Next Magazine: Meet Sharron Cooks

Meet Sharron Cooks, The Only Trans Woman of Color Delegate At The DNC

“That will open the doors for other African American Trans women.”
July 26, 2016

You may recognize Sharron Cooks from your TV set.

The longtime LGBT activist and advocate was featured a few times during last night’s first telecast of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. 

We had the opportunity to ask Cooks, the founder and CEO of Making Our Lives Easier LLC, a few questions. As the only trans woman of color delegate at this year’s DNC, Cooks has something to say – and we are ready to listen.

Alexander Kacala: How did you become a delegate at this year’s DNC?

Sharron Cooks: There were two ways to become a delegate for the DNC, by being elected or by being appointed. I was chosen to be a delegate to this year’s DNC. The Democratic Party strives for diversity and inclusion. The Pennsylvania Democratic LGBT leadership particularly in Philadelphia felt having an openly Trans identified African American woman would provide the Democratic Party with insights that would help provide Trans visibility and a better understanding of the needs of the transgender community in order to establish a political platform that is progressive and inclusive of all LGBTQ people.

I read in a G Philly interview you are the only trans woman of color that is a delegate. How does that make you feel?

Yes, I am the only African American Trans woman that is a delegate and I feel that, I have been given an amazing opportunity to bring awareness to issues related to both Trans women and African Americans. I would like to see more African American Trans women involved in politics and the legislative process. So, it is my hope that by having the opportunity to participate in the DNC that will open the doors for other African American Trans women to be involved in the legislative political process.

Where does your individual pride come from?

My individual pride comes from my family, being of service to others, and giving a voice to underrepresented communities – especially Trans women of color.

What issues matter to you this election?

The issues that matter to me the most in this election are, state and federal employment and housing non discrimination legislation as well as public accommodations legislation that protects the transgender community. It is my firm belief that these issues are essential to the well being of the Trans community. It is important that people in the Trans community be able to have a place to live, work and be able to have access to public spaces just like all other Americans in this country.

What were some of the obstacles you experienced during your transition?

The reason I am so passionate about advocating for Trans rights is because, I have experienced job discrimination. At a point in my life, I did not have a place to call home. I too know what it’s like to be stereotyped, stigmatized and misunderstood. I know what it’s like to need quality medical care. I know what it’s like to engage in high risk activities to survive. So I’ve experienced many obstacles during my transition. I would also like to say that when I began my transition in my teen age years there were not social services organizations and resources available to Trans people at that time like there are today. There have been tremendous advances for the Trans community since then and I am so grateful that but more needs to be done so that we have the same opportunities as non Trans identified people.

Was there any advice or insight that helped you when times were challenging?

Most of the advice and insights that helped me through challenging times were other Trans women. Because our experiences were very similar it helped to have a safe space to discuss those similar challenges. There is a sense of solidarity in knowing, I’m not the only Trans woman experiencing challenges navigating in a society that shuns Trans people. Some advice was good, some not so good but I look at it all as a positive because it made me the strong advocate and activist I am today.

Why are you voting for Hillary?

I am voting for Hillary Clinton for president because, as a woman, she will bring a unique perspective to an institution that has been male dominated since 1789. She is an advocate for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, workers rights and most importantly, Hillary Clinton is an experienced politician that challenges the notions of a woman’s role is American society. When she was The First Lady of The United States, she took on an active role in political and social justice issues, so I’m excited to see her push even further the progress we have made as a nation for all Americans.

If elected, how do you think Trump will effect the LGBT community?

Trump has chosen Mike Pence as a running mate. Mike Pence is an anti- LGBTQ extremists and if Trump is elected, the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ people have accomplished will be diminished. So, from my point of view, Donald Trump elected will destroy all of the progress made for the LGBTQ community.

There is an epidemic of violence against trans women of color. How do you personally deal with this and what do you think needs to happen for there to be a change?

Personally, I cry. It saddens me to know members of my community particularly – Trans women of color- are brutally killed regularly and no one seems to care. It frustrates me when I see the LGB community rallying for justice for gay men and women but not for Trans women of color. It bothers me that people think the lives of Trans women are not valued which is shown by the lack of action taken by members of the LGB community. Stories of violence against Trans women of color are almost always sensationalized for entertainment purposes and those stories re-victimize the victim; such as mis-gendering the Trans woman, or the Trans woman deceived a guy and the list can go on, these narratives are damaging and further contribution to the stereotypes and misconceptions of Trans women of color. It upsets me to know that, there will be no charity events, no marches, no protests, and no solidarity for murdered Trans women of color.

I always think, that could be me, I’m a Trans woman of color, I could be murdered and yes of course my family and friends would care but the LGB community? I know they wouldn’t, why because history has shown us that they do not. People need to understand that Trans women of color are people that have feelings too. I believe, if there were more Trans women of color in leadership that would help change the way the LGB community handles violence against Trans women of color. If Trans women of color were given opportunities such as educational, life skills and training programs were developed by organizations to address our specific needs, violence against Trans women of color could be greatly reduced.

What is next for you? 

What’s next for me? Well currently being in a Community Relations role, I’m working with the Educational Justice Charter School which is an all inclusive initiative to help establish a safe, accepting space with interdisciplinary educational curriculum that will assist in developing young people into the leaders of the future that have a passion for social justice, community service and academia.

For more information on Cooks and her organization, visit here.

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