Freedom fighter

As the president of Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, Marisa Richmond is a tireless advocate for transgender equality. Before the founding of TTPC, she also founded a much needed support group for transgender individuals in 1992, the Tennessee VALS—a group still vibrantly supporting the GLBT community. She has garnered much attention, both for her lobbying, and for her trailblazing life as a transgender woman.

Her accomplishments include becoming the first transgender person to be elected in Tennessee when she was elected as a delegate to the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Democratic Party—a position she has held since March of 2008. On June 29, 2011, Ms. Richmond was invited to attend the White House LGBT Pride reception, where she met with President Obama and Vice-President Biden.

Her status as a towering figure in Tennessee's LGBT culture owes much to her childhood experiences. Growing up, Richmond recalls the time her parents hosted Stokely Carmichael (the Trinidadian-American civil rights leader credited with coining the phrase “Black Power”). Her parents were involved in politics, and instilled a love of all things political as she grew up. That passion finds its full expression as she lobbies on behalf of transgender people, and as she uses every opportunity afforded to her to educate others on what it means to be transgender and why more equality is necessary.

Richmond demonstrated dedication from an early age. Her high school career was of such quality that she was accepted in Harvard. Soon, however, she tired of the wicked winters in Boston and headed west, earning her master’s in history at UC Berkeley.

In typical understated fashion, Richmond describes how she then became a curator of human space flight exhibits for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: "Well, I just kind of talked my way into the job!” While staying in Washington, she also earned her doctorate in History at George Washington University.

Richmond’s life as an advocate for transgender people had its nexus within a tragedy: In 1996, her friend Christian Paige, a well-known entertainer in the Nashville area was murdered in Chicago in a brutally shocking hate crime.

Paige, who had recently moved to Chicago to save up for gender reassignment surgery, was beaten, strangled and then stabbed by an unknown assailant who then set fire to the apartment to destroy evidence.

Christian was brought back to Nashville and buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. Her death sparked a passion in Richmond. There at the gravesite, Marisa promised to Christian that she would do everything within her power to make things better for others who were like them: transgender, marginalized, and dying for no better reason than the fact they were different.

When the Federal Hate Crimes Law was signed in October 2009, Marisa went back to the grave of her late friend. Here was proof that in some small way, Christian’s death was not in vain.

What does the future hold for Richmond and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition? Nothing is certain, of course, but one thing is clear: Ms. Richmond has captured the attention of many, and she will certainly continue to fight for equality and justice for all LGBT people.  She will continue to root for her beloved Titans. And she will help change the world.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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