Photo on TransGriot
Photo on Raquel Willis' Twitter

Raquel Willis












What makes Raquel Willis a Global Shaker?

Writer, speaker and activist Raquel Willis made history in 2018, when she became the first Black or transgender person to be named executive editor of Out magazine.

She began her activism in 2015 by organising a demonstration in Atlanta to bring awareness of the increasing number of murdered or missing black trans women. While she was empowered by the hugely positive response, she remained convinced that the broad support to protect Black lives didn’t extend equally to people who were transgender.  “I think at that point people didn’t get social cookies for supporting trans people,” she told AJC. “There was not the societal pressure to care.

“It was that moment and a collection of other moments that let me know I was tired of wasting my energy on efforts that didn’t directly impact my community.”

Born in Georgia, into a Catholic, community-focused family, Willis came out as gay as a teenager. She realised that she was a trans woman while doing a course in women’s studies at university, and decided to transition.

After graduating with a degree in journalism in 2013, she moved to Oakland, where she worked as a communications associate then national organiser for the Transgender Law Center. She also worked on behalf of the Solutions Not Punishments Coalition to end police profiling of transgender women of color and mass incarceration.

Her work included support for a campaign to implement a pre-arrest diversion program in Atlanta, and designing the Black Trans Flag, a variation of the Transgender Pride Flag with a black stripe across the middle.

In 2018, she was named a Jack Jones Literary Arts Sylvia Rivera Fellow. She’s also part of Echoing Ida, a national Black women and nonbinary writers’ collective; an Open Society Foundations Soros Equality Fellow; and the founder of Black Trans Circles, a project focused on developing the leadership of Black trans women in the South and Midwest — creating healing justice spaces to work through oppression-based trauma.

Willis adds to AJC that she’s under no illusions about the prognosis for change. “There’s no savior that will save our people, so it’s about doing our own little lot of justice work to figure into the larger puzzle. We’re not going to be able to rely on white people to save black people or cis people to save trans people … We’re going to have to do it ourselves.”

Tags: Activism, Diversity and Inclusion, USA

Last updated: February 21, 2020