Actor and model Indya Moore made history last weekend as the first openly transgender and nonbinary person to keynote at Essence Festival, the largest annual event celebrating Black culture and music in the United States. In the iconic words of Beyoncé upon becoming the first Black female headliner of Coachella, “Ain’t that ‘bout a bitch?!”
“I’m really honored to be here and share a little bit of my experience with y’all because I think so many of us don’t have an opportunity to meet and understand trans and queer people if they don’t show up as our family, if they don’t show up as our friends,” Moore said during their conversation on the Power Stage. Despite Essence's insistence that Moore is the festival's first trans speaker, actress Amiyah Scott broke ground last year during a press room event with the cast of Fox's Star. However, Moore is the first solo trans speaker to grace an Essence Fest stage.
Beyond the keynote conversation, Moore spoke two other times at the three-day festival in New Orleans — at the Essence Fashion House stage and at the festival’s Beauty Carnival stage. In an interview, Moore further explained their complex thoughts on being the first person of trans experience to keynote at the festival.
“It’s hard for me to find honorableness in being the first because honestly, it should have already been happening,” they said. “So many incredible and revolutionary Black trans women came before me. They should’ve received the attention I am getting now.”
Essence Fest has faced criticism in recent years for failing to include Black trans public figures in their line-ups. Moore's invitation comes in the 25th year of the festival's existence and speaks to the consistent overlooking of notables like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Angelica Ross. Just last year, pop culture critic and writer Sylvia Obell wrote about how the event was failing to be a safe space for all Black people despite increased coverage of trans issues in Essence’s digital and print publications.
Moore seemed to use their presence to make up for lost time. During their talks, they detailed the oppression that Black trans people, particularly Black trans women, face with little support from the larger Black community. They also took the opportunity to tease out the nuance of their nonbinary identity.
“I don’t identify as a woman. I don’t identify as a man,” Moore explained in conversation with activist and sex educator Ericka Hart. “I don’t identify within the binaries of those things. My choice to identify as such, even though I typically express myself in feminine ways, is to constantly disrupt the notion of the gender construct.”
While there’s still room for more trans and nonbinary leaders on the Essence Fest stages, Moore’s presence shows that inclusion is possible and, when it happens, it’s more than welcomed.
Correction: This article previously stated that Indya Moore was the first trans speaker at Essence Fest, however, that would have been Amiyah Scott in 2017. Nevertheless, Moore is the first trans speaker to keynote or helm an Essence stage solo and the festival's first openly nonbinary speaker.