Ashlee Marie Preston has always been a force to be reckoned with.
The trans activist has burst through barriers in her way to become a leading voice of the American LGBTQ community. The first trans woman to be named editor-in-chief of the magazine Wear Your Voice, she also became the first trans person in California to run for state Assembly. Another headline-making moment for Preston was when she confronted Caitlyn Jenner at a Trans Chorus of L.A. event. A viral video showed her critiquing Jenner’s support of President Trump, utilizing a moment many of her peers surely would have shied away from.
She has a lot to celebrate. But while many would choose to take a break from activism to celebrate their birthday, not Ashlee Marie Preston. She decided to dedicate her 34th birthday cake to 77 black trans women who were murdered before they reached their 35th birthdays, the life expectancy for this incredibly marginalized community.
“Sadly the average life expectancy for a black trans woman in America is 35 years old. … I had @cakeandart place the photos of 77 black trans women who were murdered under 35 years old on my cake,” Preston wrote on Instagram.
Thank you for all the birthday wishes! ?? Today I turned 34! ❤️ Sadly the average life expectancy for a black trans woman in America is 35 years old…I had @cakeandart place the photos of 77 black trans women who were murdered under 35 years old on my cake. I’m rolling out the #ThriveOver35 campaign today which is intended to help black trans women reimagine themselves somewhere other than an open casket. Please use this hashtag for every birthday under and over 35 years old to remind our sisters brothers and others that we’re not only surviving we’re THRIVING!! ✊?✨? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #Thrive #live #birthday #happybirthday #happybirthdaytome #celebrate #blacktranslivesmatter #blacktranswomen #women #trans #lgbtq #lgbt #masterpiece #queer #facts #statistics #picoftheday #bestoftheday #instagram #instadaily #daily #instagood #media #losangeles #LA #campaign #blacklivesmatter #blm #pride
“I’m rolling out the #ThriveOver35 campaign today, which is intended to help black trans women reimagine themselves somewhere other than an open casket. Please use this hashtag for every birthday under and over 35 years old to remind our sisters brothers and others that we’re not only surviving we’re THRIVING!!”
Hornet sat down with Ashlee Marie Preston to discuss her #ThriveOver35 campaign and the ongoing epidemic of violence against trans women of color.
HORNET: You turned a celebration into an act of resistance. Why?
ASHLEE MARIE PRESTON: As a black trans woman, my very existence is resistance. Therefore anything I do, including celebrate a birthday, falls under that category. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we can’t celebrate and resist at the exact same time, which strays away from the LGBTQ movement’s roots. Stonewall wasn’t a flashy parade with corporate sponsors. It was a protest of antiquated values that threatened the well-being of the LGBTQ community, and a celebration of the unity that manifested as a direct result of being absolutely fed up.
Celebrating the well-being and possibilities for black trans women clashes with the current social ecology we exist in. I was celebrating that black trans women would no longer be subscribing to those statistics and that through the #ThriveOver35 campaign they would have a support network to see to it they received the hope, motivation and resources they need to beat the odds.
This epidemic of violence against trans women of color is daunting. What do you consider to be solutions?
The first solution would be to start aggressively collecting data so that we can determine what specific barriers are preventing black trans women from securing employment, housing, health care and social support that prevents them from receiving the same opportunities as our LGBQ counterparts. We can’t heal what we don’t reveal.
By having that information we then will know how to engage allies and advocates affiliated with educational institutions, health care providers, The Department of Housing & Urban Development and judiciary and justice systems on developing a coalition committed to securing funding for programs that would yield better opportunities for black trans women.
During Pride Month, the same month of your birthday, where does your pride come from?
My individual pride comes from my work ethic. I’m a hard worker, and all I ever wanted was a hand up, not a handout. Black trans women aren’t asking society to save us; we’re simply asking for resources to save ourselves.
Other black trans women deserve the opportunity to thrive as I have, and I’m committed to seeing that they receive just that.