You may recall Blossom Crishelle Brown as the black transgender woman who took the mic at CNN’s LGBTQ+ Town Hall last week. The event featured Democratic Presidential candidates discussing their intentions to extend and establish equal rights for LGBTQ+ communities.
During the event Brown interrupted the question and answer portion to bring needed attention to a vital issue.
“Black trans women are being killed in this country and CNN, you have erased Black trans women for the last time!” she said. Centering herself in the middle of an aisle, Brown continued, “Let me tell you something, Black trans women are dying. Our lives matter!”
The interruption came during Beto O’Rourke portion of the night. Already five candidates in, Brown tells Out she had noticed a lack of focus on the Black transgender community and had enough — it did not help that transgender activist and commentator Ashlee Marie Preston was notably absent from the event, after pulling out due to CNN withdrawing a question that she was meant to ask.
In conversation with Out, Brown has explained why taking the microphone mattered and detailed the need for a town hall specifically targeted towards the transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) community.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Did you know ahead of time that you were going to take the mic to raise awareness on trans issues or was it spur of the moment?
It was more of a spontaneous birth, a moment kind of thing. When I went to CNN’s Equality Town Hall I was just very excited — I knew for a fact that they didn't select my question, but I was hoping that they had selected one of my trans sisters’ questions and so I was fine.
But when we got to Beto O'Rourke, [he] was like the fifth candidate that went up. And by then I was pretty much disgusted because not one single Black trans person had taken the mic to ask questions. And then also at the same time, I was looking on social media and I saw the frustration and the hurt that my black trans brothers and sisters were posting on Facebook. So I was sitting in my chair and I knew something was coming. I didn't know what was going to go down. That's when Lizette [Trujillo] and her son came to the mic and as she was trying to elevate the trans community, her son tried to bring somewhat of attention before [Lizette] spoke. That's when I shouted Black trans women as well, and I got up and I was just like, ‘I don't mean to take this away from you’ and started on my spiel. So it was a couple of different factors. It was also the fact that my sister, Ashley Marie Preston had to pull out of the event because they took back the question that she was going to ask. And she is a fierce activist. She's a fierce activist. So it was all of these different factors that led up to it. I really did not know that that was gonna happen. I didn't even know that CNN was going to do that — not have Black trans people at the mic until towards the very end, which was crazy to me.
When you say it's crazy to you, can you say more about that?
I say this because it was anti-blackness at work basically. When you really think about it — some of our Latina trans sisters got the chance to speak on the mic — discussing immigration. Very, very important issue and we're not taking that away from them. And yet, you're using them, you're tokenizing them basically to say that, you're inclusive of the trans community. That's basically what's going on. And that's why I said ‘this is anti-blackness’ when I was near the stage. Not one black trans person was at the mic. We were five candidates in. Five. And so that for me was just mind blowing. I was also taken aback by some of the silence that was in the room amongst our LGBTQ+ community. On top of that, for this to be an LGBTQ+ space that black trans people were having to fight to be heard in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, which is why I don't blame Maria, Bamby, and Michaé for doing what they did. I don’t blame them at all.
And I thought it was a doggone shame that we had to do all of this just to get attention to trans murders in this country that we’re dying, especially black trans women. That was appalling to me. We're thankful for our cis allies that were there that were trying to elevate us. But we were in the room and there was no need to speak up on our issues when we're there. So all of that was mind blowing to me.
Why do you think it’s so important for trans women of color to be able to speak on issues that impact trans women of color?
These are issues that are affecting our lives every day and nobody's talking about it and I feel like it’s really important. For example, me as a Black trans woman, a lot about issues dealing with these murders of Black trans women, most of the time they're being perpetrated by Black men. Yet the rest of the black community really does not acknowledge our issues, which is why I was so grateful when Essence actually reached out and said what they said on Twitter, standing in solidarity with me and Ashley Marie Preston and the rest of us. That was a big deal to me because a lot of times, a lot of those conversations don't happen in the black community — that’s the experience I can speak on.
I'm sure the Latina trans community, dealing with immigration, ICE detention center — these are really things that are impacting our lives and what most people look at on TV and just snub — we have to deal with that reality every single day and we can't shake that off. So it’s important that we have a seat at the table.
Also our trans brothers as well. I can't speak from their experience. And I think sometimes in certain spaces they get that one trans woman to represent the entire community. And that's not how that flies; trans men also have their experiences that I can't speak to and they should have a seat at the table as well.
You also want to hold cisheteronormative people accountable for their lack of respect, for the lack of respect that they give us as LGBTQ+ folks. And yet we're having the same issue within our own community. So we need to clean up the house, straighten up the house in our own community before we started holding other people accountable, that's how I'm looking at it.
If you'd gotten a chance to ask a question without having to demand that space, what would you have asked?
About the trans women being murdered. I would have went a little bit harder on Kamala and Corey and asked them: Why are y'all not talking about the murders of black trans women? Why does it take hetero cis white woman named Elizabeth Warren to read the names of black trans people who have been killed this year? I would have held them accountable for that.
Do you think that throughout the evening you heard enough from the candidates about the epidemic of violence against trans women of color? And if not, what would you have liked to hear?
