I’ll never forget the moment at the 2016 Democratic National Convention when the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama, took the stage. I was sitting in the front row, just yards away from him. As the only African-American transgender woman to serve as a delegate at the convention, I felt a rush of pride I can hardly describe. It was at the DNC that I had the honor and privilege to serve as Pennsylvania’s first-ever African-American transgender delegate — and the only African-American transgender female delegate at the entire convention — alongside 25 other amazing transgender delegates from various states across the country. Being able to stand in the front row at the Democratic National Convention on national television as the only African-American transgender female representing my community, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the City of Philadelphia, was a historic experience for me, my state, my city, and my community. It was also a proud moment for our nation that hopefully inspired others to become more inclusive, appreciative of diversity, and more civically engaged and involved by participating in the legislative process to ensure equal legal protections and rights for all people, especially for members of the transgender community.
There are so many black transgender leaders who blazed the trail for me, and I am one of four African-American transgender delegates to have made history in our respective states by serving the Democratic Party as national delegates: Marisa Richmond of Tennessee in 2008; Kylar Broadus of Missouri in 2012; and Merrick Moses of Maryland and I, Sharron Cooks of Pennsylvania, both in 2016.
I always strive to use my visibility in such a way that it elevates the voices of the underrepresented and most marginalized populations. I want that to be reflected in my work, for example, when I collaborate with law enforcement offices to help them shape policies around interacting with transgender citizens. I am a part of a community of people in which most are living below the poverty line, have a lack of access to medical services, experience high levels of discrimination in employment, housing, and access to public spaces and brutal violence. Pride, if you are transgender, is something society tells you you have to hide.
For me, to merely exist is a revolutionary act
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that affirms my identity as transgender female or celebrates my Blackness as a black woman without conditions that are often exploitative, dismissive, challenging, appropriated, overlooked, and under — if ever — compensated. I am subject to various acts of violence simply because of who I am. For simply being born. So, for me, to merely exist is a revolutionary act; and that makes most of my life’s moments my proudest moments to be LGBTQ.
I am proud to live in a city where local government officials support legislation that protects all Philadelphians. I am proud to live in city that has an Office of LGBT Affairs dedicated to serving the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in our city and acknowledging the importance of diversity and inclusion in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ leadership. A city where I am proud to be the owner and CEO of a consulting firm: Making Our Lives Easier LLC. A city I am proud to live in because of the transformative social justice work of comrades in my community like the Black & Brown Workers Collective and the social justice journalism of award-winning journalist Mr. Ernest Owens, the editor of G Philly at Philadelphia Magazine.
In March 2017, I made history again and became the first-ever transgender person to chair a citywide commission in Philadelphia, PA. Mayor Kenney created a Commission on LGBT Affairs by appointing 23 people who represent the diversity and intersectionality of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. It gives me a great sense of pride to have the honor and privilege to be able to serve as the chairperson of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs.
The moments I feel proudest are when I am steadfast in my values and living my life with authenticity, passion, and purpose. I am proudest to be LGBTQ when I am breaking stereotypes, overcoming obstacles, and accomplishing goals that transgender people are not expected to accomplish — like making history twice in less than a year.
Image Source: Courtesy of Sharron Cooks