Eight Trans Women of Color For Transgender Day of Visibility

Daniella Carter is an advocate for LGBT youth and has spoken at local, national, and international events, including panel discussions with political leaders and dignitaries. Carter has worked with various celebrities, from Cyndi Lauper to 50 Cent, to raise awareness of LGBTQIA youth homelessness. She has continued to focus on the intersection between race, nationality, and gender. She was featured in the Logo/MTV documentary Laverne Cox’s Presents: The T Word.

Hina Wong-Kalu is a teacher, cultural practitioner, and community leader bringing national attention to the Native Hawaiian embrace of mahu - people who embody both male and female spirit. She was a founder of the Kulia Na Mamo Transgender Health Project, has been a cultural director of a Hawaiian public charter school, and was one of the first transgender candidates for statewide political office in the United States. The award-winning PBS documentary Kumu Hina traces Hina’s evolution from a timid high school boy to a married woman and teacher who uses traditional culture to empower a young girl to lead the school’s all-male hula troupe.

Geena Rocero is a Filipino model and activist. After working as a  model for several years, Rocero officially came out as transgender on March 31st, 2014 during a TED Talk she was giving for Transgender Day of Visibility. She has since founded Gender Proud, an advocacy and aid organization to advance the rights of transgender people.

Samantha Jo Dato is a Philadelphia-based activist and advocate for transgender rights. She has played integral roles in the Philadelphia Trans* March and Mazzoni Center’s Trans Wellness Project. She is also developed and facilitated workshops at several LGBT conferences, including the National Conference on LGBT Equality and the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference.

Tommy Luckett is an activist and speaker recognized for her health advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS. An Arkansas native, she became the state coordinator from Arkansas for AIDSWatch 2014, is a Quality of Healthcare Advisor for the Arkansas Department of Health, and is a board member of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition.

Ari South first appeared on Project Runway, by the name “Andy South.” She was in the midst of transition while auditioning and being cast on the show, deciding to pause her transition and spend her time in the competition as Andy, making it all the way to the top three that year. Three years later, she competed on Project Runway: All Stars as Ari South, publicly out in the fashion industry and the first transgender contestant on the long-running hit show. South continues to use the name “Andy South” as the name for her brand and fashion line.

Kokumo - Kokumo is an artist and activist. She is the founder and CEO of KOKUMOMEDIA, which uses music, film, and literature to illuminate the experiences of transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex people. She also founded the Chicago-based annual summit TGIF, (Trans*, Gender Non-conforming, and Intersex Freedom), which addressed the national needs of transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex people. Her music video “There Will Be a Time,” envisions a world in which trans women of color are fully seen and heard. She gave herself the Yourba name Kokumo, which means, “this one will not die.”

Joanna Cifredo - Cifredo began as a youth educator in central Florida, then worked for The Health Department providing case management services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Since relocating to Washington DC, Cifredo has served on the Board of Directors of Whitman Walker Health, has been awarded the 2015 Visionary Voice Award by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for her Trans-Inclusive work, and is the current Brand Ambassador to the DC Rape Crisis Center. She has also launched “SIS to Cis,” a city wide conversation between cis and transgender people.

KOKUMO’s plans for fame far ahead of schedule

Transgender artist has worked overtime to get debut single, video out

October 17, 2013|By Jessica Hopper, Special to the Tribune Though KOKUMO insists that she’s hardly started on year one of her five-year plan, the last few months make it clear she’s probably going to meet her goals by year three. Just last month, KOKUMO (who goes only by KOKUMO) released her debut single and accompanying video, which quickly drew international raves and reposts on major queer media sites. The narrative video for the title track of her EP, “There Will Come A Day,” tells the story of a black trans woman disclosing her identity to her partner. For KOKUMO, the song and the video were ways to assert and acknowledge the humanity of trans women.

“The only time we ever hear about trans women, black trans women in the media, is when someone is reporting our murder,” says the singer from her home in Pilsen. “I wanted to make a project that humanizes us. Growing up, I thought trans women were freaks who made fools of themselves on ‘Jerry Springer,’ that all they could be was sex workers. But the trans woman in the video has a career; that’s not a facet we ever see portrayed in the media. A beautiful, black trans woman in control of her life. It’s also a way to talk about the complexities of love and the ways that oppression complicates love, that in some ways it makes it impossible”

As a kid in the Jeffrey Manor neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, KOKUMO lacked the terminology for who she was. “There was only 'gay’ or 'straight.’ I was a dark-skinned, poor trans child; I didn’t know who I was or what I could offer the world.”

What she now offers the world is vast: Aside from recording and performing, KOKUMO sings at rallies, is a poet, filmmaker and philanthropist. This year she is prepping for the launch of KOKUMO, the digital magazine, which she says will cover “all things trans, black and revolutionary.” Her debut album is in the works for a July release, and her Chicago-based T.G.I.F. — Trans, Gender-Nonconforming and Intersex Freedom — conference is heading into its third year. Seemingly, all of her time and effort go into creating media that speaks to the trans woman experience.

“I have been singing, honing my craft, since I was 17,” KOKUMO explains. “I knew I had to become an artist because of the pain of being oppressed; when I couldn’t just talk it out anymore, that’s when singing became a venue.”

Her meeting with her pianist, Daniel Stoermer, seems almost fated: Composer looking for a singer moves in next door to a singer in need of a musical collaborator. “He would hear me singing, I would hear him playing Mozart. And one day he knocked on my door,” KOKUMO says. That was last summer. It took about six months to get the material for the debut KOKUMO EP together, with the goal always being to release songs that “were speaking my truth,” says the singer.

And where does KOKUMO hope all this hard work leads? The five-year plan includes enough to last most people a lifetime, but, then again, most people aren’t laboring with the same restless passion as Kokumo.

“Five years from now I want KOKUMOMEDIA, INC. to be world renowned, for it to be a production company that makes female films, films by and for trans women,” she says. “I want T.G.I.F. to be the TGI equivalent of the March on Washington, but happen every year, not every 50 years. In making a name for myself, to be able to bring on other revolutionary trans musicians, to cultivate a place for them in the music industry.”

She adds, laughing, “That’s just my condensed version.”

Watch on jrvmajesty.tumblr.com

GD: Your new video for There Will Come A Day tells the story of a trans* woman in love with a man whom she has not come out to as trans* and the anticipation of fear and violence that happens when she finally does. How do you think discussions around incidents like the Mr. Cee controversy contribute to trans* women being so vulnerable to this kind of violence?

KOKUMO: In the immortal words of Nikki Giovanni, “I see the world and everybody in it as a product of the black woman”. Unfortunately, most people don’t share that vision, adversely, they see black women as  objects of sex, labor, and entertainment. Therefore, one should be able to logically deduce that if black ciswomanhood is misunderstood of course black transwomanhood will be. And moments like this make the salient point that doing “community building” and “activism” as a black transwoman revolutionary means nothing if it’s not in tangent with non-trans black women and people. Black trans people are invisible and oppressed within black communities, because black people are invisible and oppressed to the world. And oppression is how people demonstrate power in capitalistic and patriarchal societies. And people only feel behooved to demonstrate power when all of theirs has been taken from them. And black people’s power has been not only taken from them, but weaponized against them. Hence, a movement black cis people should consider more widely is the one when they stop demonstrating their power on black transpeople and start demonstrating it on non-black people, specifically white people.  Therefore, I propose cis black people put down their bibles and pick up their trans children. That book can’t die of AIDS, assault, or loneliness. But we will. We have.