Trans Activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy Tells Us Why Progress is Still A Long Way Off

Don't be fooled by Hollywood's recent openness to the trans community, the long-time activist says.

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Jun 6 2016, 2:58pm

Before Caitlyn Jenner and Janet Mock there was Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. Photo courtesy Major! documentary.

In the world of trans activism, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy has been at the forefront of the fight for equality for over 40 years. She was front and centre at the infamous Stonewall riots in 1969, became an advocate for prisoner's rights through the 70s and 80s, and, after a move to San Francisco in the 90s, began working closely with the HIV/AIDS community. And in a new documentary Major! premiering at the Inside Out festival, filmmaker Annalise Ophelian tracks Gracy's current work for trans people of colour through the TGI Justice Project which advocates for transgender women of colour who have been through the prison system.

Despite nearly half a century of activism, Miss Major is not entirely sure these last four decades have achieved the kind of progress she's been hoping for. She worries that certain trans celebrities have distorted the ongoing need to establish the very basics of equality and that, despite a newfound vocabulary and reticent mainstream openness to the trans community, true inclusivity is still a long way away. "There were girls who had to fight and die or be chased and harmed to get to this point we're at today. [But] this is not where it needs to be, or feel comfortable at, or stay," she told VICE.

This lack of progress is particularly glaring when it comes to the erasure of voices of colour. Despite her active role in the Stonewall riots, Miss Major (and many, many other people of colour) were notoriously absent from the eponymous 2015 film directed by Roland Emmerich. Disappointingly white and male, the film drew sharp criticism for its lack of diversity and the absence of trans voices.

"There was a movie about Stonewall? I must have missed it," she offered pointedly.

"Whitewashing has been going on since the beginning of time but it's a matter of making sure that the truth is out there because the people who want it will find it."

That truth is easy to find in Major! It's immediately clear what Griffin-Gracy means to her community, means to the trans women of colour who fill her home and her office on the regular, looking to Miss Major for comfort, wisdom, and jokes. And when she thinks of the next 40 years of work she plans to do, she imagines just that: continuing to be a source of support for "her girls."

"My community still needs help. They still need to know there are people out there that cares about them. That they don't have to do anything special, you know you don't have to have a feather flowing out your head just be who you are stand your own ground and have someone appreciate you for that. And that's me."

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