Black Trans History

We’re winding down another spectacular Black History Month with a salute to a revolutionary figure in the trans liberation movement, Carlett A. Brown. Hers is an extraordinary story that speaks to the health inequity that still plagues our communities today and the immeasurable strength it takes to affirm our existence.

Carlett Brown appeared on the cover of JET, the only remaining public record of her journey, and is featured in a number of articles in the magazine during the time she was seeking medical attention.

According to a feature in JET magazine (t/w) that was published on June 18 1953, Carlett, who had been coercively assigned male at birth, joined the Navy in her 20s hoping to receive medical attention for what was later determined to be menstrual bleeding. Due to the stigma surrounding intersex bodies, doctors misdiagnosed her with a mental illness that they claimed was caused by what was described as the “abnormal existence of female glands” in her reproductive system and advised that she undergo surgery to remove these glands.

Carlett rejected this ignorant dismissal and decided instead to seek gender affirmation surgery in Europe after which she could legally marry the man she loved. This would require she renounce her American citizenship and travel to Europe where her contemporary, Christine Jorgensen, had her surgery done and subsequently made headlines with her own transition.

Christine Jorgensen headlines

Just months before she could leave the US though, Carlett was arrested for cross-dressing, followed by an order to pay back tax money she owed the government to the tune of $1200 which forced her to take odd jobs, first as a “shake-dancer” and then as a cook at an Iowa State frat house, to pay off the debt. Subsequent reports (t/w) show that Carlett had made contact with a European surgeon but soon fell back into anonymity and does not appear in any further news stories beyond this point.

Carlett’s struggle is all too common and we will not let her legacy go uncelebrated so we’re inviting all you history buffs out there to reach out to us with any more information you can find on our very own #HiddenFigure.


Black Queer History – Miss Major

COURTESY OF MISS MAJOR via SF Weekly – Miss Major at the Ark of Refuge in the 1990s

It is impossible to sum up Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, BKA Miss Major, and her importance not just to the trans-liberation movement but to human progress as a whole. She has been a vocal and revolutionary leader of prison reform, even at the risk of her own safety, and in what can only be described as a miracle, survived the systematic and unrelenting violence of living in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy for a fierce 76 years!

And yet, here we are 48 years after the Stonewall riots (in which she participated), 17 years after the formation of TGI Justice (where she was amongst the earliest employees), and $118,000 dollars short of her retirement fund.

What will you do to help honor this bastion of human civilization?

Happy Black History Month!

We are celebrating our queer and trans leaders for Black History Month starting with the incomparable Marsha P. Johnson, a trans liberation trailblazer and fashion it-girl who not only repeatedly risked her life to stand up for what was right but looked spectacular while doing it.

We call upon her courage to guide us through the 10th Annual Legislate THIS! and beyond in the fight to ensure that individuals and communities have the resources and power to make sustainable and liberatory decisions about our bodies, gender, sexualities, and lives.

Tell us what Marsha’s legacy means to you via Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and share your queer and trans heroes with us for our month-long series, #BlackQueerHistory.

Illustration by Micah Bizant.