Black Trans Liberation w/ Raquel Willis

Episode · 1 year ago

Black Trans Liberation w/ Raquel Willis


In 2021, we’ve come a long way with queer representation but people are still losing their lives every single day just for being trans. Today we speak to Raquel Willis, a writer, editor and activist for Black, Queer and Transgender communities. She’s the former executive editor of Out magazine, she’s worked with the national organization for Transgender Law Center, and she created the Black Trans flag. 

Be sure to follow Raquel on IG and Twitter! Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Sebastian Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

Straw media. I think that when we think about all ship, there are a couple of things here. Yes, the tangible things, like using your privilege to fund or get funding or provide opportunities to Trans folks, is important. Period. Elevating Trans Voice as important, and there's also just a deeper commitment that has to happen, and this is what this is universal. So even even for me as a Transperson, you have got to figure out what your story is, who you are, where you come from, who you come from. This something, you know, my dad taught me. You know, you got to know who you are and and who your people are. And the other part that he told me is walk like you know where you're going. So you don't have to have all the answers right now, but figure out what those values are and stick to them. And I think the biggest thing that everyone can benefit from is figuring out what they need to heal from. What what is that trauma, honey, because that's where I really believe the white supremacy lives, that's where the Patriarchy lives, the transphobia lives, the class Ismm live. There something you need to heal from. And what are the things that bring you strain and how can you leverage that so that another person can also experience their own stream? As you probably know, the TN LGBTQIA is representative of the Trans Community. Would you believe me if I told you there are people who have no idea what being trans means? People don't know about the violence that happens within Black Trans community, but they also just largely don't even know or think that they know a trans person their everyday life. In Two thousand and twenty one, we've come a long way with queer representation, but people are still losing their lives every single day just for being transgender. In Two thousand and twenty three hundred fifty trans people...

...were killed, making it the most violent year since the human rights campaign began keeping record. Today we speak to Rockhel Willis a writer, editor and activist for Black Queer and Trans Communities. She's the former executive editor about magazine. She's worked with the National Center for transgender equality, the transgender law center and she created the Black Trans flag. I'm Rackel Willis, and this is pride. I am a writer and activists, a strategist and a southern girl through and through. I'm from Augusta, Georgia, and I bring all of the places that I've been, like Oakland, California, and now I'm Brooklyn, New York, and of course the glorious people that I met and those experiences with me every step of the way. Rock hell knew at a very young age that she was part of the community because I have like cresses on like boy and my classes and stuff like that. I obviously didn't have languids around being trans but I definitely had this like little voice within me that was like, you know, your girl, or should have been born a girl, or all these different things. She grew up in the south with her parents who taught Sunday School and made sure rock hell was at church every weekend, but it was difficult for rock hell to fully believe in the Catholic faith when there were aspects that didn't align with her own beliefs. But I was constantly that kid that asked my parents question and there were times where I would be met with kind of that refrain of like well, just have faith, you just got to believe, you know, and and that this has never worked for me. You know, the the deeper thoughts that I had around my place in the world had to be acknowledged and I just knew that, because I couldn't fully, one hundred percent hold this space that didn't see me and and all of my worth in all of these things that I was starting to know as truths about myself, that that wasn't the space for me. So I mean it was a journey. It was difficult at points, though her relationship with her faith was rocky. She learned an important lesson from growing up Catholic. You need to show up and be there for your community. There is a bit of a understanding that we should show up to support and alevate people on the margins. Now, what other people do that all the time, I don't know, but that those are the things that I last onto...

...from what I learned in my childhood. Her parents were also very active givers. They were involved with their local Red Cross and youth chapter. But even with so much influence around her, rock hell didn't see herself becoming an activist. I really kind of always knew that my queerness, my transnest, was something special, though I didn't always have like the language or the tools to understand that. But I will say when I was younger, I dreaded that there was going to come a day where I had to own all of that about myself and figure out how to see the power in it, and that that scared me. Growing up in a very Catholic upbringing, a very traditional southern Ubran, of course, a very black up bring, it. Rookill was studying journalism at the University of Georgia when she met people that would change her life forever. And then in college was when I met other clear and Trans Piers who really believes that we could craft the world that fully acknowledges our beauty and brilliance as clear trans people. And so we've fought for expanding the nondiscrimination policy or campus will includes gender identity, because at the time I was there and only included sexual orientation, and I think that that kind of drop the pin and what would later reactivism. She began picking up classes on gender studies and systems of oppression, which only fueled her desire to make change happen. But there were two events that really solidified what kills future in activism. It was really the death of a young trans girl named Lela Alkhorn by suicide that really pushed me to kind of understand that I couldn't be silent. There was no respectability in the professional world that was going to keep our people safe. And then I needed to be outspoken as a journalist. Then Rock Hell attended the Brooklyn Liberation Rally and March, a collective that gathers in the name of black transliberation, and that first one. There was something different in the air that day. There is a different energy and spirit that came inside of me and pushed me to share my truth with the world. But it was also just the feeling of being surrounded by so many other truths, truth tellers and soothsayers and lovers of liberation. Atlanta is home to many social justice movements.

