Tag Archives: advocacy

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Laverne Cox

16 Jun

LCoxToday we honor and celebrate a woman who is a powerful voice for the too often overlooked transgender community. Laverne Cox was born in Mobile, AL, not an LGBTQ friendly state or city.  She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College and began an acting career.

Cox was one of the first out trans women to make significant appearances on network television, especially as a woman of color. She appeared on two episodes of shows in the Law and Order franchise and was an out trans contestant on the VH1 reality show I Want to Work for Diddy. As her fame grew, she began using it as a platform to speak about trans issues and equality.

Her fame has only increased since she was cast as trans prisoner Sophia Burset on the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black. It’s a compelling performance of a well-written character, and Cox deserves all the accolades that her work has garnered. That fame has made her one of the most famous and visible trans actors in the world and provided her with even more opportunities for advocacy and activism.

Cox is a passionate speaker who has a powerful way with words. She makes her points clearly and supports them with the sad facts about the oppression and aggression directed at the trans community. She makes space for the unfortunate reality that very few people understand — or even try to — the complex realities of being a transgender person. When she appeared in a now-infamous interview with Katie Couric, she responded to a clumsy series of questions about genitalia and surgery with a classy, informative, calm focus on the real issues facing the trans community.

Recognition of her advocacy work garnered Cox a position in history as the first out trans person to feature on the cover of Time magazine. She is also the first African-American transgender person to produce and star in her own TV show, the VH1 makeover program TRANSform Me.

As LGBT rights move forward in the 21st Century, the needs and issues of the “T” in the acronym often get overlooked or sacrificed for political expediency. Laverne Cox is a strong, smart voice dedicated to reversing that trend. Her work is critically important and her dedication is impressive. I hope all of us will stand in solidarity with the transgender community.

Black History Month 2013: will.i.am

11 Feb

will.i.amToday it is my pleasure to honor and celebrate musician and social justice activist will.i.am. William James Adams was born in L.A. in 1975. He grew up in the Estrada Courts projects surrounded by poverty and struggling minority families. He was raised by Debra Adams, a single mom who wanted the best for her son and pushed him to be true to his unique self. She fostered his musical inclinations and helped him get in to Pallisades Charter High School, where he met Allan (apl.de.ap) Pineda.

The two formed Atban Klann, a socially-conscious rap group, which caught the attention of Eazy-E. He helped them land a deal before they were out of high school. They recorded and performed while will.i.am was also a regular on the rave scene, taking in a wide variety of musical influences. After Eazy-E’s death, the group transformed into the Black Eyed Peas and began one of the biggest musical careers of the last 20 years.

Solo and with the group, will.i.am has won seven Grammys, eight American Music Awards, a Billboard Music award, and dozens of other awards and accolades. Along the way, they have sold over 60 million albums and spent dozens of weeks atop the American and British charts. What makes will.i.am so remarkable is that he has channeled his money and success into making the world a better place.

He is an outspoken political activist who campaigned for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. He helped arrange the “Yes We Can” video and album that raised money and awareness for the campaign. Disdainful of how politics are practiced, he is optimistic about what good politicians can accomplish, especially after spending time touring outside the U.S.

The spark was traveling outside America and seeing it from a distance, seeing the way people viewed us. America went from this beautiful country to “Oh my gosh, you guys are so stupid.” But America tomorrow could still be the light of the world.

He is also a tireless activist for education, particularly science, technology, and math. He founded will.i.am angel, a non-profit dedicated to transforming lives through education, opportunity and inspiration. It provides educational opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalized children and helps create strong educational programs. He also spends a fair amount of time in Great Britain and has donated significant time and money to the Prince’s Trust there.

will.i.am clearly sees the intersections of oppression and the connection between ugly 1% politics and the spiral of poverty.

You can rule ignorance; you can manipulate the illiterate; you can do whatever you want when a people are uneducated, so that goes in line with corrupt business and corrupt politics. And they’re so transparent about it! They’re telling you right to your face that they’re cutting education because they want you to stay stupid. They don’t want you to know what’s good for your body, mind, or community, and they don’t want you to have a future, they just want you to consume the shit that they benefit from. They don’t want you to be rich, they want you to be butt-ass poor and in debt … That’s not my America.

On top of his talent and passion, he’s a witty, charming, and humble man who truly enjoys sharing his ideas. I first developed a real appreciation for him when he appeared on The Graham Norton Show with one of my favorite people, Miriam Margolyes. Their interaction is absolutely delightful and I dare anyone not to be in love with them both.

Before the age of 40, will.i.am has already made the world a better place and provided both example and opportunity to others. Who knows what else he will accomplish?

Making the World Better

29 Oct

As election day grows ever nearer and as I challenge myself daily on the issue, I am charging everyone with the task of reflection. We must each ask ourselves: “What are we doing to make the world a better place for all?”  I suspect many TSM readers fail at this task as often as I do, or perhaps I fail more often than TSM readers.

I have been reflecting a great deal of what life was like in the very early 1970s and how the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Black Panthers, Gay Liberation, and the American Indian Movement all collectively helped to challenge a dominant white heterosexual discourse, helping marginalized voices to gain strength, visibility, and respect. I will also admit that watching old episodes of Maude and the Sonny and Cher Show helped spark this reflection.  The United States seems to have dropped the conversation of what am I doing for my country and what am I doing to heal the world.

As people are getting ready to cast their ballots on November 6, 2012, I would ask that each person reflect on the following issues: Am I working to ensure that women get the health care they need and not blaming them for being raped? Am I part of the conversation to end racism, or does my silence implicate me? Do I stand with LGBT brothers and sisters for equality, or am I working to deny my fellow human beings basic civil rights? Do I take the time to address issues of poverty and work to create policies that create a level playing field, or do I subscribe to the very false notion that people need to pull them selves up by their boot straps?

I encourage Americans to think about how do we heal a nation so divided while also thinking about how do we help all of our brothers and sisters.

Celebrating Women’s History Month: March 24

24 Mar

Honoring Nancy Amidei

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Nancy Amidei. Amidei was actually brought to my attention by my friend and fellow do-gooder, Marla Moore. Amidei is best known as a social reformer and a, “relentless advocate for changing public policy to better serve the most vulnerable populations.”   I admit, I aspire to be the social reformer Amidei is currently;  I aspire to be a combination of Ida Tarbell, Amidei and Howard Zinn. Let us hope that more people will choose to give voice to the marginalized and disenfranchised–to help all of our brothers and sisters. Let us hope that the generations following mine will use their collective voice to drown out the ugly, bitter voices of bigotry and hate. Here is to speaking truth to power. To learn more about Amidei, click here.

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