Trans Awareness Week is a special time for our community, a time when we share stories of trans individuals who paved the path for others; remember the history of trans resistance; celebrate trans joy, victories, and advancements; and finally, honor trans people who were lost to phobic violence. For Women’s History Month, we shared the stories of four trailblazing trans women who deserve some shine — for Trans Awareness Week, we’re introducing four more trans people who undeniably made an impact on LGBTQ history amid transphobia, violence, and oppression.
Jackie Shane, from Nashville, Tennessee, was a pioneer of soul music who left Jim Crow laws in the South for Toronto’s rhythm & blues scene. Best known for her song “Any Other Way,” Jackie enjoyed success in Toronto’s music scene in the 1950s and 60s. Jackie dressed androgynously for performances, skirted questions about her gender, and was considered a drag queen for many years before coming out as a trans woman in 2017. Before she passed away in 2019, Jackie was a prominent figure of the LGBTQ community in Toronto and has since been memorialized in documentaries and anthologies.
Lou Sullivan was an American activist and writer, an early pioneer of gender affirming care and queer theory. Lou, who came out as a trans man in 1975, lived openly as a gay man but was initially denied gender-affirming surgery because of heterosexist regulations at the time that restricted surgery to straight trans people. Lou was a part of changing that restriction and removing many other roadblocks for trans people. Lou wrote many resources for trans people, including “FTM Newsletter,” and kept diaries that are now published. He passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1991.
Sylvia Rivera was a trans activist and community organizer. Sylvia was a trailblazer not just for the LGBTQ community but for the most vulnerable and oppressed members of the LGBTQ community: the houseless, the incarcerated, young people, trans folks and drag queens. In 1970, with other noted activist Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia co-founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a group who rallied around the houseless LGBTQ community in NYC. Sylvia is also known for her 1973 “Gay Power” speech, where she criticized the abandonment of trans people by other LGB community members.
Raquel Willis is a writer, editor, and trans rights activist who, with civil rights attorney Chase Strangio, co-founded Transgender Week of Visibility and Action (March 25-31). Raquel was the first trans woman to act as executive editor of “Out” magazine. Raquel is also known for the Trans Obituaries Project which documented the lives of over 20 trans individuals who lost their lives to transphobic violence. Raquel also designed the Black Trans Flag, which replaced the white stripe in the Transgender Pride Flag with a black stripe. Raquel’s memoir, “The Risk It Takes To Bloom,” is set to come out this November.
Sue Cardenas-Soto is a Copywriter at The Trevor Project, the leading suicide prevention and mental health organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678-678.