The e Benees or Baptist church is located in Georgia. That's where Martin Luther King Jr, how does baptism, served as a pastor and where his family held his funeral. Everywhere Rock Hell looked in Atlanta there was history. But I will say during that time one of the things I was interesting was that I quickly learned how much the south is often ignored. Even today when we think about activism and organizing. You know the moments of state violence and police brutality and even the murders of black and Browns Trans Women that happen in the South and then Georgia in particular, are often not discussed rit large. You know, we are kind of considered to be folks from or in a space that is in many ways a lost cause. You know, it's the salve. You know, so many hauldovers from the civil war and those ideas of the south and its totality only being about struggle kind of dominate that larger narrative. And the truth is that, yeah, there's been plenty of struggle, but but there has always been so much resistance and power and actually you can't talk about the history of activism and organizing around the country without talking about the things that were first done and tested, particularly in terms of boycotting and direct action, in the south. Rock Hill began working as an intern at solutions, not punishment. Collaborative, a black, trans and Queer led organization working to end violence against their community, and I was working with someone who became a dear friend, Tony Michelle Williams, and we were really doing a lot of the research around how black clear and Trans people were being profiled by police and interactions with law enforcement in Atlanta. Now again, this is an instance where I'm working in a space that is often overlooked, and so a perfect kind of example of this is just two days after the tragic murder of George Floyd, a black trans man named Tony mcdaid was killed by police and Tallahassee, and so the kind of disparity between the coverage on that kind of shows us exactly what's going on. You know, I think there's a way that we even have a high aierarchy and who we consider to be worthy victims...

...and victims worthy of attention. So that work was important for me because it really opened me up to understanding abolition, understanding the line between reform and abolition, and it was just it was a powerful experience and that work continues today. While in Atlanta, rock he'll also worked with the pre arrest division initiative. There are ways that people are fighting to make sure that there is less police profiling of particularly black folks in Atlanta, and particularly black transfolks and sex workers. But the work continues. I mean we know that within this conversation of police brutality and state violence, that we are dealing with a system that by its very nature was meant to in many ways harm people on the margins, and so I think a lot of folks have to understand that they are. Is An importance around what is being said with the abolition conversation, and it's not one thens just about dismantling or tearing things down, but actually, and I love what thought leaders like Miriam Cobba and so many more have brought to the floor around this conversation with abolition, that is actually also pulling us to be more creative about the ways that we think about accountability for harm and for violence and so much more. In Two Thousand and eighteen, rock hell became the First Trans executive editor. About her article, the transibituaries project, won the award for Outstanding magazine Article at the Thirty one annual glad media awards. The project honors the Trans Women of Color Lost in two thousand and nineteen. It was powerful to win the award, but you know, I think the most powerful moments came while it was being created. I definitely had my moments of just like breaking down and really confronting this epidemic of violence, fighting black and Brown Trans Women in a different, more intimate way, it was an exercise in going beyond the statistics and going beyond even just kind of the sensationalized talking points and and headlines to really figure out what, what is the...

...real story here? How do we humanize the lives of these black and Browns Trans Women who were lost? We need to be talking about how domestic violence or intimate partner violence is connected to state violence, connected to sexual violence and and even now I think there are connections that can be made around folks who are dealing with suicidal ideation right because there was a violence that we don't acknowledge that happen for them before they got to that point. Overwhelmingly within the Trans Experience, journalists are taught to be objective when reporting the news. They're told to remain impartial to all topics and focus only on the facts. But recently the idea of objectivity has been questioned more and more. How can we cover everything fairly and remain impartial on topics like social justice? Can we broadcast the opposing argument as to whether or not a human deserves equal rights? There are also the invisible values of white supremacy and the Patriarchy and classism and sis sexism and so much more, and so all of these institutions that exist in our society have to reckon with those invisible values. Right, just as we saw conversations about how white supremacy exists within publishing last year or even within journalism a few months later, we have to understand that that exists all the time when we're talking about our societies around, I mean and not even just in the United States, right, because we know that colonialism has impacted day of near every place on the planet. So, yeah, I mean I think that we have to grapple with those things, and even within our social justice movements or our identity based movements, it is impossible for they for them to be pure, and so that means we have to constantly do the work to make them better and understand that they can be in bed with other systems of oppression if we don't continue to be vigilant about how those things can exist. there. Someone can be marginalized based on their race, but be privileged based on their class or gender. Yeah, so that means that we have to hold that oppression and privilege are not binaries and that we all inhabit both at some point and when we come back the reality of being a black transperson in today's...

