Raquel Willis’ laugh is as infectious and cool as her voice and personality. Her laughs, which came so easily, initially came as a surprise to me. I almost didn’t expect a woman who fights tirelessly for equality (and finds time to write about it) to be so open, relaxed, and chatting about how building Legos with her nephews makes her feel free – but I blame the system for my own cynicism.
In our phone conversation, Raquel reminded me of a few things: the importance of narrating your story, the power of community, and the joy in self-acceptance. Things we all struggle to find, but as Raquel exhibits, we can all achieve by doing the work.
Ev : As an activist, what specific issues are you fighting for?
Raquel: When people ask me that question, it’s always interesting because I don’t really think there is a limit to what I fight for. Predominately, I fight for racial equality, gender equality – however many ways that can mean. I fight for LGBTQ equality, particularly uplifting trans women of color, but of course the issues go beyond me. Those just happen to be the issues that affect me most directly. I’m invested in the fights for immigration and disability. I’m just about equality in general, so wherever I can be an ally for other marginalized groups, I’m all for that.
E: Do you think you face more challenges than cis-hetero activists?
R: I’d say in general, yes. Of course with intersectionality, privilege and oppression can be sliding scales. It very much depends on what way we’re talking about. I will say, that being a trans activist and being open with my identity does make my situation a little trickier. I think I often have to fight a little harder for my voice to be heard and have to really combat being belittled or diminished because I am trans. Even if I’m talking about Blackness or my experience as a Black woman, because of my openness about being trans woman, sometimes people don’t want to put forth that empathy. They don’t want to see that there are other types of Blackness and the same goes for the larger LGBTQ rights fight. Other times I feel talked over or ignored as a trans woman of color in those larger queer rights conversations because we still have white cis-gender gay men calling the shots and all of those identities continue to be given a bigger platform and more attention.
E: Where (or whom) do you draw your strength from?
R: Oftentimes media and music like Beyonce’s “Lemonade” or Nina Simone. I draw my strength from their stories and the things they’ve created, whether they was particularly trying to be revolutionary or not. Being media-oriented, people like Janet Mock, Oprah, and Ava Duvernay inspire me and then the activists. People working on the ground like Micky B, who is an activist with the Transgender Law Center and Isa Noyola a Latina trans-activist. There are so many people who do work everyday that we don’t ever see on the big screen, but their work arguably pushes the culture more on the undercurrent. And of course my family. I’ve been very lucky to have an affirming and supportive family.
E: Do you have any words of encouragement for young people who are coming to grips with their sexuality or are transitioning and don’t have support in general?
R: You can create your family. What has helped me when my family didn’t know how to be supportive was finding community and friends who accepted me for who I was. Community is key. When you find community you can find resources. Networking isn’t just a rich, white person thing. When you’re queer or trans you find out just how important it is. What also helped me was the internet. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I couldn’t write. It sustained me.
E: We have a long way to go before hate and prejudice are gone, but what are some things we can do now to prevent hate crimes like the Pulse shooting from happening?
R: There are so many things, but most importantly vote for people who are not swayed by capitalism, homophobia, or white supremacy. We need to vote for people who truly have empathy for other communities and work in the best interest of everyone – not just the majority. And not just on the presidential level, also on the state level. Getting corrupt people out of office before it trickles up. It’s also about the little moments. If someone says something out of pocket, allies should correct them and stand up for LGBTQ people. It’s all about standing up for people who may not be in the room or they are and don’t have the voice to be heard.
To learn more about Raquel, visit her website.