In 2008, Dr. Marisa Richmond made herstory as the first trans woman to win an election in the state of Tennessee. Though some have disparaged her win of 99.7% because she ran unopposed, they are ignoring the massive election based movements around the country designed to shove queer people out of politics. Dr. Richmond’s candidacy was so solid in her district that no such concerted opposition led to an oppositional candidate on the ballot. In fact, only 6 people who cast a named vote in her district voted for someone else. Her overwhelming win thus tell us a story of powerful success against an increasingly hostile national political climate.
Dr. Richmond is also the first black trans woman to be elected a delegate to a major party convention from any state in the union. She worked tirelessly to ensure increased representation of queer people at the DNC in 2008 and specifically requested that more trans people were included in the Democratic Party and its representation at the DNC and other critical caucuses. She was also an active participant in the Women’s Caucus there advocating for women’s rights. (You can read more about her impressions of the DNC in a 5 part post here – brief discussion of immigrant rights, black caucus and LGBTQ caucus meetings, here – some discussion of women’s safety at the DNC and her response to both anti-Obama hecklers and “get over it” anti-Clinton delegates, here – where she talks specifically about creating an impromptu trans women’s caucus on the DNC floor, here, and here– where she talks about the Women’s Caucus and Michelle Obama)
She has also worked tirelessly to ensure transgender equality, and equality between white and poc transgender people, in TN. As such she is President of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and served on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Equality Project & Board of Advisors of National Center for Transgender Equality. she was also a Board member of the Nashville’s Rainbow Community Center, helping to provide leadership, publicity, and critical funding for the now defunct queer hub. Her work on the planning committee of Nashville’s Black Pride 2004 also represented a critical intervention into the whiteness of Pride events and the dominance of gay and lesbian people in leadership positions for Pride events in general.
Her work has also had an important impact on education and social discourse. She served on the Boards of American Educational Gender Information Service and the International Foundation for Gender Education working to create and support gender inclusive education at the local, national, and international levels. In 2008, she started a column for the Triangle Journal News in Memphis, an area with one of the highest rates of murder of black trans women in the nation. Like her participation in Pride, her column helped serve the dual purpose of re-inserting black and trans identities into the queer alphabet for readers. Since the column is also written in Memphis is gives voice to the plight of black trans women in the area and hopefully helps to humanize black trans women in the eyes of those who are systematically killing them and the people (both in the community and in law enforcement) who are doing nothing to stop it. When the Triangle Journal News made the decision to stop print circulation, Dr. Richmond began contributing to Out and About Today, a feature on local news.
Dr. Richmond’s tireless work to create and sustain transgender communities and equality for transgender people is an important part of black herstory. Not only has she participated in milestones in both trans and black history but has taken on the sometimes difficult task of representing black people in the queer and straight communities, trans people in the queer and straight communities, trans women and trans women of color in the trans community, and black trans people in these same spaces. More than just working on representation, she has been a strong advocate and activist for multicultural trans inclusion in education, media, government, etc.
As a black woman representing her district in local, state, and national politics she also increased the visibility and inclusion of black women’s perspectives and leadership in our government. She works actively on women’s and feminist issues at the national level as well. She was a Clinton delegate, hoping to support female leadership at the highest level of office and a strong Obama supporter. She has offered women’s and gender analysis at the structural and personal level throughout her career. And she is able to talk about “women’s issues” while actively resisting the mainstream urge to reduce those issues to white, straight, able-bodied concerns. Her ability to move across intersections from a feminist perspective is invaluable to women’s equality.