...society. Welcome back. Today we're talking to rock hell Willis a writer, editor and transgender rights activist. She's worked with multiple organizations to spread awareness of the violence these marginalized communities face, like creating black trans circles. Bringing together Black Trans Women in New Orleans for the pilot and and the preceding kind of first iterations was powerful and it was a it was, I think, revelatory for other folks as well, you know, just to acknowledge that, oh, we can have our own spaces, oh we can have our own conversations around what violence does means for us, or what trauma does means for us, or what healing, what joy, what love, you know, what passion means for us, outside of always having to discuss these things in comparison to the sith experience or the wide experience or men's experiences, are masculine experiences. These conversations are important, as people outside of the community are not only ignorant to the violence black trans people experience, but to the existence of Trans people all together. I struggle with that because it's like if you don't even have a starting point of knowing that we exist and that we're just, you know, out in the world having lives like anyone else. Yeah, it's going to be a bit of a jump to then understand the gravity of what we're facing. So they created these circles where they are able to create their own solutions. We have all the solutions within our communities. I mean, I knew that, but I think that we needed to be able to kind of tangibly see it and experience it and feel it. This discovery was just the beginning. It inspired these women to start their own initiatives, like Mariah Moore. Mariah Moore, who took on the rains after I left TLC and transit las cents or has continued the work they are and also started house of Tulip now in New Orleans with Milan and call sharing. You know, she has really Stabbins, have power and is actually running for city council in New Orleans currently, and so I think that that is so powerful. Right like this, he continued to build on the power that she felt in that space... assert her own honor and dignity and say hey, actually, I can do what these people are doing, these people who have ignored us or sell long and they are two Black Trans Women Building an organization that is looking at creating long term housing solutions for Trans Women of Color in the area. So that's powerful. And other participants in the program went on to continue their work with the cans can't stand campaign. So crime against nature laws are still on the books and Louisiana and oftentimes used to profile and Police Trans Women of Color, and so that were continued. So I think that the sky is the limit when we have our own spaces come up with these solutions. On January twenty two thousand and twenty one, Joseph Biden was sworn in as the president of the United States. On Inauguration Day, Biden issued an executive order to extend protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. His administration include several LGBTQ pus people like we're Chu Leavine, the first openly trans federal official to be confirmed by the Senate. But when asked what more he could be doing, rockhill said this. The interesting thing is is that, yes, you know, we keep fighting for the equality act on the federal level, but of course we know with some basic as centrist Democrats who don't understand the people's humanity is at stake, are trying to play both side as mm and and trying to keep in place the filibuster that our rights are still going to be in jeopardy. But one of the things that President Biden said on the campaign trail was that he was committed to getting more resources to community efforts on the ground, and so my charge to him and his administration is to actually do that, move resources and funding and elevation to community led efforts and not just the ones that you know. I don't want to see the high profile organizations, the largest national ones, the ones with the most name recognition, getting that support. It needs to be the folks on the ground who are the ones that are actually breaking bread with community every day. Being... activist for me is using every five of my being, every bit of energy that I have to leave the door wider for the next person they come through. No pressure. Right in Rackhel's career she doesn't focus on what other people think of her efforts. The biggest critic in her life is herself. I mean, I'm humans, so that is a piece of it, but the biggest pressure for me is just staying consistent and assessing whether I'm doing things or work or making decisions out of a space that is in line with my values. That's the biggest thing for me. You know, there there is pressure be because it is work. You know, it does take work to stay committed to your own personal values, because I will always be committed to black transliberation. So that isn't that is a necessarily hard work for me, but I think making sure that I don't succumb to ego, that I stay in a space of humility, all of those things is so important and I'm he went like anyone else right, and so I do have to keep that in line and I wish more and more people talked about that, right like I wish more and more people talked about how it is work to keep the ego in check. Because, yes, I look, I'm a bad bitch. I know that. I know that right, but I am in a community and in a movement full of babage and they have been badages that came before me and there will be more bad bases that will come up after me and I always want to give honor to my ancestors and transistor, to my peers who are doing the work alongside me and to the ones coming up. I was really proud and and kind of what felt like maybe my first like aunt tea moment within, I think, movement space where, at the second iteration of the Brooklyn Liberation March, all these young transpokes of color were coming to the mic beard now all to the world and Um, just braver and...

