers, cousins and friends. And violence is not just with fists, it also comes with inhumane policies and laws that seek to devalue our lives.
Sybastian K. Smith, he/him, Organizing Director, National Center for Transgender Equality & NCTE Action Fund
My race and gender identity impacts many parts of my life. As a Black transgender male, I am always aware of the space I take up in any room. I enter those rooms knowing I carry the responsibility of representing not only Black men, but transmen as well. The way I show up in spaces and the impact I make is so important for changing the narrative and how transgender and Black communities are perceived. My presence alone defies odds! Therefore, I will always challenge people to address their biases and phobias as the first step to creating more affirming spaces for all people.
Dionne Kettl, she/her/ella, HR Business Partner; Associate, Transformation Journeys Worldwide; Deputy Director, TRANScending Barriers, Atlanta
At one company, I came across obstacles concerning my gender identity, but all were mitigated. I ran into more problems when management and my peers found out my race. Other times, the workplace discrimination I’ve experienced has occurred because of the intersection of these two realities within my one lived experience. And all of these challenges, together, have motivated me to become an HR professional.
Ja’Mel A. Ware, he/him, Project Manager, Project Innovate at THRIVE SS
Being Black and trans has shown me how unique identities create space for liberation. Despite how the world may react, living in my full truth has given me a platform to show LGBTQ+ and cishet people that it is ok to be who God designed us to be. It has encouraged me to live unapologetically. We all are born with wings. So, we must use them!
Toni-Michelle Williams, she/her, Executive Director, SNaP Co.
My transness is sacred, my blackness is divine, and my queerness is so precious. I am the embodiment of love.
Our deepest thanks to each of these Black gender diverse community leaders for the incredible work they are doing and for sharing their perspectives with us this month.
Moving forward, we encourage you, our readers, to also be very intentional about centering the voices of Black trans and non-binary people. One way you can do this is by going to the linked websites of each of these leaders’ organizations and supporting the much-needed work they are doing.
Another way you can center Black trans voices is by including them on speaker slates for a wide variety of events, and not just during Pride month. When putting together a panel or booking keynote speakers for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Veterans Day observances and other events, be sure to include Black gender diverse people among your panelists and presenters. Feel free to reach out to one of the leaders quoted here, or contact us for speaker recommendations or for info about the intersectional panels we offer.