The Bay Area’s sense of loss in the wake of the Nov. 8 election is about to get even deeper. The region is now also losing one of its most prominent LGBTQ activists: Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.
The 76-year-old transgender champion, who has been involved in the movement for greater visibility and equality since the 1950s, tells SF Weekly that she has decided to make a move to Little Rock, Arkansas. She feels she can be of greater help there to the trans community in the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected victory — which oddly coincides with Transgender Awareness Month.
In the days since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations have already noticed a spike in reports of violence against LGBTQ people and people of color, and the Oakland-based trans matriarch — known to many as “Mama” — says she wants to be where she is most needed.
Miss Major began her career in activism in 1958 as a receptionist for the Mattachine Society, an early gay rights organizaton in Chicago. She later became a participant in the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969, a prisoner at Attica in the early 1970s, an AIDS activist in San Francisco in the 1980s, the executive director of the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project beginning in 2003, and a grand marshal of San Francisco Pride in 2014.
A year ago, Major!, a documentary about her life in activism and her role in the transgender community, premiered at the Castro Theatre. On Dec. 5, she will appear in The Trans List, a documentary showcasing 11 transgender Americans including Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, which will debut on HBO.
SF Weekly: Miss Major, we need you and love you here. Why are you headed to Arkansas?
Miss Major: Because the girls in the South are suffering more than the girls are on the coasts. … New York is fighting really hard, and they’re together. San Francisco is together. L.A. is working on it. San Diego is pulling up the ranks. But the girls in the South, they are just struggling so bad. And behind this, I figure I should go there and use what notoriety I have with this documentary to get something going there for them so they can realize that they are just as worthwhile as everybody else, and they don’t have to leave their home and where they’re comfortable and move to some big city. Because a lot of people aren’t city folks.
SFW: When are you planning on leaving?
MM: While they’re blessing and inaugurating [Trump], I’m going to be inaugurating my girls. I’m 76, and I don’t have a lot of energy, but what energy I do have, I definitely am going to expend it on my community.
SFW: Were you surprised by the results of the election?
MM: This election knocked my dick in the dirt, as I’m sure it has for many other people. But it’s been in there before, so I’m just going to get up, dust off, and figure out what to do to negotiate through this and survive because that’s the test of how these things go.
SFW: There are reports that crisis hotlines have had a huge increase in calls following the election and that reports of hate crimes are already up. What message do you have for trans folks who are panicking about what’s next?
MM: I want my trans girls and my trans fellas and every gender-nonconforming person out there to know that, OK, this is done, we can survive this. All we have to do is stand together, work with people who want to help to abolish this, or test it, or fight it. We don’t give up, we don’t lay down, and we don’t say “die.” And I thought about [saying], “Well, let me just pack my shit, get my passport, and leave [the country],” but that doesn’t help the girls and the fellows and the people who deserve to be here and can’t leave. We have to organize, and in doing that, we can prevent this wave of bullshit that is coming from carrying all of us out to sea.
SFW: That’s beautiful. What gives you such strength? Is it just the will to survive?
MM: It isn’t so much my will to survive as it is for the girls and the children and the people behind me. Because if they stop and kill and prevent me from doing this, then they don’t have a chance. If you quit, who’s going to take it on? Who’s going to be there to hold their hand out to help the next person pull themselves up? What I do when my girls call or talk to me is I let them know this isn’t the end of the world. This is just another something that we have to pull our nerve together and work through. Because just being a transgendered person, we have had to go through some personal, deep, heart-hurting, traumatizing bullshit to admit it to ourselves because we are challenging everything we have been taught since the moment we took that first breath. Boy or girl? Pink or blue? But what happened to turquoise, lavender? Where’s emerald? Kelly green?
SFW: What is some specific advice you can give folks?
MM: There are lawyers, I hear, who are going to help girls get their IDs changed and get passports so that we’re not trapped. There will be organizations out there that we can go to work stuff out. What we have to do is look for them. We have to find them. We have to talk to people. We can no longer isolate ourselves in our own little culture. All the things that we go through on a personal level — “Well, I don’t like her because she has breasts, and I don’t like this one because she’s gotten a pussy” — all of that shit has to go.
SFW: Do you fear that violence is going to increase?
MM: Of course, it’s going to increase. The police supported this man. So now when they shoot somebody, they don’t have to worry about an investigation. These motherfuckers have been given the green light. All of them are 007. You have license to kill. That’s frightening. You can be a Black cop, a Yellow cop. As long as you’re in blue.
SFW: Are things better now because of famous transgender folks like the writer Janet Mock and the actor Laverne Cox(Orange Is the New Black)?
MM: This progression to get to where there is a Janet Mock and there is a Laverne Cox is a wonderful thing for humanity. Now, does that mean that all that other prejudice and hatred that was existing before is gone? It was never gone. … What this idiot man has done is he has taken [what was] inside [and let it out]. But we’re not going anywhere anymore. We are not going to be pushed into a corner or a closet or a grave.