...fair, sir, and more ferocious and more passionate and more convicted in their values and and their own dignity and in their own honor. Yeah, that was powerful for me. So that's what it's all about for me. But it does take work, so remember that every step of the way. The Brooklyn Liberation March Rock Hell referred to took place on June thirteen this year. Thousands rallied to protect trans kids and so many amazing activists stepped up to capture breathtaking content from the event. Rack Hell reflects on the names of those who made a huge impact that day. Honestly, you know, it came to get what. It came together. The speakers list came together and everyone showed up and shout out. Share Avery was powerful talking about all of her work. But of course, how youth have always been on the front lines, on the vanguard. WAS IT so true? When you think about Sylvia and Marcia and how young they were during the stonewall riots era? Um, obviously Queen Jean and Joela Rivera, who have reignited the spirit of Martians, that Martian sylviaenn a different way with their stone wall protests. So that is powerful and and I'm in awe of their commitment and consistency, because they do protests and rallies every week and have done that for the last year. Styler baylar has consistently used his platform, pink man Teray, for those who don't know. Yes, pink mantay. It just powerful. And then you know this was a moment as well to raise some new voices that hadn't necessarily had that platform before. So a Nisu, a young black strans man who is so powerful, was a very powerful student organizer and Nyu, when he was there, I actually saw him speak. That was the first time and I don't even know that he remembered that I saw him speak, but he was on a panel. And laffy mellow, who masterfully spoke to what it's like to be non binary and trans and of Palestinian descent. That was powerful to witness as well, because I don't think that those global connections happen enough, and... I was so glad that they were able to be a part of the experience. So those are some young leaders. There are so many more. There's a young trans girl named Sayde who was so sweet. Does a lot of work with Gucci time for Change. They are are many Trans Youth who do work with truth, which is a program under TLC and transit law center and GSA network, and they are roses council, which is a space for Young Trans Women. So people like Mulanni Jackson. There's also willowb Shire, to leads the Young Trans Women's project in arcan though, which has been the hot bed in this conversation around Anti Trans Legislation. So there's so many around the country I can't even name all of them. And this is just talk about youth, and this is just the youth that I know. You know, there are so many more that I'm excited to get to know and years to come. I knew you were going to mention what people you mentioned, because that's exactly what I was talking about. That the images that I saw coming out of that event were just, I mean like pretty powerful. So I hope everyone who was able to go and be involved in person knows how epic that really really was. You know, I always have to give it up and give love to the CO organizers of Brooklyn Liberation. There's so many. I'm going to try and name as many as I can really quickly. France, Harado, Elio Cruise, Payton, Digs West Dakota, Muhammad Bias Ian, Phil Stewart, Cola and those, so many folks. There's so many folks who made it. Sarah Bark who made it possible. I can't even that was doesn't me spit volowing, but they're there's so many. So please check out the work and check out their their work outside of Brookn liberation as well, because I think that's also what's beautiful, is when you can trust that the work that people are doing, even outside of your specific formation with them, is just as in line with the values as that one. When you're looking at today's headlines and you see a transgender person being mentioned, a lot of the time it's because someone was killed and though it is bringing attention to the violence that goes on in this world, as a member of the transgender community, it can be terrifying. More and more positive stories about translives are making it into the media, because those stories matter. We recently did an interview with Sam Fader and Jen Richards about their netflix documentary disclosure.

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch it and definitely check out our episode. If you're a young black, trand woman out there, you have worth, you have value, you can determine your own life and you have power, and that's the biggest thing that she'll have to remind yourself is that you do actually have power, no matter what the world tries to tell you or the government. You have power and that's not something that can be taken from you. That's not something that can even be given to you. You can't. There's no waiting around for someone to give you your power. You have it and your charge is to take it and do something with it. To stay connected with Roquel, you can follow her on twitter at Raquel Willis underscore, or on instagram at roquel underscore. Willis pride is a production of Straw hunt media. If you like the show, leave us a rating and a review on Apple podcast. spotify or wherever you're tuning in from. Shares with your friends and be sure to follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter at pride. CHECK OUT OUR IGTV for new episodes weekly with amazing queer people. If you'd like to connect with me, you can follow me everywhere at me by chambers. Pride is produced by me leave by chambers, Maggie polls, Ryan Tillotson and Caitlyn MC Daniel, edited by Sebastian Alcala and Daniel Ferreira. Sound mixing by Sebastian Alcala. It's funny you bring up that rally. When I see even just photos of them, I'm like, this is like we're getting borderline iconic here with this photography. Boarder, give me my icon status.

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