6 Trans Women You Need to Celebrate

6 Trans Women You Need to Celebrate

Mai Tran

Since 1987, Women’s History Month celebrates the art, invention, activism and existence of women everywhere. Yet at the time of its creation, an entire population of women  — trans women — were forced to hide in the shadows for their own safety. Because of this, recognition for their accomplishments are often excluded.

Transgender — or trans — describes people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned at birth, whereas cisgender describes those whose gender identity and sex are the same.

Allison Washington, writing in response to a Quora question, described what it was like to be a transgender woman in the 1980s, “There was certainly no such thing as ‘being out’ as trans in the 1980s. If you didn’t pass, you were in trouble; if you did, you were stealth.” 

While the visibility of transgender people is increasing in popular culture and education, the community continues to face staggering forms of discrimination and systemic inequality.

Despite these challenges, multitudes of trans women have revolutionized history.

Sage Grace Dolan-Sandrino

This 17-year-old teen is fighting for trans rights! After Donald Trump was elected President in 2016, Sage Grace Dolan-Sandrino established herself as a young activist fighting against the administration’s attempt to deplete the rights for trans people in the US. She started her efforts by organizing a walkout for her high school, a protest that thousands of young people participated in.

She has furthered her outreach by writing op-eds describing her experience as a trans woman activist for The Washington Post and Teen Vogue, while also serving as a co-founder of her school’s Gender and Orientation Alliance.

Angela Ponce

Angela Ponce, age 27, is the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe competition. She was also the first trans woman to win the Miss Spain title in early 2018.

Ponce uses her platform to create inclusive and inspiring content on her social media accounts for transgender youth who may be struggling with their identity. She’s especially dedicated to taking on the staggeringly high suicide rate among transgender youth.

According to an interview with Today.com, Ponce hopes that one day the presence of a trans person in the competitions will not be newsworthy and that education is the start of this acceptance.

Louise Lawrence

Louise Lawrence worked in the 1940s as an artist and manager for an apartment building for working women. Over the next decade, she created one of the first and most accessible networks for trans people. This network expanded through America and Europe and created the framework for Virginia Prince’s Tranvestia magazine.

Her work is still celebrated today through archives located in San Francisco that preserve the materials, such as photos and letters detailing her hard work.

Tracey Norman

In 1975, Tracey Norman was one of the first African American models to make it big in the industry and the second Black woman to appear on the cover of Vogue. As a trans woman, Norman was making history, but she kept this piece of her identity a secret — fearful of what would happen if the industry knew she was transgender. After becoming the face of the famous hair dye brand Clairol, Norman’s coworkers outed her on a shoot and her career was terminated almost instantly.

After years of hiding her truth and years of discrimination, Norman, at 63, came back to Clairol as the face of the “Color As Real As You Are” campaign.

Marsha P. Johnson

Mostly known for her involvement in the Stonewall Riots, Marsha P. Johnson was an activist, drag queen and change maker for the trans community. She co-founded STAR, one of the first trans organizations that provided housing and support to homeless queer youth and sex workers.

Her talent for performing was also used as a tool for social change. During her appearance in The Hot Peaches’ production “The Heat,” Marsha sang the song “Love,” while wearing an ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) button. The trans community often honors her memory in forms of song and drag performance.

Leigh Ann van der Merwe

Photo: ILGA/YouTube

South African native Leigh Ann van der Merwe founded S.H.E, a collective of trans women that work to build an African trans feminist movement through leadership development and close relationships between women’s and trans’ rights organizations in Africa. Van de Merwe’s goal is to increase the visibility of trans women and ensure their rights are protected in the face of stigma and violence. 

Under her leadership, S.H.E. developed the African Transformative Feminist Leadership Institute, which provides a space for trans women and activists to discuss issues facing the trans community.

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