by Kelly, Community and Policy Intern with MTPC
The stories we know about the trans community affect how we think about and perceive the community. Too often these stories exclude Black trans people. Last year for Black History Month, MTPC featured 5 Black Trans Women Who Paved the Way. This year we have 4 Black Trans Men Whose Stories We Should Know. These are just a few among many stories of trans men of color that we as a community are not telling. Let’s make sure we are including these stories and the stories of other Black trans men in how we imagine our community.
Willmer “Little Ax” Broadnax
Born in Houston in 1916, Willmer “Little Ax” Broadnax was a gospel singer who performed with groups such as the Southern Gospel Singers, the Golden Echoes, the Spirit of Memphis, the Fairfield Four, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, and Little Axe and the Golden Voices from 1939 through the 1980s. He was known as a powerful tenor and a “heroic screamer, holding his own with some of the strongest leads.”
He and his brother William “Big Ax” Broadnax started their careers singing with Houston’s St. Paul Gospel Singers before moving to Los Angeles and joining the South Gospel Singers. Willmer left the South Gospel Singers and formed the Golden Echoes in order to tour. Willmer continued performing and touring with various groups, including his own quartet, “Little Axe and the Golden Voices” into the 1960s. He continued to record with the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi through the 1980s. You can hear the voice of “Little Axe” here and here.
On May 23, 1992, Willmer was stabbed by his girlfriend after a heated argument and passed away on June 1, 1992. It was discovered upon his death that Willmer was assigned female at birth.
Born in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1924, Jim McHarris disliked all things feminine in himself as a child but appreciated feminine girls as his dating partners. Beginning in 1939, he lived as a man moving frequently across the country. In 1953, he moved to Kosciusko, Mississippi, and began building a life. Over the next three months he became engaged to a woman, worked at a gas station, and was involved in the True Tabernacle Church. At the True Tabernacle Church, he was scheduled to be elevated to a deacon position even with Bishop Smiley Jones’s knowledge of Jim’s assigned sex.
In 1954, he was pulled over and arrested. As the officers pat him down, his assigned sex was revealed. Although it is not clear what motivated this action, Jim stripped off all his clothes and revealed his breasts and genitalia in front of the judge and arresting officers to “prove” he was “born female.” Jim was sentenced to 30 day in jail at the prison farm. Jim dressed in men’s clothes but was housed with a female prisoner. After he was released from jail, he was shunned by the community and left Kosciusko. In the 1954 EBONY article that featured his story, Jim said “I ain’t done nothing wrong and I ain’t breaking no laws.” After this ordeal Jim continued to live as a man.
Marcelle Cook-Daniels was a national transmasculine African-American leader as well as a dedicated father, son, and partner. He worked as a computer programmer and analyst as his day job while also contributing to many national and local conferences and organizations including the 1999 Creating Change conference, the 1998 Butch-FTM: Building Coalitions Through Dialogue event, several True Spirit Conferences, and The American Boyz. He was a supporter of COLAGE and the Transgender Aging Network because of his commitment to family, openness, and public service.
He did not shy away from addressing the intersections of race and gender. In an article he wrote with his life partner Loree, “My Life As an Erroneous Sonogram,” Marcelle said “in the back of my mind I always knew that gender realignment would make me a black male in society where black males are tolerated at best and hated and feared at worst… If anything being black has stood in my way of accepting my maleness” (194).
Marcelle lost his lifelong battle with depression on April 21, 2000. He is remembered by the community a major pioneering leader for his commitment to intersectional understandings of identity and community.
Alexander “Bear” Goodrum was a Chicago native who was an active social justice organizer from the 1980s until his death in 2002. As an African-American, transgender, queer, disabled activist, his work stretched across all these communities. After moving to Tucson in 1996, Alexander quickly became a leader serving on City of Tucson GLBT Commission and an Activist/Panelist for the Funding Exchange’s OutFund for Gay and Lesbian Liberation as well as being an active member of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, Wingspan (Tucson’s GLBT Community Center), and Desert Voices (Arizona’s GLBT mixed chorus).
In 2000 he founded TGNet based on his groundbreaking document, “Gender Identity 101: A Transgender Primer.” One of TGNet’s most significant projects was the Arizona Transgender Workplace (ATWORK) Project, which serves to create and foster open, inclusive, and safe working environments for transgender applicants and employees by promoting an understanding of gender identity and expression among managers and supervisory personnel.
In the Fall of 2002, Alexander sought mental health assistance. He died by suicide on September 28 while under observation at La Frontera Psychiatric Hospital in Tucson. The Southern Arizona Gender Alliance created the Goodrum Project to help support and empower transgender people in seeking mental health services while educating mental health service providers in honor of Alexander.