Absolutely not, there's a lot of work that needs to be done and that's why honestly, I'm pushing for a town hall on trans issues. I'm going to push for this like H.E.L.L. because there's a lot of education that still needs to happen and I really want to see where these candidates are on trans issues. People are saying Bernie Sanders has been a long-term supporter of trans people. Okay. In 2019 I need to see that. I want to see those actions speak and actions happen and that's why I really, really want to push for it because [this] was not the space for us. For trans people. It was not the space for us because I felt like we were just pushed aside. And then on top of that, Black trans people pushed aside for the most part? And we’re the ones that are dying the most? That was what was crazy to me.
The solution to this problem is that there needs to be a town hall with the candidates focused on trans issues only. And I'm talking about with trans youth and non-binary folks included. I'm looking at the big picture and I feel like CNN owes us that — but the reality is they're probably not going to give it to us. So what I'm hoping is maybe another network makes it so that we’re able to get this.
Beto O’Rourke tweeted me on Twitter saying that we will hold a town hall focused on trans women of color. I tweeted him back and said I appreciate that — but let me tell you something. I want the entire trans spectrum there. My trans brothers, my trans sisters, everybody, because we all have different issues that affect us individually within the trans community. And it's important that these candidates see that, because if they're going to be president, they're going to be representing us too. And our votes do count.
Are you satisfied with how CNN responded to your criticism? Don Lemon’s response seemed to be kind of dismissive.
Yes. I will say Don Lemon is problematic. Plain and simple. He's problematic. I've been in spaces with him before. He's very problematic and he was very dismissive — he said something about ‘we're trying to validate people like you’. Let me tell you something: Trans people have always been valid. But because of white supremacy, you're trying to invalidate us by saying you are trying to validate us and that's not right. And for me, I was taken aback by that because Don, five candidates have gone on and not one single Black trans person has come to the mic.
You say people like me, I'm a Black trans woman. I didn't see any Black trans women come to that mic nor trans men. So you can't say that you’re trying to validate me. If we're not even able to have our voices heard and I had to come out and do all of that just so you could hear me. That's a problem and I really want to have a serious conversation with him. I really, really do and I need him to understand why his statement was very problematic. I'm not interested in tearing anyone down, but we can have meaningful conversations, wrong conversations, and be real.
He's a Black gay man. I'm a Black trans woman. Why can we not have these conversations on a public platform of some kind?
Were there any black trans people that spoke the rest of the night?
If there were a town hall specifically on trans issues, what does that look like in your mind? What's your ideal event?
I'm thinking about it in the same format as CNN and HRC. Maybe flying some trans people to a central place — people from grassroots [activism,] people who have their own non-profits — whatever they’re doing whether it’s acting or music, etc. I want a diverse crowd.
I want representation of each person in the trans community. I want Ashley Marie Preston to moderate and I want her to get paid for her moderation instead of having five or six [moderators] like CNN did. But if we did use several moderators to interview each candidate, then hey, we'll pay some more trans people to do it. I don't mind that as long as they are paid well.
I just want to make sure that when it comes to these questions that every group of people that are in the trans community get to have at least one question asked. So Black trans men, white trans men, Black trans women. I just want it to be very inclusive and honestly, whoever doesn't show up, it will say a lot. It'll say a lot to the trans community and it will hold some of these candidates accountable for coming up and showing up for us.
We’ve talked before about the lack of attention paid specifically to Black trans issues in the 2020 primaries thus far. Elizabeth Warren put out an LGBTQ+ agenda on Thursday, as did Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. What policy would you like to see that impacts trans people of color in those kinds of agendas?
When it comes to violence within the trans community: a bill that really sets a precedent that it is a hate crime when you kill a trans person and that you really pay the price for it. I would like to see something that. Let’s call it what it is — if you shoot and kill a trans person it is a hate crime. We need tougher penalties for trans people when they are killed by their attackers. That’s the one thing I’m focused on because my main thing are these Black trans women who are being killed. That’s the number one thing in my head and I want to see tougher policies for it.
Following town hall, people have taken to social media to agree that black trans people are being erased. What has it been like for you to see so many people come out in support of you?
I think it's so powerful. It's really, really powerful. And we are so grateful for that. The next step is how do we change that? Because obviously it's going to take a collective in order for that to happen. So we need to start finding solutions on how we need to change that. CNN needs better education — are we willing to put in any labor to give them that education because there are serious issues going on over there — but the support, the love, the nice messages, it’s really great.. I need these same people that now are following me, to really hear me, to really understand me, hear where I'm coming from, about my community. We don't have access to a lot of resources. We're being killed. We're becoming homeless.
There’s a lot of things that affect our community every single day. And these people who I'm so grateful for that decided to follow my journey. I need to teach you about how this journey really goes for trans people like me. And I really hope that that impact gets bigger and bigger and bigger for us, for our community because our community needs access. But I am so grateful for the allyship. Lizette is somebody that I will forever be grateful for because that's what allyship to me looks like. Not trying to speak for me, but giving me the microphone so I can be elevated. And then she's the mother of a transgender son so I know she's making a way for him — that is so powerful. I think I forget about that sometimes too because there were trans youth in the audience. It's funny because you have [Debi] Jackson's, trans daughter Avery, who was a sweetheart, who came and gave me a hug and I've watched her grow up over the last several years. We’re making such a powerful statement. Such a powerful move and I think sometimes we don't realize as activists how impactful it is in such a great way. For me, that makes me happy. That really, really makes me happy. Anyway that I am able to leverage my platform to help others I am willing to do that.