8 Transgender Women of Color Who Are Doing More Than Just Being Visible

Cherno Biko, Samantha Master
Top row: Laverne Cox, Precious Davis, CeCe McDonald and Angelica Ross. Bottom row: Fallon Fox, Tona Brown, Janet Mock and Monica Roberts.

Caitlyn Jenner broke the Internet yesterday when she introduced herself to the world, becoming the first out transgender woman to grace the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.

Undoubtedly, Jenner will give some transgender people hope that they can live as their authentic selves—a necessary and affirming message. However, her story—one in which someone can announce that she is trans and less than two months later achieve a feminized aesthetic that reflects who she is on the inside—stands in stark contrast with the realities of trans women of color, who live at the lethal nexus of racism, sexism, cissexism and transphobia.


In a nation where the average life expectancy of a black transgender woman is 35 and eight trans women, overwhelmingly black and Latina, have been killed this year, it is almost unfathomable and nearly impossible to bypass systems of housing, medical and employment discrimination, school push-out, criminalization, and physical and sexual violence, let alone single-handedly finance gender transition.

Living one’s truth is always admirable, but Jenner represents the most privileged and least vulnerable class of transgender people: those who have amassed enough resources and social and economic capital to never have to interact with the cycle of poverty (pdf) that colors the lives of far too many trans people who are poor and low-income, people of color, disabled, young, undocumented or otherwise facing injustice at every turn (pdf).

For these folks, visibility is not enough. They need to be socially and politically prioritized to ensure that they are able to live with dignity and without fear or harm. Here are eight women who are shifting their visibility into power and resources for trans people of color and doing far more groundbreaking work than simply being visible.

1. Monica Roberts


As the founder and managing editor of TransGriot, a blog dedicated to reclaiming and documenting black trans history, Roberts—an award-winning writer, activist, lecturer, speaker, native Houstonian and out trans woman for more than 20 years—has curated some of the most groundbreaking (and heartbreaking) moments in black, trans and black trans history.

2. Janet Mock


The best-selling author of Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, and host of the MSNBC show So Popular! has consistently complicated one-dimensional narratives of transgender people in popular culture and elevated the needs and experiences of trans people of color through her advocacy and activism.

3. Laverne Cox


When award-winning actress Laverne Cox became the first trans person to be featured on the cover of Time magazine in June 2014 in a story dubbed “The Transgender Tipping Point,” the irony that it was also the most lethal month for transgender women in the United States was not lost on Cox. To that end, she invited the mother of Islan Nettles and other trans women of color to march with her during NYC Pride, where she served as a grand marshal.

4. Precious Davis


Chicago-based activist and advocate Precious Davis found her passion when she began working at the Center on Halsted a decade ago. “My work [at the center] pulled continuously from my heart and soul with passion each day to create programs, community outreach and events that had a tangible effect on LGBT youth because I believe in young people,” Davis said to the Windy City Times. She is currently assistant director of diversity-recruitment initiatives at her alma mater, Columbia College Chicago, and continues to use her public platform to highlight the challenges that LGBT youths face.

5. Tona Brown


World-renowned violinist Tona Brown made history when she became the first trans person of color to perform at Carnegie Hall. In an interview with Out magazine, she said that she wanted her concert, “From Stonewall to Carnegie Hall,” to elevate the roles that transgender men and women played in the Stonewall riots in 1969.

6. Angelica Ross


As the founder of TransTech Social Enterprises, Angelica Ross has dedicated her life to empowering, educating and employing transgender people. Through training academies and apprenticeship programs that don’t require formal education, TransTech is teaching transgender people how to use technology and innovation to save their lives.

7. Fallon Fox


Fallon Fox—the only out transgender mixed martial arts fighter and the subject of the forthcoming documentary Game Face—has been going strong in the ring since 2012. She has used her influence outside the ring to bring attention to issues affecting trans youths, like ending conversion therapy, as she did in this Time article.

8. CeCe McDonald


Little could have prepared CeCe McDonald for that fateful night in June 2011 when she and her friends were verbally and physically attacked by a man who hurled racist and transphobic epithets at her for simply walking down the street. Her defense of herself and her friends—which earned her a lacerated cheek and cost the man his life—catapulted her to national fame. Since her release from prison after serving 41 months, McDonald has advocated for massive reform—including abolition—of the prison system.

Cherno Biko is big, bold, beautiful, black and brilliant. Come celebrate with her that every day something has tried to kill her and has failed. Follow her on Twitter.


Samantha Master is a black-queer-feminist activist, educator and member of the Black Youth Project 100. Follow her on Twitter.

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