Trans Visibility on the Rise

Photography by James Michael Avance

Marcia P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two iconic transwomen in LGBTQ+ history, began a movement in 1969 that would continue for years to come. While there is no exact trace of when the trans rights movement began, what is certain is that the transgender community has always been part of the oppressed but also loud voices advocating for change.

While not widely known, some earlier events of transgender visibility in history include the 1966 Compton Cafeteria Riots, in which trans women took a stand against discrimination and police harassment. That was yet another historical mark of the resilience and importance the trans community has symbolized in the movement for equality.

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Today, one of the modern voices helping push the transgender agenda forward is Miss Peppermint. She is an actress, singer, activist, and has been recognized as the first transgender woman runner-up on the ninth season of VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Before becoming a household name, Peppermint had early beginnings in Hershey, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. The limited exposure in those cities would eventually lead her to the Big Apple in hopes of finding, what she calls, “my people.”

Indeed, New York City would become an influential part of Peppermint’s personal and professional growth. She attended art college by day, and was brightening up the NYC drag scene by night. This would become Peppermint’s crash course into queerness. “I didn’t realize how poignant that would later prove to be,” she explains. “I was working side by side with legends and trailblazers.”

Stardom found its way to Peppermint when she was thrust into the spotlight in 2017 when she was announced as one of the castmates on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Preparing for such an important competition for drag queens was challenging, recalls Peppermint. “Most of the pressure I felt was from wanting to represent trans queens well during the filming of the show.”

To her surprise, people were unaccepting of her as a valid trans woman after the show aired because she was doing drag and looked “passable” enough as a woman to them. This conflict is experienced in many industries, and not until recently, June 15, 2020 did the Supreme Court rule that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Even with these advancements, Peppermint acknowledges that the trans community has miles to go for equality. “Practically every public or official mention of the word ‘transgender’ by the current administration is related to removing access to something—besides the never-ending ‘bathroom’ debate. There’s a trans military ban, a recently organized sports ban, and attempts at denial of healthcare for trans people, just to name a few.”

Witnessing how trans rights are being targeted, Peppermint recognizes it can be tough, citing that the constant fighting and attacks definitely take a toll. Through this she remains hopeful for the future. “As a woman who is black and trans, I come from a long line of people who endured and fought against racism, sexism, and LGBT-phobia. I consider myself a part of their journey toward equality.”

When identifying ways in which allies and members of the community can be active, Peppermint points out the importance of social media. Her advice: “Follow Queer activists, people marching in the streets, and the people fighting in the courts to get policy changed. Accept the notion of intersectionality. I personally believe it is not possible in any way to achieve LGBT equality without also fighting misogyny and racism.”

As Peppermint continues to pave a way inspiring members of the LGBTQ+ community, she shares advice once given to her: “One thing that was extremely helpful when I was sorting through the pressure of my transition was hearing from a very wise woman that there is no ‘one way’ to be. There is no ‘finish line.’”

This fall, Peppermint’s goal of continuing to share her story in hopes it can help others will be upheld with the release of a new album, “A Girl Like Me: Letter to My Lovers.”

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